It’s 22 February 2022 and the Mariupol Theatre is full. Andriy Khlyvnyuk is on stage together with his band BoomBox. In style all through Ukraine for twenty years, the band’s songs match each event: whether or not you’re falling in love or breaking apart, laughing or crying, in a stadium or on the entrance.
However this night the ambiance isn’t festive. In simply over 24 hours Russia will invade Ukraine. Nobody is aware of that, after all, however there’s a sense of dread. Folks collect on town sq. in entrance of the Theatre, wrapped in Ukrainian flags, singing Ukrainian songs. Khlyvnyuk calls out to them: ‘Thanks for being you. In your integrity. For not being afraid. That is our house, and nobody can chase us away. Allow them to strive. Glory to Ukraine!’
The subsequent night, BoomBox raises folks’s spirits at a gig in Melitopol. Late that night time, on the best way to the following metropolis on the tour, the information reaches the band: Russia has attacked. Khlyvnyuk heads to Kyiv, brings his household to security and swaps his microphone for an assault rifle. He volunteers for a fireplace help unit of the Kyiv police, now defending town.
Within the first few days, nobody might consider music. The issues that individuals had been listening to the day earlier than grew to become sounds from one other life. A music that would specific this new life was nonetheless inconceivable. Air-raid sirens, explosions, gunfire – this was the one soundtrack.
Three weeks later, Russia’s planes bombed Mariupol Theatre, the place a whole lot of civilians had sought refuge. Ten days after that, Andriy Khlyvnyuk got here underneath mortar hearth close to Kyiv and was wounded within the face by shrapnel.
Destroyed and reborn
This isn’t the primary time Russia has tried to destroy Ukrainian tradition. The historical past of Ukraine is a historical past of thwarted beginnings and violently interrupted rebirths.
Within the twentieth century, Ukrainian composers, performers, researchers and educators have been both persecuted and murdered, or integrated into Moscow’s imperial system, in order that they grew to become representatives of a nationwide minority. The range of Ukrainian music was lowered to a peasant stereotype. The repression of Ukrainian musicians reached its peak within the Stalinist purges of the Thirties, however started even earlier. In 1921, for instance, Mykola Leontovych, a big composer, choral conductor, pianist, and trainer and collector of people songs, was shot dead by a Cheka agent.
The destruction of the tradition of Kobza and Bandura gamers marked a specific blow in opposition to Ukrainian musical traditions. Kobzars, usually blind outdated males, had for hundreds of years travelled from village to village with their string instrument, which resembles a lute. They have been the creators, preservers and transmitters of the epic custom of Duma (historic tune), spiritual songs and fairy tales. The persecution of the Kobzars started with the Tsarist repression of all issues Ukrainian in direction of the top of the nineteenth century. However it was solely within the Thirties that this musical tradition was destroyed fully. Underneath Stalin, Kobza and Bandura gamers have been arrested, deported and murdered.
The varied traditions of people music handed down orally from technology to technology within the territory of what’s now Ukraine have been largely destroyed. Of their place, the Soviet cultural authorities imposed a single ‘Ukrainian’ cliché: ‘people choral singing’. In virtually all cities and villages of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, this template changed genuine custom. Whereas in conventional people tune, all members of an ensemble would sing with their distinct voice, every expressing their individuality, in people choirs all voices needed to mix. The consequence needed to sound monolithic: no single voice was allowed to face out. On the large people music festivals staged to showcase the multi-ethnic state of the Soviet Union, all of the choirs sounded virtually the identical.
Within the late Sixties, Ukrainian music underwent a renaissance. Involved that western rock bands have been changing into more and more enticing to Soviet youth, the Politburo in Moscow ordered that vocal-instrumental ensembles be shaped all through the republics. However in Ukraine, the plan backfired. As an alternative of attracting loyal Soviet musicians, a contemporary and unique music scene emerged. Bands akin to Vodohray, Kobza, Vizerunky shlyakhiv, Smerichka, Arnika, and dozens of others borrowed new rhythms and harmonies from music smuggled in from the West. Crucially, in addition they built-in motifs and devices from Ukrainian people music.
In his documentary Moustache Funk (2020), Vitali Bardetski reveals how the Ukrainian bands of these years have been a part of a world phenomenon: the Ukrainian model of the Brazilian bossa nova-funk crossover, or of Afrobeat in West Africa. However underneath Soviet circumstances Moustache Funk had no hope of discovering a big viewers, and even one past the borders of Ukraine, and through perestroika largely fell into oblivion.
