Review from TheWholeNote, November 2016 , Vol.22, No.3 by Anna Pidgorna

‘Tse Tak Bulo/That’s How It Was’, ZEELLIA
Chickweed Productions #ZL003 released April, 2016

  • With its mix of field recordings and original arrange­ments and compos­itions, Zeellia’s new album Tse Tak Bulo/ That’s How It Was explores pre-Soviet Ukrainian migra­tion to Canada. Containing snippets of inter­views and songs from elderly migrants, which the ensemble founder Beverly Dobrinsky collected in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the 90s, the CD is both a historical docu­ment and an artistic statement. Zeellia’s approach to these traditional songs lives firmly in the realm of artistic re-interpreta­tion, rather than an ethnographic recreation. With her mixture of vocal and instru­mental textures, Dobrinsky takes great liber­ties with the found materials pushing them into the realm of original compositions rather than mere arrangements. The most striking track is Oy byv mene cholovik (My Husband Beat Me). In my own explorations of Ukrainian folk music, I have found that domestic abuse is, unfortunately, a common theme and I commend Zeellia for not shying away from it. Dobrinsky’s recomposition of the tune is a highly effective combination of playful rhythms and dissonant a cappella vocal harmonies punctuated by wood­block knocks. As I Walk across Canada is a gorgeously mournful song steeped in lone­liness and nostalgia for the homeland left behind. Among other instruments, the album features the hurdy-gurdy, known as lira in Ukraine. Dobrinsky’s approach to the instru­ment both nods towards its traditional role as accompaniment to spiritual minstrel songs and reframes it in a new light.


Holding On and Letting Go: An Interview with Beverly Dobrinsky


The Georgia Straight: 2013


The Georgia Straight: 2004
Penguin Eggs
Ascent Magazine 14
Ukrainian Canadian Congress
The Georgia Straight: 2000
Nelson Daily News
The Flagstone
Russian Vancouver Magazine