Modern Ukrainian music

In last week’s Ukraine blog post, I mentioned the appearance of music star Slava Vakarchuk in Kharkiv.  Yesterday’s Guardian had an article about his new string of informal performances across war-torn Ukraine.  This blog post looks at a few recent English-language works about modern Ukrainian music and its place in the political as well as cultural spheres of Ukraine, its neighbours, and the world.

Sviatoslav Vakarchuk at a shelter (image from the Guardian article)

Voices of the War in Donbas : Exploring Identities in the Affected Communities Through the Prism of War Songs is the 2020 PhD of Cambridge’s MMLL student Iryna Shuvalova.  It is currently embargoed (as is quite common with recent doctoral theses) but anyone strongly interested can request permission for access via the doctorate’s Apollo page.

Doubtless the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine will influence academic studies of Ukrainian music; the music itself is already reflecting the war.  The anti-invasion song Bayraktar, written by a Ukrainian soldier and named after the Turkish attack drone that Ukraine has used against the Russians, has become very popular.

While Vakarchuk plays his valuable part in supporting the Ukrainian people through his ad hoc concerts (which no doubt standardly feature his band’s huge hit Bez boi︠u︡ (I’m not giving up without a fight)), it has also been gratifying to see anti-war Russian musicians perform in support of peace.  This Thursday, the rapper Oxxxymiron performed in London to raise money for a Polish charity helping Ukrainian refugee children and was joined by surprise special guest Boris Grebenshchikov, an absolute giant in Soviet and Russian rock music.  The two were then both joined after the concert by Zemfira, a Russian Tatar musician who has been a huge figure in Russian music from the 1990s and who recently released a new recording of her song Ne streli︠a︡ĭte (Don’t shoot) with a new video.  It starts showing Zemfira singing at a piano, goes on to show images of the war in Ukraine, and ends with footage of anti-war protestors in Russia and their often violent arrests.

Do remember that we all have the capacity to play a role, whether by giving money to charities, offering rooms to refugees, or just talking to people about Ukraine so that the war doesn’t become old news and risk being forgotten or ignored.  We can also join local vigils, protests, and marches to show solidarity with Ukraine (and with local Ukrainians).  If you are in Cambridge today, Saturday 26 March, do come along to the march from Sidgwick Avenue to Castle Hill (route here) which starts at 2pm for a 2.30 set-off (but NB it left closer to 2pm last time), organised by the Cambridge University Ukrainian Society.

Mel Bach

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