Ljova And The Kontraband: Tiny Desk Concert Composer, arranger and viola player Ljova lead his Kontraband to the Tiny Desk for an eclectic swirl of Western classical, jazz, tango and Eastern European and Balkan folk music.

Tiny Desk

Ljova And The Kontraband

All too often, "fusion" is a rightfully dread-inducing term to describe music that tries to occupy several spheres at once, usually unsuccessfully. So let's not use that label on the brilliant, wide-ranging music of Ljova and the Kontraband, a group that embraces Western classical, jazz and an array of international styles including tango and Eastern European and Balkan folk music. These top-flight musicians, who hail from Russia, Lithuania, the U.S. and Switzerland, pile all of these sounds atop of each other with great glee, and emerge with creations that alight on totally new and exciting terrain.

The band is led by the composer, arranger and viola player Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), who comes by this musical eclecticism naturally: the Moscow native, who comes from a family heavily involved in the arts, has worked with an astonishingly wide and starry group of collaborators, including Jay Z, the Bollywood queen Asha Bhosle and cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this Kontraband setting, he and his bandmates (including Ljova's wife, the preternaturally sweet-voiced, Lithuanian-born singer Inna Barmash) create performances of deep earthiness, fragile tenderness, ebullient humor and quicksilver shifts in texture. But the heart of their Tiny Desk Concert was the song "By the Campfire," whose words have a long, strange history that goes back to the Middle Ages. The words originally come from 12th-century Germany; Ljova's grandfather, a noted translator, translated this poem from German to Russian, which Ljova uses in his musical setting.

But before she sang "By the Campfire," Barmash gave us her own English translation of this unsettling, stunning, and perhaps even prophetic text: "Lies and spite command the world / Suffocate its consciousness, / Truth is poisoned, dead is law / Honor killed — obscene extolled! / ... And the wisdom of our days / Teaches theft, deceit and hate."

No Refund on Flowers is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List

  • "Love Potion, Expired"
  • "Ven Ikh Zol Hobn Fligelekh (If I Had Wings)"
  • "By The Campfire"
  • "Walking on Willoughby"

Musicians

Ljova (viola); Inna Barmash (vocals); Patrick Farrell (accordian); Jordan Morton (bass); Mathias Künzli (percussion)


Credits

Producers: Anastasia Tsioulcas, Bronson Arcuri; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Morgan Noelle Smith, Bronson Arcuri; Production Assistant: A Noah Harrison; Photo: Marian Carrasquero/NPR.

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tasha Cobbs Leonard plays a Tiny Desk Concert on June 4, 2019 (Shuran Huang/NPR). Shuran Huang/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Shuran Huang/NPR

Tasha Cobbs Leonard

Tasha Cobbs Leonard is widely regarded as one of the best gospel singers performing today. Her set at the Tiny Desk moved many at the NPR offices to tears.

Imogen Heap plays a Tiny Desk Conert on May 4, 2019 (Colin Marshall/NPR). Colin Marshall/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Colin Marshall/NPR

Imogen Heap

Imogen Heap takes us through her many musical talents, from her Frou Frou musical partner, Guy Sigsworth — and their first new song in 17 years — to an extraordinary performance with musical gloves.

Idles plays a Tiny Desk Concert on May 13, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Idles

The British madmen brought fury, cathartic rage and deep thoughts to the Tiny Desk for one of the loudest, most raucous performances in memory.

Foxing plays at the Tiny Desk on May 1, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Foxing

Foxing is at the forefront of an emo revival, heavily influenced by late-'90s and early 2000s groups like Sunny Day Real Estate and American Football.

Sesame Street plays a Tiny Desk concert on May 10, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Sesame Street

Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Elmo, Grover, Rosita, Count von Count, Abby Cadabby, Cookie Monster and other surprise guests gather at NPR's headquarters to celebrate 50 years of love, learning and joy.

Tomberlin performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on April 23, 2019 (Emily Bogle/NPR) Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR

Tomberlin

Tomberlin is the daughter of a Baptist pastor, grew up singing in the church and, since her teens, has questioned her own beliefs in God and faith. Her songs are delicate and vulnerable.

Quinn Christopherson performs a Tiny Desk Contest on May 28, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Quinn Christopherson

Quinn and his musical partner, guitarist and singer Nick Carpenter, arrived from the cool of Anchorage to the swelter of D.C. and performed with remarkable confidence and grace.

LADAMA performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 11, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

LADAMA

The group unites sounds from Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, with a dash of New York City thrown in.

Lucky Daye performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 25, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Lucky Daye

Hailing from New Orleans with a love of sticky, bass-bumping funk, Lucky brought along a 10-person band, including a quartet of horns, to capture the full flavor of his debut album Painted.

Jeremy Dutcher performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 22, 2019 (Michael Zamora/NPR). Michael Zamora/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Michael Zamora/NPR

Jeremy Dutcher

There is no one making music like this 27-year-old, classically trained opera tenor and pianist. Watch and see why.

Back To Top