‘Put Your Faith in the Sword and the Sword in the Polka' EP by Cov Kozaks

‘Put Your Faith in the Sword and the Sword in the Polka' EP by Cov Kozaks


It's so unfortunate that it has taken a tragedy on the scale of the one unfolding in Ukraine for our first review of a Cov Kozaks record, but as you'll have seen from yesterday's news about benefits for that nation, the high profile participation of this excellent band comprising members whose families originated there, has prompted me.

Who can argue with their priorities at this moment in favouring fund and awareness raising & over their own career, yet I think it's an added shame that in addition to the horrors being inflicted on their loved ones, the qualities of their latest EP, ‘Put Your Faith in the Sword and the Sword in the Polka'  may get unfairly overlooked.

As noted yesterday, their planned launch turned into an effective fundraiser, yet conventional promotion is far from the forefront their current minds.

I'd just hope that in addition to supporting the main aim of helping Ukraine and its people, we at "Hot Music Live" and you as music lovers with great hearts, can in some way address this injustice in both writing this piece & with luck, bolstering sales & sharing of the music: because, as we know, it's not just the fabric & people of Ukraine being targeted but the culture also.

The EP was created during lockdown and follows its predecessors the ‘Stand Aside Mykola' EP of 2018 and the live album ‘Who Else But An Idiot Would Want To!' which came out in 2020.

The band, (who are Alex Kosmirak on accordion/ vocals, Dan Barskyj (guitar/vocals), Zenon Dzula  (accordion), Stef Fedeczko  (fiddle), Andy Maslanyj  (bass) and  Andriy Buniak  on  drums plus newcomer  Anna Lytwyniw on sopilka) are all members of the local Ukrainian community and developed as musicians playing traditional music for dancing. Their songs use Ukrainian folk lyrics, but they draw upon the other music they experience and love, from folk to rock to ska to fashion new settings: ones which more than meet the approval of audiences aware of the sources, even when they played in Ukraine itself. For the rest of us I'm afraid the words, while evocative, are rather more enigmatic.

I must confess that my previous awareness of Ukrainian music centres very largely on the wonderful Gogol Bordello but Cov Kozaks, though clearly sharing much more than just the sources, are much less punky. Please however do not read that as indicating less vibrancy, passion nor energy: all of these are present & correct.

Nevertheless, within the good humour and sense of community forged on long tradition & familiarity, there is discernible within the songs a sense of that profound Slavic melancholy informed by understanding of the struggles of generations.

A couple of songs have titles in Latin script: "Intro" and "20-PA3" while the others are rendered in Cyrillic: "Лемко"("Lemko");, "Червона Рута" ("Red Route"), "Наливаймо" ("Let's Pour") "Чом" ("Why") and "Їxаали" ("We Went"). As I say, their precise meanings are most accessible to Ukrainian speakers (even the short "Intro" has lyrics) but I think everyone could get caught up in the moods evoked: from swirling dance music, through more balladic songs to anthemic communal sing alongs: you might feel a little left out of exactly what the singers and many of the audience are getting out of the experience but there is enough emotional connection left to feel the goodwill & the welcome offered.

What I particularly enjoyed was the complex interplay of less familiar instruments & those which although better known to the UK, nevertheless serve musical structures of a culture we hear too little of. All tracks exhibit this rich tapestry approach & consequently although the overall effect of each individual song impacts immediately upon you, you can also return repeatedly to enjoy different nuances & textures each time.

 You can, should you choose, decide to buy ‘Put Your Faith in the Sword and the Sword in the Polka' because you feel you'd like to make a gesture of support to Ukraine & her people (all proceeds by the way are going to relief charities). You may feel now is a good time to immerse yourself in Ukrainian culture. Both are admirable reasons for doing so & I guess many people will wish to do so. However, aside from the meaning this EP has gained in the past weeks, it is great music in its own right & worthy of your time regardless of more sombre considerations. I greatly enjoyed listening to it & if my route to it came via deplorable actions of others, then that is sad, but this is a band whose culture and music will endure once these times are resolved & one whom I'd love to hear & see live.

There is an almost unbearable sadness about listening today to ‘Put Your Faith in the Sword and the Sword in the Polka' , yet within it, I seem to perceive the defiance of a proud & resilient culture who have been brought to bad places before but have endured & are determined to endure again: the sense of timelessness is that palpable.

Many thanks to Andriy in particular for his time in talking to me about the band & to Michelle Bailey-Le Long for introducing me in the first place.


Don't forget too that  Cov Kozaks are performing a benefit for Ukraine at The Arches in Coventry tomorrow (18th March) at 1930.

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