The actual venue for this gig was rather hard to find but was located in a small, hot and rather muddied tent on a field not far from Barking Town Hall. About a dozen people were present in the audience as the four-piece band launched into their first song.
Muha began in 2004 and play Eastern European contemporary folk. The band comprises Iryna Muha on lead vocals and semi-acoustic guitar, Dmitry Fedotov on lead guitar, Louise Clements on electric bass and Nikki Mckenzie on beat box. Though they announced after the second song that they were from Nottingham, they’re an Anglo-Ukrainian band, and in a set that lasted just under an hour they played eleven songs and received consistently warm applause from the audience, which grew as the event went on. A couple of guys who looked liked they’d had a very good lunch indeed danced in the aisle for several numbers and one loudly requested ‘Money for Nothing’ by Dire Straits – but the band smiled and played gamely on.
The guitar playing of Dmitry, which has blues and Latin overtones, was particularly impressive – reminiscent of former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor’s in its fluidity. Iryna’s strong vocals also stood out, as she demonstrated she could hit the high notes too. She has an interesting guitar-playing style, plucking the strings with extended fingertips as if playing a harp. Beneath the soaring guitar and vocals the rhythm section were tight and added considerable depth to the overall sound. Iryna showed her musical dexterity as she played a harmonica intro on one song and a Brazilian instrument called a berimbau on another. This is used to accompany capoeira and consists of a gourd attached to a long vertical stick with a single amplified string.
This song received the greatest applause and no doubt it was in part due to the unusual scat-singing from bassist Louise near the end, which may well be the kathak vocals attributed to her on their website. On the song after that Iryna played a hurdy-gurdy, a wooden instrument which involves turning a handle while pressing keys. It had a beautiful haunting sound and it would have been nice to hear it on more than one track. Not to be outdone, Nikki on beat box switched to bongos for the last few numbers. The songs varied in tempo and one had a distinctly Latin feel: clearly the group have a variety of influences.
I would warmly recommend this band. My only gripe with Muha in fact is a linguistic one – songs seemed to veer solely between Ukrainian and Russian, and while this isn’t a problem in itself, for non-Ukrainian-speaking members of the audience – surely the majority on Sunday – a little preamble in English or even just a translation of the title would surely have supplied the missing link. A quick glance at the lyrics on their website show songs almost animistically close to nature, full of vivid imagery of rivers, dew, oceans, grassland, and thunderstorms. Their song ‘Let’s Talk About The Weather’ surely has sentiments local audiences would both recognise and relish:
‘Its raining again
The rain doesn’t want to stop.
But what one can do-
This is the way the English weather is
Greyness for people
Fresh greenneness for trees
….Where is Winter, where is Autumn, where is Summer
You wouldn’t tell without a calendar
But what one can do –
At least there is always something to talk about-
To discuss the weather
Ten times a day.’
Further details of Muha – their releases and future dates – can be found on the band’s website: www.muha.co.uk. Their London concert on 19th July was part of Night of Festivals, Barking, 2015