Bringing Ukrainian folk music to the island, The Kubasonics are the biggest and best kept secret in Newfoundland and Labrador’s music scene
To the uninitiated or woefully uninformed, Newfoundland and Labrador’s music culture is made up of nothing but jigs & reels, saltwater ditties and enough accordion to make your grandmother do cartwheels down George Street.
While there is nothing wrong with that particular feel-good brand of tuneage, it would be sadly inaccurate to paint the entirety of a province full to the bursting with talent of just one colour.
Take, for prime example, The Kubasonics. Comprised of family-band Brian Cherwick (who has performed in a Kubasonic-type group for the better part of two decades), his son and daughter Brian and Maria Cherwick, as well as bassist Matt Hender and guitarist Darren ‘Boobie’ Browne, The Kubasonics bring the finest amalgamation of Ukrainian folk music and present it in an irresistible package.
“Newfoundland audiences are used to all kinds of good music,” Brian Cherwick shared with The Newfoundland Herald.
“For them they’re very used to listening to new and different kinds of things. For me I’d try to tell people when I’m on tour in western Canada or Europe that it’s a stereotype that there’s one type of Newfoundland music because basically you have anything you can imagine here.
“People are open to new, different things. Our music has a lot of energy and drive to it and it’s similar to a lot of traditional music, with the singing and dancing. I think that’s one thing that appeals to people.”
Cherwick moved to St. John’s six and a half years ago after his wife accepted a position at Memorial University. After daughter Maria moved to town to complete her graduate degree, the time was right to re-tool The Kubasonics.
That was three years ago, and since then The Kubasonics have become one of the island’s more beloved, and infectiously fun live attractions. Take the band’s celebration of Ukrainian New Year known as Malanka. The band commemorated the occasion last month with family and fans, with an evening brimming with fine authentic eats, inventive costumers, and of course, the finest in traditional Ukrainian music.
“It’s kind of like Newfoundland mummering,” Cherwick said of the Malanka celebrations. “What you normally would do would be dress up in weird costumes and go singing at people’s houses. Over the years it has kind of evolved to not just going to people’s houses but now you have some sort of event where people can all gather. It’s neat that both traditions are kind of similar – dressing up, lots of singing and combined with food and refreshments.”
Cherwick laughs when presented with the claim that The Kubasonics, with their 2017 album Kubfunland, are the first band in NL to release an album of traditional Ukrainian music.
“I would suspect so, because I’m not sure there’s too big of a Ukrainian population here,” he says. “One of the jokes I tell people when they ask me if there are a lot of Ukrainians in Newfoundland, I’ll say ‘yeah there are, but they all live in my house.’”
If you’re struggling to picture or conjure up just what Ukrainian music sounds like, Cherwick does his best to unpack it for our readers.
“There’s a lot of different styles of Ukrainian traditional music, and we try to feature many of them while we play. A lot of what we play are based on old time dance melodies. It’s the same as traditional Newfoundland music has jigs, singles, doubles and those things for people to dance to. Lots of our music is also the Ukrainian version of that, based on old country-style dances.”
Of course that close-knit dynamic and ability to let loose on stage is amplified when considering that three members of the Cherwick clan make up three fifths of the group. It’s a lovely double-edged sword of comfort and compromise, performing alongside your kin, but Brian Cherwick shares that music has been in his children’s blood since a young age.
“It makes it sometimes easier to do things and sometimes a little more difficult. It would be pretty hard to fire them from the band. They’ve grown up with this music. I’ve been playing in a band of this nature for over 20 years. They’ve been hearing some of these tunes their whole life. Even when they were small kids I used to let them come on stage and play some of these tunes with us. They kind of learned it in the old style, the way people used to learn music. You hear other people do it and you try it yourself. Sometimes things are easier for us because they already have the feel for how that music should go.”
Slew of Summer Fun
The blueprint for the band moving forward into 2018 involves more touring, including a slew of potential summer festivals in central Canada, and a hopeful tour of western Newfoundland and Western Canada. Cherwick and co. plan to introduce as many audiences to a taste of the Ukraine as possible.
“It’s nice to be able to bring this to a new audience and to people who are not familiar with this music,” he says. “People are connecting with the sound and the energy we play it with.”
For more on The Kubasonics including dates and music visit kubasonics.com and the bands official Facebook page.
*Photos by Chris LeDrew