Dálava cannot contain their intensity

Dálava at China Cloud, 12/16/17

Contemporary-folk group Dálava played Vancouver’s China Cloud.

“That was a little intense,” Dálava frontwoman Julia Ulehla said after finishing “A ty moja.” 

She wasn’t kidding. The third song of Dálava’s setlist at China Cloud on Friday night (Dec. 16) was a dark, rocking masterpiece where Aram Bajakian’s electric guitar lived up to the Christian moniker, “devil’s instrument.” For a moment Dalava’s music transported music lovers at the China Cloud into another world before Ulehla slams the breaks lest we get lost there completely.  

It’s hard not to want to get totally lost in Dalava’s music though. The local Vancouver band structures their music around traditional Moravian (Czech) folksong. Their latest album, The Book of Transfiguration, was composed from Ulehla’s great-grandfather’s 100-year-old melodies.

Ulehla is open about how these songs are being played in an untraditional manner. Indeed, many of the musical accompaniment strays into experimental with the occasional guitar solo or instrumental break bringing down the house. The show was punctuated with Ulehla pausing to translate the songs meaning to the audience. Unsurprisingly, the heavier songs about unfaithful lovers and terrifying natural disasters were the crowd’s favourites.

Ulehla let herself completely be taken in by her music during the show. Her entire body was the instrument. One moment she’s shaking as though possessed by some mad demon; another she’s sitting in thoughtful reflection at the foot of the stage. The portal can be opened at any second. It almost felt like she’s terrified by it. Confronted with a crowd pushing her towards the precipice, she needed to reign things in and so offered little jokes in between songs to keep things light.

Dálava opened the show with “Zasadil sem” with Bajakian and Ulehla entering the stage through the crowd. It wasn’t the only time Ulehla jumped into the audience. At one point, she performed a cheery-sounding acapella song, which she revealed was actually a lament, with a couple other singers in the audience.

But every time the emotion got too intense, the music got too heavy, or the content too dark, Ulehla was there to pull things back. It was a coy game. Ulehla knew how the crowd was reacting to the music and teased them by scaling back to a less intense tone.

The setlist, although planned beforehand, ended up being randomized according to how Ulehla and Bajakian were reading the crowd. It resulted in some funny onstage banter and a few missteps. But more than anything, it resulted in a setlist that finished abruptly, leaving many with the immediate desire to get right back into the hidden world Dálava had introduced to us.