This was not the one musical blossoming in Ukraine to come back to an abrupt finish throughout these years. The undisputed star of Ukrainian Estrada (pop-chanson) within the Nineteen Seventies was the composer, poet and singer Volodymyr Ivasyuk, who wrote dozens of hits about love and the homeland which can be nonetheless recognized all through Ukraine right this moment. Probably the most well-known is Chervona Ruta (Purple Alpine Rose), which reached an viewers of thousands and thousands via the version sung by Sofiya Rotaru. In 1979, on the age of 30, Ivasyuk was discovered hanged in a forest. The authorities declared that he had dedicated suicide, however doubts continued. Many believed that he had been murdered by the key service. Ivasyuk’s funeral in Lviv was a mass protest in opposition to the Soviet authorities.
The subsequent renaissance started with the ‘Chervona Ruta’ competition in Chernivtsi in 1989. The goal of the organisers was to encourage younger folks to sing and communicate of their mom tongue. Just a few weeks earlier than the scheduled date, the competition was banned. However after a petition to Leonid Kravchuk, then head of the ideological division of the Central Committee of the Communist Celebration of Ukraine (and later the primary president of unbiased Ukraine), it was allowed to go forward – though obstructed in each doable approach by the authorities. Folks got here from throughout Ukraine. On the finish of the competition, the general public within the stadium stood up and sang ‘Ukraine Has Not But Perished’, a poem by Pavlo Chubynskyi set to music by Mykhailo Verbytsky within the 1860s, which grew to become the Ukrainian nationwide anthem in 1991.
Ukraine’s independence in 1991 appeared to open limitless prospects. ‘A teper use inakshe’ (‘Every thing is totally different now’), sang the Eurodance duo Aqua Vita in 1997 in one of many largest hits of that point. Music festivals sprang up all around the nation, and native tv broadcasted programmes with new, completely Ukrainian music of all types: from pop ballads to hip-hop, from onerous rock to reggae.
However the heyday of Ukrainian artists was short-lived. By the top of Nineties, the Ukrainian music business was largely managed by the larger budgets of the Russian labels, radio and TV stations, which simply penetrated the market via subsidiaries and offshoots. The worldwide music business, within the type of main live performance promoters and labels, additionally opened branches in Moscow and conquered the Ukrainian market from there.
Musicians from Ukraine confronted a selection: both scrape by in their very own nation or go to Russia, the place they may earn affordable charges. An increasing number of Ukrainian pop stars selected the latter and switched to singing in Russian, residing between two nations and successful awards in Russia as Russian musicians. A hopeful signal for Ukrainian music got here in 2004, when Ruslana received the Eurovision Tune Contest with ‘Dyki tantsi’ (‘Wild Dances’), a catchy mixture of pop and Carpathian folklore. It was the harbinger of political change: half a yr later, the Orange Revolution erupted.
However actual tectonic shifts started solely after the Revolution of Dignity and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donetsk and Luhansk in 2013–14. An increasing number of Ukrainians realized that Russia’s affect was a menace. They started to take a better curiosity within the historical past and tradition of Ukraine and switched to the Ukrainian language. Nationwide consciousness skilled an enormous increase. This led to a brand new curiosity in ‘native’ music.
The state paid rising consideration to the promotion of Ukrainian. The modification to the Language Act established quotas for tv and radio: first 25%, then 30% and at last 35% of all music broadcasted needed to be sung in Ukrainian. At first, this led to stations enjoying loads of second-rate materials. However due to the quotas or regardless of them: Ukrainian songs step by step started to displace Russian ones from the highest ten. For instance, the tune ‘Plakala’ (She Cried) by the group KAZKA, launched in Could 2018, rode excessive within the Ukrainian charts for months. In October, it even reached quantity 9 within the world rankings of the music recognition service Shazam. The video now has five-and-half million views on YouTube.
The live performance market additionally underwent radical change within the second half of the 2010s. Some western artists have been afraid to carry out in Ukraine due to the battle, whereas many bands from Russia have been denied entry as a result of they supported the annexation of Crimea. This created new alternatives for Ukrainian musicians. Younger bands might carry out at a lot larger venues. Some have been quickly enjoying to sold-out arenas. When the Atlas Weekend competition was first held in Kyiv in summer season 2015, twenty thousand followers got here to hearken to native rock, hip hop, indie and digital music. By 2021, the quantity had grown to over 600 thousand. The road-up was now worldwide: the British bands The Prodigy and Kasabian (2017), the Belgian DJ Misplaced Frequencies and British digital music duo The Chemical Brothers (2018), the American DJ duo The Chainsmokers and British singer-songwriter Liam Gallagher (2019) carried out alongside Ukrainian headliners akin to BoomBox, Okean Elzy, The Hardkiss and DakhaBrakha.
