Russian group Ochelie Soroki is deeply inspired by ancient traditional Russian songs along with Norse mythology. We interviewed vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Uliana Shulepina to learn more about Ochelie Soroki.
How did the group get started?
Uliana: When I met Pavel Boev in 2005, he worked in Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra as a double bass player. He has travelled a lot with his orchestra and collected ethno musical instruments, which he brought from every country where he has been visited. At that moment I was already interested in traditional Russian singing, so we decided to combine all these things, and start the greatest ethno folk band ever existed.
In the next 6 years, we worked on the creation of relevant arrangements, and the repertoire for the first album. And, of course, searched for musicians. Also studied traditional Russian musical heritage, researched the ancient culture of the Baltic countries and peoples of the Siberian region. Since 2011, the group got its name Ochelie Soroki and began performing numerous concerts, and participating in festivals across Russia.
You describe your music as pagan dark folk, based on Russian old traditional songs as well as Norse mythology. Can you elaborate a little more, especially about the Russian traditions?
Uliana: When we say ‘pagan dark folk’ we mean that some of the songs we perform are really very old, at least 1000 years old, which is meaning they were created probably before Christianity came into Russia. Many old Russian folk song were part of rituals, connected with the most important events of human existence, like birth, life and death, as well as astronomical phases of the sun like solstice and equinox, in accordance which all ancient celebrations were established on.
The old traditional Russian songs were not originally performed for the audience; there was no audience at all, but only participants. The rituals included singing or playing, as well special dances (round dancing), games, incantations, lamentations, some magical acts in certain locations, such as sacred forests, lakes, rivers, tops of hills and mountains, etc. However, this subject is too vast to talk briefly, so we focus on the musical aspects.
The most archaic Old Russian polyphonic chanting complexes which survived till nowadays as calendar, epic, ritual or warriors songs have complicated microtonal improvisation structures, intuitively recognizable by all participants. This ancient singing tradition has been passed down from generation to generation orally, from age to age.
Currently, homophonic-harmonic system of the musical texture is completely different from the early sacred fractal scales and heterophony, characteristic of folk music. By the way, there are many musicians interpreting old music material greatly simplifying it, to make it easily digestible and well-selling product. We are characterized by a very attentive and careful attitude to the ancient musical artifacts which in our opinion is just necessary.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
Uliana: Researching ancient Russian musical heritage, I think, is the most important part of our music. Even just retransmission of these old songs is connecting us and our audience with a powerful source of the archetypal images. Some of our sounds determine this effect, like trance state and slowing down the time motion. So, second important element is a special atmosphere of our performance, which is achieved by using bourdon type of the ethnic string instruments, ornamented with low-frequency bass pads and drums as well as playback of some special selected background video.
Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
Uliana: As the main music source, we believe it is an ancient Russian musical tradition and some of its local keepers and researchers since the late 18th century to nowadays. As interpreters of folk music, some Nordic bands, such as Garmarna (Sweden), Wardruna (Norway), and Hedningarna (Sweden\Finland).
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
Uliana: We spent about 4 years to prepare and record our debut CD album called “Northern Kingdom” which was recorded on “Pro live recording® Studio” and released in May 2015. The album received very good reviews and the band got many fans around the world. Currently, Ochelie Soroki started to record its second album, which is scheduled for spring 2017.
What musical instruments do you use?
Uliana Shulepina: bass jouhikko (bowed lyre), khomus, overtone flutes
Pavel Boev: alto jouhikko (bowed lyre), citras (langeleik), bouzouki, programming
Alex Bragin: davul, percussion
Many of your musical instruments are made by luthier Pavel Boev, founder and musician of the group. How did he become interested in making musical instruments?
Uliana: Well, I think, he made his first instrument in the early 2010. That was a jouhikko (bowed lyre); it is a string bowed instrument of the Baltic countries. We call it in Finnish, jouhikko. Pavel had not so much experience in making musical instruments at that moment, but in the meantime, he was very inspired by the jouhikko sound. And also, it was very complicated to buy it, because jouhikko or talharpa (Sweden) is a quite rare instrument. So, it was easier to create it, than to order it.
What instruments does he make? And what materials does he use?
Uliana: For now, he is making tenor and alto Jouhikkos, also an extremely rare bass jouhikko (bass bowed lyre); the citras, Norwegian langeleik, a sort of archaic dulcimer; traditional overtone flutes and reed flute.
In general Pavel prefers to work with natural materials and components. Some plants and reeds are very suitable to make overtone flutes, as well as some fish bones are useful to produce authentic fishbone glue. As I know, Pavel is using pine wood, maple and special resonant spruce wood to construct his jouhikkos and citras. Also, he sets Mongolian horse hair in his bows.
Is Pavel Boev teaching new generations how to make instruments?
Uliana: Yes he is, during the years he organizes training courses on the history and manufacture of ancient folk musical instruments for everyone.
If someone is interested in purchasing one of the instruments, how can they do it?
Uliana: Probably they could be to contact with us by the internet, so we can discuss it. Here you are /www.facebook.com/OchelieSoroki
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
Uliana: Honestly, we’ve already performed with numerous Russian bands and surely would love to collaborate with many amazing musicians around the world. Currently, we are especially addicted to some Scandinavian neo folk bands such as Garmarna (Sweden), Wardruna (Norway), and Hedningarna (Sweden\Finland), so we would be happy to perform on the same stage with them. And of course, we hope we will be honored to have an opportunity to make ‘Ochelie Soroki debut performance with LSO (London Symphony Orchestra) at the Barbican Hall, or at the Royal Albert Hall.
Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?
Uliana: Of course we do, the most exciting is release of our second greatest CD album which is scheduled for the next spring. As well as the upcoming Ochelie Soroki European tour next summer 2017.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.