Since making its debut in June 2006, the ensemble has performed at venues such as New York's Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where it was the opening musical guest of the Sundance@BAM Film Festival. The Kontraband is also a mainstay at New York's Joe's Pub and Brooklyn's Barbès.
Founded by the maverick film composer, arranger, and violist Lev 'LJOVA' Zhurbin, the ensemble also features his close collaborators on vocals, accordion, bass, and percussion. Inspired by his collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Osvaldo Golijov, the Kronos Quartet, the rapper Jay-Z and others, Ljova's compositions dazzle with intricate textures, odd rhythms and lilting melodies, creating music that is both fresh and timeless. The Kontraband's debut CD, MNEMOSYNE, features special guests Frank London, William Schimmel, Uli Geissendoerfer, Alon Yavnai, and Marcus Rojas.
Hailed by Billboard Magazine as "one of New York's fastest-rising composers and instrumentalists," and by The New York Times as "an eclectic with an ear for texture... strikingly original and soulful," LJOVA (Lev Zhurbin) was born in Moscow, Russia, and moved to New York with his parents, composer Alexander Zhurbin and writer Irena Ginzburg, in 1990. He divides his time between performing as a violist in diverse groups ranging from his own Ljova and the Kontraband, to string quartets, jazz combos, and Gypsy bands; studying and arranging music for Yo-Yo Ma, the Kronos Quartet, Jay-Z, Gustavo Santaolalla, Osvaldo Golijov, Alondra de la Parra, and others; and composing original music for film, TV, dance, and the concert stage. www.Ljova.com
Vocalist Inna Barmash immigrated to the States from Lithuania, where she first started singing in Yiddish and Russian. While a student at Princeton University, she co-founded the Klez Dispensers, and has performed with numerous other klezmer groups in the tri-state area. Her explorations of the repertoire of Russian and Romanian gypsies led to her co-founding of Romashka, a gypsy band based in New York. While roaming through clubs, cafés, and underground parties with Romashka, Inna encountered Ljova, and now they travel together with Ljova and the Kontraband, and their son Benjamin.
Accordionist Patrick Farrell moved to Brooklyn from New Orleans in 2007, and has quickly integrated into the New York City music scene. He plays in many different genres and musical situations around the city, from dance accompaniment and cabaret to club gigs, concerts and weddings. Farrell leads his own group, Stagger Back Brass Band, playing original brass circus music, and is a member of Russian and Romanian Roma-music band Romashka, Michael Winograd's Klezmer Trio, and Serbian-style brass band Veveritse. He has studied accordion in Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and Romania, and has played in clubs, concert halls, streets, and serenades all over the US and Europe as well as Canada and Mexico. He has appeared on over 20 recordings and can be found at www.pattysounds.com.
Since his arrival in New York City in 1999, bass and banjo player Mike Savino has performed in an eclectic array of capacities. At once a composer, multi- instrumentalist, and songwriter, Savino has developed a highly personal and unique style, incorporating years of exploration into the jazz, folk, and world music traditions. He is the singer and banjo player behind NYC based alt-folk band, Tall Tall Trees, whose music has been featured on a number of television programs including American Pickers and MTV's Teen Mom. Over the years he has had the pleasure to collaborate with a wonderful variety of artists including Kate Havnevik, Of Montreal, and Scott Kettner's Nation Beat. He currently resides in Harlem with his cat Stinko. He holds a BFA from New School University's Jazz & Contemporary Music Program and is a self-professed ethnomusicologist.
Percussionist John Hadfield's dedication to bending genres has taken him to concert halls and clubs across the world. His varied expertise has allowed him to perform with a broad range of ensembles and artists including: Yo-Yo Ma, The Silk Road Ensemble, The Saturday Night Live Band, Bang on a Can, HUGO, The HUM Ensemble, Sky White Tiger, Deep Purple, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, Combo Nuvo, Daniel Hope, Ethos Percussion Group, and Gamelan Dharma Swara. He is currently on the Jazz faculty of New York University, where he teaches drum set and the World Percussion Ensemble. Mr. Hadfield has released two records of his own compositions, mainly written for percussion instruments and electronics but also including guitar, harp, violin and cello-The Eye of Gordon (2008) and Displaced (2010).