International folk alliance’s documentary up for awards

Slavic-Appalachian Folk Alliance, Slavalachia, was founded in 2019 by Dayton-native Brett Hill and Belarusian folk archivist, Siarhei Douhushau, (fourth and fifth from the left, respectively). The group’s still-unfinished documentary, “The Road to Slavalachia,” is a nominee in two categories at the ADAMI Media Prize in Tbilisi, Georgia. CONTRIBUTED
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Slavic-Appalachian Folk Alliance, Slavalachia, was founded in 2019 by Dayton-native Brett Hill and Belarusian folk archivist, Siarhei Douhushau, (fourth and fifth from the left, respectively). The group’s still-unfinished documentary, “The Road to Slavalachia,” is a nominee in two categories at the ADAMI Media Prize in Tbilisi, Georgia. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Slavalachia blends Slavic and Appalachian music

As a teenager obsessed with Radiohead, Brett Hill never imagined his musical breakthrough would come from something like the formation of Slavalachia. The Slavic-Appalachian Folk Alliance’s still-unfinished documentary, “The Road to Slavalachia,” is a nominee in two categories at the ADAMI Media Prize in Tbilisi in the country of Georgia. It is up for a Jury Award, which will be announced Dec. 10, and an Audience Award that is open to online voting through Dec. 9 at www.adamimediaprize.eu.

Hill, a graduate of Dayton Christian, had relocated to Athens, Ohio, where he met Belarusian folk archivist, Siarhei Douhushau, on a tour stop in 2019.

“Siarhei’s life’s work is collecting the various music in the folk traditions of Belarus, which is currently going through a lot of struggle and strife,” Hill said. “They’ve been subjugated by one people or another for three to four centuries, going back to the Polish Lithuanians to Napoleon, Hitler and the Soviets. They’ve always been under someone’s thumb and the folk peoples have always been the ones to be subjugated so Siarhei collects that music.

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“I went and saw the show and it was amazing,” Hill continued. “They had flutes and guitars and were singing these amazing songs. I loved what he was doing so I asked if he wanted to jam. Two nights later, Slavalachia was born.”

Sonic synchronicity

Despite the difference in cultures and musical styles, Hill found a kinship with Douhushau and the other players.

“We had nine or 10 musicians in a room,” Hill said. “Five were Appalachian and four or five Slavs showed up from out of the woodwork around Athens. There were Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians and we ended up having a jam where we fused our music. It was amazing.

“Siarhei sang these Belarusian songs and we played banjos and did these droning gospel harmonies over them,” Hill continued. “We played these Appalachian murder ballads and he played flute and did these Slavic wails. We found this really energetic core that attached the origin of both of these cultures.”

Pushing forward

Slavalachia toured in Central Europe for the first time in January 2020 but the pandemic soon stifled international travel. During the shutdowns, work intensified on the documentary, which was filmed in Belarus, Ukraine and the United States.

The members of Slavalachia were able to reconvene in the Ukraine for four weeks in late August and early September. The group performed live and wrote and recorded songs for its debut album, which is slated for release in 2022.

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“It’s been an amazing collaboration,” Hill said. “We called it Folk Alliance because we’re not trying to appropriate each other’s traditions. We’re really trying to bolster each other’s traditions. We want to spread them to new environments and then broaden the horizons of the work we do with our folk music.

“To be able to work with these talented musicians has been a life changing musical experience,” Hill added. “It has been nothing short of an awakening and I really feel like we’re just getting started.”

More info: slavalachia.com.

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at donthrasher100@gmail.com.

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