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Natalia "Hellawes" O'Shea (née Nikolayeva) (born 3 September 1976) is a linguist, songwriter, musician (Irish harp, guitar), vocalist and leader of the bands "Мельница" (folk rock), "Clann Lir" (traditional Celtic folk) and "Romanesque" (folk). Earlier she took part in the "Тиль Уленшпигель" project (folk), for which she was a vocalist and co-author of many songs.Read More...
Natalia O’Shea (Hellawes) is an iconic figure in the Russian folk-rock sphere, which has been rapidly developing for the past ten years. Her strong and sweet voice, together with a talent for songwriting, made her a lead singer and main author in the group “Melnitsa” (which translates as “The Mill”). The group has been in the business for seven years now and is currently recognised as the most prominent folk-rock band in the country.
Back in her school days, Natalia was a promising pianist, but she decided not to go in for classical music and went to study Celtic languages instead. The music has never been left behind, though, and while pursuing her academic career, which eventually led her to a Ph.D. in linguistics, Natalia also took to studying. Due to her deep and thorough knowledge of world music and time spent in different countries, Natalia became a unique performer who can easily hop from Russian traditional type of singing to sweetest Irish sean-nos to growls and howls of blues. That vocal prowess is blended with cleverly composed and immaculately arranged songs, where bass and drums meet flute and cello and backing vocals, that is where you get the sound of Melnitsa.
At a certain gig, Natalia came across a small Pakistan-made Celtic harp belonging to another musician. She became instantly fascinated and decided to take up harp. Having been a professional pianist in past, it was not difficult for Natalia to adjust herself to the new instrument. The catch, however, was that there were no teachers of lever harp in Russia, so she had to confine herself to a few lessons from the classical harpists.
Luckily for Natalia, she and her husband soon moved to Ireland, where teachers were aplenty. Moreover, she was able to get herself a decent instrument – something hardly ever found in Russia at that time! Natalia studied harp with Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Kathleen Loughnane, and also had lessons with Ann-Marie O’Farrell and Grainne Hambley. She made extraordinary progress and by the end of her second year of harping recorded an album with the Moscow-based Celtic music band “Clann Lir”. The record was very well received in Russia and abroad; a few tunes from it can be still heard on Radio na Gaeltachta and Radio Kerry in Ireland. Natalia also performed at the Festival of World Cultures in Dun Laoghaire in August 2005.
Natalia now is an accomplished harper who performs both solo and with the band. Her techniques, just like her vocals, vary according to the pieces she plays – on one hand, there is meticulous ornamentation of Irish dance music and the inescapable O’Carolan baroque, on the other there are her own folk-jazz-rock pieces which show virtuoso slapping, staccatti and dangerously-looking lever-flipping. Of the very few Celtic harpers in Russia, she is the only one to have received professional education in Ireland.
Apart from an unusual and alluring cocktail of electric and acoustic instruments, Melnitsa now is the only band in Russia, which uses Celtic harp as a full-on rock music instrument. Natalia and her two harps have performed in all prominent clubs and rock concert halls of Moscow and St-Petersburg, toured extensively around the country and took part in huge rock festivals such as “Krylia”, “Emmaus” and “Nashestvie”. Her songs regularly top up the charts of the most well-known rock-music radio station, “Nashe Radio”. The group received “best newcomer” FUZZ award in March 2006 and launched its third album, “Zov Krovi” (“The Call of the Wild”) in the Luzhniki Small Arena Stadium in Moscow in December 2006. The show was attended by ca. 4000 people, and the album has been flying off the shelves since. Natalia’s harp and vocal performance on the album gained highest critical acclaim.
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