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PROFILE: Dmitry Evsikov, frontman of Latvian ethno-jazz band "Baraka"

Published on On the stage of the dimly lit nightclub we can see a cross-legged sitting bearded man wearing a skullcap. He is holding two huge drums between his legs. The audience seems to be mesmerized by the angelic female voice of the singer. You can also hear a guitar and a saxophone. 

It's taking place in Riga, Latvia, at one of the concerts of Latvian ethno-jazz band Baraka. A man with a skullcap is the band’s founder, Dmitry Evsikov, and his “huge drums” are actually called “tabla”. The angelic voice belongs to his 20-year-old daughter, Devika. 

Dmitry was born in Novosibirsk in 1972, but moved to Riga in the age of five. In the childhood he wanted to continue his family’s dynasty of photographers, in 1992 he graduated from European University Munich, but then decided to dedicate his life to jazz. The band’s name came to his mind after viewing famous Ron Fricke’s documentary film “Baraka”.

Baraka’s debut album came out in 2005. It was initially a lounge project with no hint of jazz. “We had a dancer, violin and percussion with me doing playback,” recalls Dmitry. “With this lineup we had a lot of gigs in some very stylish places. I remember performing in Saint-Petersburg in the club that previously held Madonna’s concert.” 

Unfortunately, in this format Baraka turned out to be short-lived: the only dancer moved to Turkey and Dmitry faced the need to urgently change the band’s concept. And in these circumstances Dmitry’s connections in music world came in very handy: one of his numerous acquaintances was Sergei Zavyalov whose ethnic music label “Kailas Records” had just closed down. “He released some really fantastic stuff like Albanian Symphony Orchestra or Kalmyk folk music,” tells Dmitry. “The label’s catalogue had only about 100 releases, but every single disc was a revolution.” Sergei was eager to pass this kind of ethnic music flow to someone and Dmitry proved to be the ideal candidate for this. Besides that, this occasion allowed Dmitry to fulfill his old dream — to get rid of the playback. Thus Baraka from electro-acoustic project turned into the completely live band. 

It was decided to concentrate on the Tajik music, more precisely, on the music of its Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Region, located in the Pamir Mountains. Baraka’s current music style Dmitry describes as a mixture of electronic music, lounge and ethno with a “jazz vaccination”. “We’re not going too deep into the Pamir traditional music, because it is really an enormous jungle. We prefer working with the Pamir popular music. Although it sounds like folk, it is still pop music,” he says. Considering the influence from Indian, Afghan and Soviet culture, as a result, Pamir popular music comes as a very deeply synthesized product. It also has another interesting feature: nearly all of the of the Pamir pop songs have stunningly profound lyrics. “They use texts from the 8th, 12th centuries… It is an absolutely normal practice,” explains Dmitry. 

The absolute majority of Baraka’s discography consists of the tribute albums, devoted to famous Pamiri singers. “It is a very painstaking work,” says Dmitry. “The original songs are mostly acoustic, and some of them lack original lyrics. That’s why we had to involve some local Pamir poets and seek inspiration in the old Pamir languages. Now we sing mostly in Pamir, Shighnan and Rushani languages.” Baraka’s very first tribute album “Mubaraksho” went virtually unnoticed, however, the second one, devoted to Pamir singer Nargis Bandishoeva who died in 1991, received a lot of acclaim in Tajikistan. “We were officially invited to visit Pamir, we met Nargis’s parents,” says Dmitry. “But the culmination was our concert in the capital city — Khorugh. 15,000 people came to see us — nearly half of the city!”

As Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Region is located high up in the mountains, it is completely isolated. One of the core Pamirian values is hospitality, which is kept on an amazingly high level. Once Dmitry had a chance to experience it on himself in a quite anecdotal circumstances. “I made a big mistake,” Dmitry tells. “When we went to the house-museum of Nargis, I admired the beauty of a musical instrument hanging on the wall. Exactly one minute later Nargis’s mother said, ‘It’s yours now’. And you can’t just refuse to take such a gift — otherwise you will greatly offend her.” 

His own “jazz vaccination” Dmitry received in 1980-s, when he heard Miles Davis who in those days was making a revolution in jazz music. However, Dmitry points out that his all-time favourite album is a brain-blowing Shakhti’s debut album “Shakhti with John McLaughlin”: “In fact, I really love Indian music: both classical and contemporary. I even gave my daughter an Indian name — Devika. It is translated as ‘divine’.” 

When asked about the sales of Baraka’s albums in Europe, Dmitry sadly shakes his head: “At the moment our music gets absolutely no response from Europe.” In fact, Dmitry and his band have found themselves in a difficult situation: people in Europe don’t understand the lyrics of their songs, but Asian people don’t understand their musical arrangement. So, Baraka with its original music genre is hovering somewhere in between.

And only after the question about why he is doing this, Dmitry literally ‘lights up’: “I am delighted to serve the culture. I’m doing it absolutely whole-heartedly and I see it as my sacred duty”, he starts. “I want to restore some kind of interethnic justice. Why the West is deprived of such beauty? Why can’t we hear what, in fact, is a global treasure? Why it is kept only there, in the Pamir mountains?” And then adds: “I am also glad to serve the Tajik people, because they know how to be grateful. But I’m not doing this for the gratitude — I’m doing this to help the light of their culture to reach Europe as soon as possible.”

Image credits: facebook.com/dmitry.evsikov
This article was written on 10 November 2014 as an assignment in Arts and Culture Journalism module at City University London