Julian Kytasty

Black Sea Winds: The Kobzari of Ukraine

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This album is something to cherish, from the poignant interpretations to the choices in repertoire, the recording quality, and the lavish artwork and packaging that have become the trademark of November Music. Julian Kytasty is a third-generation bandura player. This folk instrument was principally used by a class of Ukrainian blind singers known as the Kobzari. They all but completely disappeared in the '30s because of the Soviet oppression. Kytasty is one of only a handful of musicians who dedicated themselves to reconstituting the lost tradition. On Black Sea Winds he presents a selection of kobzar songs interspersed with his own instrumental compositions and improvisations, and uses both traditional and modern banduras. This stringed instrument (from 21 to 55 strings on this album) sounds surprisingly close to the Celtic harp. Therefore, fans of Alan Stivell and the like should pay close attention to this beautiful CD, even though the two cultures are very different and the kobzar songs include a strong East-European (Armenian, Uzbekistanese, Turkmenistanese) flavor. The playing is stellar, showing a commanding level of technique but most of all the touch of a fairy. Kytasty's voice, although not the one of a great singer, has the quality fit for the songs: it sounds sincere, emotive, and charged by the experience of life. The sad songs are particularly powerful. They speak of unburied warriors, ungrateful sons, and brothers and sisters separated by an ocean. All lyrics are supplied in English, in Kytasty's own translations. He also performs two short pieces on the sopilka, a traditional flute, providing a touch of variety. Not conceived as a historical document, Black Sea Winds is a labor of love and a true work of art, bridging the traditional background and modern possibilities of the bandura. Strongly recommended.

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