Rostyk (Bob) Becker spoke to Alina Bzhezhinska-Lazorkina about her coming performance at WOMADelaide

Alina there is a real buzz about your performance. It is a rare treat to listen to jazz influenced harp. Could you tell us about your musical journey, where it all began for you?
I grew up in Lviv in a Polish-Ukrainian family that had a very broad appreciation of music and art. From the age of seven I was enrolled in the very famous Solomia Krushelnytska music school where I studied piano and harp.

The harp is such a rare instrument. Tell us about how you got involved with it?
It is a very long story but briefly; it was very difficult to get into this school as it was the only major music school for the whole of Western Ukraine and the competition was huge. I initially auditioned for the piano, and as I was waiting for my examination I saw a harp in the corridor and fell in with love with it straight away, the way it looked. Everyone tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted that I wasn’t going to play piano if they didn’t let me play harp, so eventually I ended up with a double major of piano and harp.

I imagine the focus here was classical music…
The school was very rigorous and very strict, and slowly my love of classical music and harp diminished, so I decided that I wanted to become a television journalist. This was about the time that the Soviet Union was collapsing and there was so much happening. I briefly worked for a radio station and then joined a rock band, Plach Yeremiyi (Jeremiah’s Wail) with Taras Chubay. This band was very much part of the Lviv Bohemian Avant-Garde scene and there were painters, and writers, and musicians with this incredible energy that I learnt so much from. Plach Yeremiyi became very famous in Ukraine and they even produced one of the biggest singles in Ukrainian rock history. It was a song called Vona.

Alina could you tell us how you discovered jazz?
I was introduced to jazz at a very early age as my parents had a nice vinyl collection of Sinatra and French jazz and chanson. But I really started experimenting with jazz after my Polish period, after I graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Music and went to live in Munich, Germany where I was introduced to a more experimental approach to harp which bridged classical and jazz styles. From there I studied at the University of Arizona and it was here that I was introduced to the work of the wonderful jazz harpists, Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby. My new album, Inspiration pays homage to these great artists.

Are you also going to play some of the more folk-inspired songs that appear on your latest album, Inspiration. I am referring here to Spero and Lemky?
Spero is actually dedicated to the nineteenth century Ukrainian poet, Lesia Ukrainka who wrote the poem Contra Spem Spera (I hope against hope), and Lemky is a meditation on the tunes from the Lemko region in the Carpathian Mountains which is on the border of Poland and Ukraine. I think we will definitely do some of the folk inspired songs. I really want WOMADelaide audiences to hear some of the music that comes from my roots. We are also rehearsing a couple of original new songs that will have people dancing.

I saw a clip of you performing a soul stirring rendition of one of my favourite Lemko songs, Plyve Kacha, which became synonymous with the 2014 Maidan Revolution of Dignity. Will you be playing this at WOMADelaide?
I usually play this as a solo and it’s such a difficult song to play live because I get so emotional when I play it. So I’m not sure.

Alina, congratulations on a wonderful album, and I just heard the news that Inspiration has made the top 10 for The Jazz Journal Critics’ Poll for the 2018 Record of the Year.
Look I am so blessed to have such a talented band, Tony Kofi, Larry Bartley and Joel Prime. Did you know that Joel Prime is originally from Adelaide? He is so looking forward to playing in his home town.

We are all looking forward to seeing your quartet. If the album, Inspiration is anything to go by, WOMADelaide audiences are in for a real treat. Thank you for sharing your musical journey with us. But before we finish, I believe that you are also talented in the kitchen and will be making borshch in the Tasting the World Tent.
Yes I will be sharing some, not all of course, of my babcia’s (grandmother’s) secret recipe.  Join me in the Tasting the World Tent and try some of my borshch.

Very much looking forward to seeing your quartet and trying some of your borshch.

Interview by Bob Becker

Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet will be appearing on:
Saturday 9th March at 2.00 pm on the Zoo Stage
Sunday 10th March at 4.00 pm on the Moreton Bay Stage

Alina will be making borshch on:
Monday 11th March at 5.15 pm in the Tasting the World Tent