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Slavalachia Musicians to Host a Concert for Ukraine in Dayton

Concert for Urkaine flyer

Appalachian musicians who have been performing and recording with their friends in Ukraine are now playing benefit concerts across Ohio.

You may have heard Brett Hill is hosting a fundraiser for Ukraine this Sunday at Blind Bob’s. Hill is part of a folk music group called Slavalachia that plays traditional Slavic and Appalachian songs. They have members in Ukraine, Belarus, and America. And despite the pandemic, the revolution in Belarus, and now the war in Ukraine, they’re releasing an album this spring.

Hill, who performs under the name Brother Hill, spoke with WYSO’s Jason Reynolds about the cultural connection between Appalachia and Ukraine.

Tell me about Slavalachia. What's one place you were shocked to find that Appalachian and Slavic culture were so similar?

Oh man, just being up in the Carpathians, which is actually where we wrote this album. We were up in this little town of Stara Huta, and just seeing these little roads that lead to these little enclaves where a family, or a string of families, has lived for generations on generations, preserving these little bits of unique culture. And you find so much across Appalachia that these little hollers is where a folk song that was brought there by a grandmother four generations back has then remained and taken on its own characteristics that are really influenced by the land there itself. So there's a tie between the people and the land that really ties Ukrainian, specifically Ukrainian Carpathian traditions, and Appalachian American ones.

Slavalachia released a new song this week, it was originally going to be on your forthcoming album, but you decided to release it early when Russia invaded Ukraine. Can you tell me a little bit about that decision and about that song?

It's an absolutely tragic song. To be honest, as a lot of Ukrainian folk songs, a lot of Slavic folk songs, are in general. But it's called Zakuvala Zozulyna," and this song is about a mother mourning her son, who is going off to war, and he tells her to dress his friends in his clothes. And she says, "I can't dress—it's very difficult to dress a young man in my son's clothing." You know, it's just some of these little glimpses of tragic loss that a mother faces. And we didn't really set out with the intention of recording a war album. But somehow or another that's just kind of what happened.

What's it like listening to that now, since things have changed since you recorded it?

It's undeniably heartbreaking because I think about being in the studio in Ukraine recording that song in August, and I think about my Ukrainian friends that were in the room recording the song and not knowing what they were going to be facing. I mean, what they are facing right now. They're experiencing this tragedy that we're discussing in this song. And so, it felt relevant there and then with them because we were singing it together, but now, being so far away from them and hearing their voices in this song, it gives me more drive to continue the fight.

I've got friends that are staying up day and night, making Molotov cocktails to support resistance efforts. I've got friends who are helping journalists get into the country to be able to report on what's going on. I have a few friends who have left, who've been able to escape. None of them being my male friends because they have to stay and fight. They will fight until the end, but that's also the part that somewhat scares me, makes me want to press to do whatever I can to help end this conflict. I really just see the need to support this situation in any way possible.

Sunday, you're doing something. You're hosting a fundraiser at Blind Bob's in the Oregon District. What's that event going to be like?

There's going to be silent auctions and raffles. There's dozens of businesses and artists from across Dayton and the area that have donated. That'll be starting at 5:00. We've got John Gasset and Old Brothers starting things out, and then Harold Hensley, then Benya Stewart and myself, Brother Hill, and then all of our crew in Hill Spirits.

Then my homeboys that are very well known here in Yellow Springs, The Superfriends, Fatty Lumpkin, and his crew. That’s something I really wanted was some really dope Ukrainian dance music and hip hop, because there's a lot of it out there.

There's an amazing, amazing trove of Ukrainian music there.

The Concert for Ukraine is this Sunday at 5pm at Blind Bob’s in Dayton. Donations will go to Razom for Ukraine and Father's Care, Inc.

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.