Kriwi - Past & Present
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Past & Present

From a rarely explored part of the musical comes this band of voices and musicians from Belarus. They have spent the last decade expanding the roots of their culture using local and European folk instruments (zura, balalaika, hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, cimbalom, flutes, reeds and percussion) and mixing them with modern technology of synthesizers and samples, all wrapped around powerful solo and massed voices. The word 'kriwi' means 'spring' and 'water bag' in the old language of the Kriwi, a people who came to this part of the world from India centuries ago. From the deep well of these old traditions Kriwi has created a new music that moves back and forth between the ghosts of the past and the gods of the future with ease, elegance, beauty and power.

Istla kaljada
Hei loli
Qi daj bezja

Other music you should hear:
The Warsaw Village Band
The St Nicholas Orchestra

While in Soviet times there were many state-approved folk arts and crafts clubs and "houses of culture", and indeed perhaps because of that state connection, as Belarus has emerged from the rule of Russia (though not from some of its old political attitudes), relatively few of the country's musical youth have taken an interest in its traditional music. But the band Kriwi, led by singer Veranika Kruhlova, has existed, with a varying membership, since 1996, learning traditional material from older musicians and making adventurous new arrangements using whatever instrumentation and technology came their way. The releasing of CDs having been an economic impossibility in Belarus, the label Orange World, in Belarus' westerly neighbour Poland, has stepped in to release this compilation drawn from their cassettes and unreleased recordings, made between 1998 and 2003. The band's website explains the name "Kriwi is an ancient tribe who came to the territory of Belarus from India thousands of years ago. It is a bearer of unique culture, part of which has been kept in some regions of Belarus to our days."

Roughly, they're in musical territory akin to some of Poland's roots-adventuring bands, such as Grzegorz Z Ciechowa, Warsaw Village Band, Orkiestra Sw. Mikolaja, or Trebunie Tutki's collaborations with Adrian Sherwood. Plenty of ringing, clanking and chugging, with edgy fiddling, hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, flutes, fretted strings and booming natural-skin drumming - the big grainy sounds given added power by an organic use of keyboard and programming. On some tracks such as Klezmer Minsk, the drones and meaty rhythms produce a Hedningarna-like effect, but across the 14 tracks there's a wide, risk-takingly inventive range of approaches to the strong, emphatic song-tunes.

Kruhlova's raw vocals, usually in the hard-edged "white voice", are balanced by the wild masculine voice of Todar, multi-instrumental wind-player, who appears to have been one of the band's founder-members. (The credits only give single names for musicians, but he is, I think, the same Todar, Smizer Wajzjuschkewitsch, who leads WZ-Orkiestra, the Belarussian band that, after hitch-hiking some of the way, finally made it to Norway's Førde festival last year as Belarussian radio's EBU representatives.) The two of them deliver a particularly striking, stridently soaring duet in Na Turetzkih Palyah (On Turkish Fields) "Nothing ever grows on Turkish fields; only clumps of grass around. Under a bush a dead soldier lay, on his chest a war cross, at his head an old horse stood." Todar now seems to have left the band, which is described on its website as an "open project", with a variable line-up most recently listed as Kruhlova plus guitar and domra player Pete, tabla player Babu from Bangladesh, violinist Alesh, Polish percussionist Sebastian, plus occasional others. A singer who seems to have passed through only briefly, Masud, begins U Tsyabe, U Myane (Yours, Mine) with an appealing, husky Middle-Eastern style melismatic lead vocal accompanied by Todar's keening clarinet over a menacing synth drone, before snapping into the lead of insistent uptempo group vocals driven by his frame drums.

The website of Kriwi's German-based agent Belpunkt reveals that Veranika Kruhlova, Belarus' 'Rock Queen' in 1998 and 1999, has other performing contexts, including a vocal and DJ/ VJ project called Mixstery, and hints that for Kriwi there could be a "next version - Kriwi women - only girls, nearly!" Whatever comes next, this compilation sums up the works so far of free-thinking and distinctively Belarussian musical adventurers. - Andrew Cronshaw, fRoots

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