The Ukrainian pop stars bringing hope

Though Heil mostly just samples and sings traditional harmonies, it is not unusual for pop musicians in Ukraine to double as ethnomusicologists, visiting remote regions to record traditional folk music to blend with modern songs, as Ruslana did for Wild Dances. This ethnomusicology was banned under the Soviet Union, which wanted to suppress Ukrainian folk culture, even going as far as persecuting and killing folk musicians. Ethnomusicologist Maria Sonevytsky told the New York Times that, by the 1930s, the Stalinist regime had carried out mass executions of bandura [a Ukrainian folk instrument] players throughout the country.

Since the Soviet Union collapsed, this fusion of traditional and modern music in Ukraine has boomed, pioneered in particular by DakhaBrakham, Ukraine’s equivalent of German band Rammstein, according to Christian Diemer, a musicologist who researches folk music and Ukrainian national identity. He sees this proud blend of folk history and modern cosmopolitan music as one of the main cultural elements that differentiates it from Russia.

“These bands, they go to great lengths in finding this traditional cultural heritage. They are active as researchers and go to the villages, record the authentic songs by old people as they’re being sung in those regions,” Diemer tells BBC Culture. “They’ll go back and blend that with more popular and globalised styles. They use styles like rap or rock but the outcome is pretty innovative and pretty advanced. It goes beyond just sampling. They innovate something that is new and still genuinely authentic.”

“It’s urban hipsters versus villagers. They wouldn’t normally meet, but they do through music. This globalised, trans-cultural crossover music is unique, has emerged in the last 10-15 years, and has made Ukrainian cultural life so interesting and innovative. Dealing with tradition and identity – it’s progressive, contemporary, avant-garde.”

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