Music of virtually all doable genres flourished in Ukraine. Any subtle listener might discover one thing fascinating: indie (the brightest representatives embody Latexfauna, Tik Tu, Blooms Corda), rock (O.Torvald, The Unsleeping, Love’n’Joy), heavy music of every kind (Space Of Variations, Motanka, Pokruch), mainstream and underground hip-hop (Kalush, Freel, Kurgan), experimental digital (Heinali, Poly Chain, Monoconda), fashionable and conventional jazz (Hyphen Dash, Dennis Adu), and extra.
Many Ukrainian musicians proceed to weave parts of native tradition into their work. ONUKA, for instance, combines electropop with conventional devices. In some live shows they’ve been accompanied by a whole orchestra of folk instruments, enjoying to sold-out halls in entrance of hundreds of individuals. The band Ragapop recorded an EP with songs based mostly on poems by the nineteenth-century Galician author Ivan Franko, main to those basic verses being sung in a mighty refrain on the group’s live shows.
Some labels have specialised in snatching music from oblivion and rediscovering artists who might have turn out to be worldwide stars, had circumstances been totally different. One such gem is Kobzareva Duma, a recording of a live performance by the Shapoval Sextet from 1976, interweaving psychedelic jazz with conventional Ukrainian motifs. One other is Valentina Goncharova, who carried out avant-garde experiments with the electrical violin and a tape recorder within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties.
Quite a lot of Ukrainian artists have damaged via onto the worldwide stage. That is very true of the ethno band Dakhabrakha. Like nobody else, they’ve opened the eyes, ears and hearts of a world viewers to the Ukrainian spirit. The band has toured the US 18 occasions in seven years, alongside numerous different worldwide journeys and appearances. Different Ukrainian artists to have reached western European audiences with their gigs embody the rapper alyona alyona and the singer-songwriter Postman, whereas the rock band Stoned Jesus even toured South America, the place they’ve gained a passionate fanbase.
Musicians at battle, music at battle
Just a few days after the full-scale battle started, Andriy Khlyvnyuk recorded a short video on the abandoned Sophia Sq. within the centre of Kyiv. He was on patrol together with his unit, sporting camouflage. Within the video Khlyvnyuk sings the primary verse of the tune ‘Oy u luzi Chervona kalyna’ (‘Oh, the crimson viburnum within the meadow’). The tune was written in its present model in 1914 and was well-liked among the many Sich Riflemen, a unit of the Military of the Ukrainian Folks’s Republic (1917–1920) throughout the First World Struggle. It’s a patriotic march within the type of a people tune:
Oh, within the meadow a crimson viburnum has bent down low.
Our wonderful Ukraine is in sorrow.
And we’ll take that crimson kalyna and lift it up,
And we’ll take our wonderful Ukraine and, hey hey, cheer it up!
Khlyvnyuk’s video went viral. Inside just a few weeks, the tune was in all places: avenue musicians sang it, as did youngsters within the playgrounds and troopers on the entrance; remixes have been performed on the radio and as cell ringtones. The South African musician The Kiffness ensured worldwide distribution by making a remix that the Ukrainian skating pair Oleksandra Nazarova and Maksym Nikitin used for his or her free skate on the World Championships in Montpellier in March 2022. When Khlyvnyuk was within the hospital after his harm, he was contacted by none apart from Pink Floyd frontman Dave Gilmour, who requested permission to make use of the video. The consequence was ‘Hey hey, rise up!’, the primary Pink Floyd tune in 28 years (as of December 2022, the charity single has raised greater than $600,000 for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine).
After his restoration in April, Andriy Khlyvnyuk returned to obligation. Together with his unit, he went to the newly liberated cities close to Kyiv: introduced humanitarian items and helped take away from the streets the our bodies of civilians murdered by Russian troopers. Since then, Andriy has been raising money for armoured ambulances and combat drones. He additionally discovered time for a sequence of charity reveals in Europe with Boombox. Afterwards, Khlyvnyuk once more returned to the entrance.
Many different musicians have enlisted within the military. They’re on the entrance line, weapons in hand, increase defences and transporting support. They embody Yevhen Halych, frontman of the rock band O. Torvald, who had beforehand headlined the largest festivals within the nation. Or the nation singer-songwriter Sasha Boole, who had toured in Europe. Or Pavlo Nechytailo from the duo Zapaska, a poet and researcher of the antiquities of Podillia. Or Stasik, an avant-garde singer and actress who now serves as a paramedic. Or Sashko Polozhynskiy, the chief of the rap-rock band Tartak, whose tune ‘I don’t want to be a hero of Ukraine, my country doesn’t appreciate heroes’ grew to become an anthem of Orange Revolution in 2004.
