An experimental album dives into the joys and anguish of eastern Europe’s ancient Ruthenian minority

An experimental album dives into the joys and anguish of eastern Europe’s ancient Ruthenian minority
Image: Lucia Nimcova, Khroniky/Bajka, 2014-2016

8 June 2021

Musician Lucia Nimcová is spotlighting the overlooked musical world of Europe’s ethnic Ruthenians with a new experimental album that animates intimate episodes of their daily lives.

Self-labeled as “an unpolished, privileged glimpse into a private world”, DILO was created with sound artist Sholto Dobie, and it will be released in late June by Slovak record label Mappa Editions. It fuses countryside field recordings with ballads inspired by khroniky, or Ukrainian folk songs. Nimcová was spurred on by the songs she heard growing up in Slovakia, where she was part of the Rusyn or Ruthenian minority; an ancient Slavic ethnic group that lives along the borderlands of Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Poland. “I remember the weddings,” she told The Calvert Journal. “At the end of the night, people would sing in Rusyn, songs about being in prison or falling in love.”

Khroniky are known for mixing misery and joy: the lyrics often describe hardships, murder, torture, and death, but also love, scandal, marriage, and satire. For this reason, many khroniky have never been properly documented in Ukrainian folk compilations as they are considered “too crude”.

The album is the result of two years of work which saw the pair visit Rusyn villages high in the Carpathian mountains to spend time with local people and obtain records of their singing traditions. DILO is part of her ongoing project Khroniky, an archive of photography, video, and sound recordings from the Carpathians.

The result is tracks that vividly recreate Ruthenian daily life. “You’ll hear dogs barking and insects buzzing in the summer heat, then a blast of hurdy gurdy or violin will drift in, or a plaintive song soars softly over the rural background noise, with casually harrowing lyrics about a cuckoo,” explains Nimcová. The overall feel of the album is bittersweet, switching from a woman who jokes about exchanging sex for a cow, to a somber song about a son asking when the father will return from war.

One of the tracks from DILO is already out, while the full album will be released on 29 June.

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