Russ ’n’ roll in an Aldgate pub for freedom

Musician Sasha Ilyukevich & drummer Phil in Clapton Lon E5 Mar 2012

WHEN Sasha Ilyukevich fled his Russian-satellite-like Belarus homeland for London on the UK’s Highly Skilled Migrant programme, he had no trouble thinking up a name for a band he was starting.

The group would be called Sasha Ilyukevich and the Highly Skilled Migrants. Tumbles off the tongue so easily, doesn’t it?

Ilyukevich (above with drummer Phil Brunner) told Loving Dalston: “I used to work for the State Academy of Science in Belarus,  in the Institute of Geology,  researching the vertical and horizontal migration of radioactive elements in soil-vegetation system in the areas affected by the Chernobyl [nuclear] disaster.

“However, I ended up playing rock ’n’ roll.”

The young Belarusian left the fiefdom of Alexander Lukashenko in 2004 and made his musical debut at north London’s Luminaire, enlisting the other Highly Skilled Migrants soon after. They are not migrants, skilled or otherwise, but British; Hackney-resident at that.

They have nevertheless felt the baleful effect of Belarus’s KGB. In 2010 it banned from radio an album, Ha Numa, that they had recorded in London. The men in ill-fitting suits deemed its political content “controversial”.

Ilyukevich says: “Our rousing and poetic music is very much inspired by its Belarusian origins, the wild landscapes, the folk tales and legends of forests, creatures and monsters, and their drinking songs.”

But there’s nothing like a love for one’s country and clumsy pressure from a Stalinist regime to spark inspiration. Hence the band is playing this weekend, as part of a campaign entitled Free Belarus Now.

Ilyukevich adds: “As musicians we can use our music and lyrics to express how we feel about the last dictatorship in Europe.”

“Folk ’n’ roll” is what he calls his songs, all of them written by him and in Russian. Something like Eugene Hütz, that other exile from the Soviet empire, and his Gogol Bordello, then? “Uhm, no,” says the gentle Ilyukevich, audibly gulping over the phone, “not like them.” OK, let’s say “Russ ’n’ roll”.lovingdalston

* The Castle, 44 Commercial Road, Aldgate, London E1 1LN, Sunday 1 April 2012, doors open 7pm: £7. Also featuring  Happy Hunting, a duo from Wembley (sic), and a photographic exhibition about Belarusian repression.

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