In Album Nodding to His New Life in the States, Ukrainian Blues Guitarist Embraces the Texas Heat
THE MUSIC OF Ukrainian-born guitarist Vlad De Briansky is a testament for the blues as a universal musical language. His new album Live at Lobero Theatre, recorded on Feb. 1, 2023, with high-caliber Bay Area-based musicians drummer Brian Collier and bassist William Taylor, is a statement of purpose, with 11 tracks blending Delta, Texas, and Chicago blues with elements of swing, funk, and bebop. To the listener, the music may sound effortless, but it’s very challenging to play. “My music is not one-sided,” says De Briansky. “There’s a lot of improvisation, and you have to navigate through it.”
De Brainsky’s music also speaks to the resilience of the human spirit. In December 2021, De Briansky, his wife, and their newborn son traveled from Ukraine to Texas for a road trip that included Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi — where blues music is played in a myriad of distinctly different styles. Debriansky’s wife had never been to the U.S., and he was happy to share the sights and sounds of his adopted country. Then, on Feb. 24, 2022, just two days before they were scheduled to fly back home, family and friends began sending panicked text messages as Russia had invaded Ukraine. Returning to their native land was impossible, and for the foreseeable future, Houston would be their home. “This is our new life,” says De Briansky, “and this is our new city.”
Born in 1972, De Briansky picked up the guitar at age seven, around the time his family relocated temporarily to Siberia and the tiny village of Ugolnoye, where speaking Ukrainian and lighting candles on Christmas was illegal. Also illegal was the blues-infused British and American rock music De Briansky and his older brother listened to on bootlegged cassette tapes. Along with Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Santana, De Briansky was enamored with classical music, especially Bach, and took it all in with open ears. “The word ‘blues’ didn’t exist for me,” says De Briansky, who at the time, was simply unaware of the roots of what he was hearing. “It was just music.”
Growing up in such an oppressive environment only strengthened De Briansky’s resolve to pursue a career in music. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” says De Briansky. “I liked to create sound, melodies, harmonies, rhythms — you name it. I wanted to do it for me, to make sure I was happy.” After Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, De Briansky would go on study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, secure a recording contract with Orpheus Music, and after the Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian government, open an American Music Academy as a Berklee College of Music ambassador in 2014. The school had locations in Kyiv and Lviv, with students from Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus as well as from the U.S. Sadly, the school was forced to close in February 2022 due to the Russian invasion.
As native Ukrainians, Houston temperatures in the summertime are a challenge for De Briansky and his wife. “We never experienced climate like this,” says De Brainsky, who has toured through South and Central America. The vast geography of the city is also new to them and can make simply meeting up with someone a challenge. “That influences our social life,” says De Briansky, whose wife gave birth to their second son last February. Still, the couple has made friends with some of Houston’s finest classical musicians, including Polish-born violinist Dominika Dancewicz (who has led several fundraising efforts to support Ukrainian refugees), as well as fellow Ukrainian immigrants. While he has no immediate plans to perform in Houston, De Briansky will hit the road in September, performing dates in Nashville, Arizona, Florida, and California. But he notes the growing diversity of Houston’s population bodes well for the kind of musical experimentation and unique collaborations he thrives on.
“If I do a show here in Houston,” says De Brainsky, “I’ll do something very unique.”
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