A totally totally different sort of contribution to the defence of Ukraine is being made by musicians who’re utilizing their fame to gather donations and promote worldwide solidarity. In 2022, Dakhabrakha once more toured the US twice (round 50 gigs in complete) and gave dozens of live shows in Europe, together with a second look on the Glastonbury Competition, this time on the principle stage. At every gig, the musicians discuss concerning the battle and name for heavy weapons to be offered to Ukraine; and every time a big a part of the band’s charge goes to charities in Ukraine. Pop singer Jamala, who received the Eurovision Tune Contest for Ukraine in 2016 with the tune ‘1944’ (the yr of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars), collected 90 million euros in donations for Ukraine and its armed forces at profit live shows within the first two months of the battle alone. This places her on a par with the most important charitable foundations within the nation.
Kalush Orchestra received the Eurovision Tune Contest 2022 with ‘Stefania’. The tune, devoted to the frontman’s mom, mixes rap and pop with vocals and devices from conventional people music. Throughout the efficiency within the remaining on 14 Could 2022, band chief Oleh Psyuk known as on the world to save lots of the troopers and civilians trapped within the Azovstal metal plant in Mariupol, the place they have been underneath siege from the Russian military.
Apart from this, Kalush Orchestra had noticed the principles of the Tune Contest and shunned express references to the battle. However the day after the ultimate, the band released a video for the tune, displaying bombed-out streets and feminine troopers rescuing youngsters from destroyed homes in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka and Hostomel, all on the outskirts of Kyiv. After taking the youngsters to their moms in refugee shelters, they board the practice to the entrance. The video ends with photographs of a burning Russian tank and a younger lady holding a Molotov cocktail. Two weeks after the ultimate, Kalush Orchestra auctioned off the trophy and raised $900k, which they donated to the Ukrainian military.
Regardless of all odds
However it’s not simply world-renowned bands which can be contributing to the battle effort. All Ukrainian musicians not serving within the military themselves are serving to it in any approach they’ll, by accumulating cash and shopping for automobiles, radios, first-aid kits and uniforms. They know that not simply their very own survival, however the survival of Ukrainian music is at stake.
After the preliminary shock, many Ukrainian musicians felt the urge to create. One of many first was Anton Slepakov, co-founder of the band Vagonovazhatye (VGNVZ), a poet and legend of the choice scene. Accompanied by Andriy Sokolov, he launched an album in March entitled warnyakannya (‘battle discuss’), which mixes spoken phrase with digital music. The texts evoke small but significant snapshots of battle: a metropolis with out youngsters, scotch tape on the home windows of the railway station, two units of keys from flats in Donetsk and Mariupol, a canine named after the city of Irpin, a bottle of wine saved for victory day. Slepakov was adopted by dozens of artists who course of present occasions in new releases each week, remodeling feelings into phrases and music. They rage, curse the enemy, grieve, encourage to struggle, even joke a bit. That’s, they reside via battle in the identical approach as each Ukrainian.
Khrystyna Soloviy, well-known for her tender love ballads, sings in ‘Ukrains’ka Ljut’ (Ukrainian Anger) to the tune of Bella Ciao: ‘And people damned executioners / we burn them mercilessly’. Palindrome screams: ‘We’re extra collectively now than ever! Go house, your rusty Russian shackles are coming off.’ In a tune by Oi FUSK, entitled ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, the artist raps: ‘My home has no extra partitions, and I’m not alone on this, flood, the rivers are as soon as once more colored with blood’. The observe was written the day after his home was destroyed by a Russian missile. OTOY (Vyacheslav Drofa), a rising star of Ukrainian rap, joined the Azov regiment and in between battles managed to file new EP ‘Okolofront’ (Close to Entrance). In it he declares: ‘That is my new on a regular basis life, my new on a regular basis life is battle. Both within the floor right here or able to spit bullets on daily basis.’
The Ukrainian music business should be rebuilt from ruins. However that is the least that pursuits artists now. For the following rebirth to be doable, they need to first survive bodily.
The Musicians Defend Ukraine basis helps musicians and different folks from the music business preventing on the entrance strains or volunteering in different capacities to defend Ukraine. Organised by members of the rock band Love’n’Pleasure, homeowners of Shpytal Information music studio and Kontrabass Promo live performance company, the muse raises funds and offers artists with needed tactical objects akin to physique armour, first support kits, surveillance drones, thermal monoculars, walkie-talkies, automobiles and so on.