Leli’s Da Vo Gornitse

cover, da vo gornitseYou know what a “remix” is, right? It’s where a producer embellishes an existing piece of recorded music, usually by adding sounds, beats and effects created by electronics in the studio, to turn it into electronic dance music. Every time I listen to Da Vo Gornitse, the debut EP by the Russian electro-folk group Leli and their entry in the 2024 Russian World Music Chart, I long for a “reverse remix,” i.e., the underlying Russian polyphonic singing and traditional folk instruments, with the electronics stripped away.

That’s not saying I don’t like Da Vo Gornitse because I do, surprisingly a lot considering dance music really isn’t my thing. But this is exciting, engaging music regardless of the production. I can appreciate the folk music at its base — and if you have to use synthesizers, I’m all for analog synths like Leli uses here.

Leli performs songs from the Belgorod, Kursk and Tver regions. The singing is polyphonic, by men and women mixed, and they’re accompanied by some unnamed traditional instruments that include flutes and zithers, plus some rock instruments like electric and acoustic guitars, horns, and drums, plus those synths. The vocal and instrumental parts are recorded on analog equipment.

The singing is led by Roman Vetrov, Maria Nanzat-Ool, and Anna Pankratova, with further harmonizing by Petr Nesterov (aka Ikarushka), who also plays folk instruments, guitar and electronics; Yuri Kaplya on woodwinds and folk instruments; Oleg Matveyev on guitar and folk instruments; Sergey Trachuk on guitar, Ilya Smirnov on drums and Valeria Esterleyn on electronics.

It kicks off in high gear with the title track, which is translated as “Yes in the upper room” and has a pronounced disco vibe to the rhythm. One of the women, Maria or Anna, starts with a brief vocal solo, then all the other singers join in with parts that combine unison singing with a kind of contrapuntal vocal line that weaves in and out of the main melody.

All of these songs roughly follow a similar pattern, with declamatory, trance-like singing, lots of interweaving playing on whistles, flutes and strings, and that driving rhythm on drums and synths. The singing is energetic and loud. Some of the folk horns sound like hurdy-gurdy or bagpipes, and the synthesizer sometimes mimics a didgeridoo. On “Da po vulitse (Yes down the street)” one of the men leads the singing throughout in a kind of call and response manner, and the rhythm has a pulsing almost dub-like beat. “Lipa” opens with the sound of a bowed gusli but otherwise is the most electronic of the tracks. “Poydu ya v pole poguliayu (I’ll go for a walk in the field)” is maybe the most analog, with flutes and guitars figuring prominently and the vocals much more out front. If this one had more of a back beat it’d be close to prog than disco.

Then there’s the final track “Porushka” or perhaps it’s “Porushka Paranya.” I can’t get enough of this one. I’m not sure what it is that so grabs my attention, but I find the melody and the vocal performance particularly stirring. Fortunately, I found a video for a version of this song, so you can see if it moves you, too.

With just five tracks, Da Vo Gornitse is technically an EP, but at nearly 40 minutes’ playing time, it’s no shorter than most vinyl rock LPs were in the ’60s. If you like world music with a strong component of modern electronic dance music, definitely check it out. But even if like me you’re not a raver, you might appreciate the sturdy folk underpinnings that anchor Leli’s music.

(Leli, 2024)

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Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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