Top 8 Ukrainian Artists You Need to Listen To Today

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All opinions in this post are mine. I am no music critic but I sure love to talk about stuff. So, if you don’t agree with me or think that I missed out on some amazing Ukrainian artists - please leave me a comment below. Thanks!

The Ukrainian music scene has always been some sort of a Narnia to me. Let me explain: I haven’t had any friends growing up who were into Ukrainian music specifically - we kinda all listened to anything and everything. We called Britney Spears our queen and it all went downhill from there. However, there were some songs that stuck with me since childhood and I enjoyed them greatly. The Ukrainian language is just so melodic that given the right hands of a talented artist it can flourish even more. Plus Ukrainian traditional instruments are rad as well. You combine two and two together and voila! amazing product. Unfortunately, that did not seem to work in Ukrainian show biz. What people ended up hearing on the radio and on TV was rather basic and did not involve too much artistry. Yet, thanks to YouTube and the word of mouth (also thanks to being an expat cause when you miss home you have this need to listen to something familiar and you discover some awesome gems) I re-indulged into the Ukrainian music scene...and I was very pleasantly surprised with it. So, without rambling for too long, here are 8 artists I think you should definitely listen to.

8. Okean Elzy (an oldie but goodie)
One of the most successful Ukrainian bands, if I may say so myself. They have been around since 1994 and had been supplying the nation with some badass Ukrainian rock. Growing up I never really understood the obsession people had over Okean Elzy but that was only because I was young and carefree. Their lyrics are incredible and super touching. Here is an oldie from their 2005 album Gloria called Без Бою (Bez Boyu aka Without a Fight):


7. Pianoboy (aka Dmytro Shurov)
So, once upon a time Dmytro Shurov was a keyboard player for the one and only Okean Elzy. Then he went solo. While working at Kyiv Post one of my assignments was to interview Pianoboy. The aura of this human is so strong and pure - it was a pleasure talking to him. Plus we bonded over our foreign exchange past. If you are interested in the things I talked to Dmytro about - here is a link to our interview. He sure is charming and helluva talented musician.

@AnastasiaVlasova
 
6. The Hardkiss
This is a relatively new band (formed in 2011) with the lead singer Yuliya Sanina. I think the reason people are so mesmerized by The Hardkiss is because when they stepped onto the Ukrainian music scene they were loud, mildly aggressive, and very confident. They opened for Hurts and Solange Knowles in Kyiv (sadly, not the touring openers but still!). The style they are carrying is more of a progressive pop-ish but definitely something Ukraine lacked.

 
5. Dakhabrakha
The genre this amazing quartet is performing in is called Ethno-Chaos. Do you even need an explanation why I love them? ETHNO-CHAOS. That’s basically the title of my autobiography (not yet published but we are working on it). I am not even going to talk about them for long - here is the magic that they did for the famous NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert:

 
4. Boombox
It is like a Ukrainian funk/rock/pop band that everyone listens to but no one admits that they do, you know? The guilty pleasure. Wow, when these dudes appeared on the scene - they made a boom. However, before we go any further - they are terrible live. Well, their lead singer is. He makes it a point to not make too much effort during his shows I guess? I only saw them live once but have heard the same sentiments from my friends. Nevertheless, here is one of my favs (a collab with Pianoboy):

 
3. Fontaliza
How did I discover Fontaliza? Well, all of my cool friends were listening to them. Like, those friends who you can’t really believe you are friends with ‘cause they are waaay cooler than you are? Yeah, so I checked these guys out. Turns out: Ukraine can do alternative music! They are also from Eastern Ukraine which makes my love for them almost instantaneous. Check it for yourself!

 
2. Jamala (these are in no particular order - did I mention that?)
JAMALA. Oh boy - where do I start. I mean, one listen to her incredible voice gives me chills. As in right now Jamala became a strong voice for a generation. You see, she is Crimean-Tatar and if you are reading my blog you probably know what that means with Crimea being illegally annexed and all… But! This year Jamala won Eurovision with this song! Ukraine will be hosting the competition in Kyiv this May. Just have a listen:

 
1. Dakh Daughters
It is not even a band it is a freak-cabaret. Yep, you read that correctly. Listening to their recordings is cool but nothing (and I mean NOTHING) can beat seeing them live… These 7 girls have magic powers. I was very honored to meet them (they were headlining a festival I helped organize). All of them are super humble, super smart, and super talented. Honestly, a part of me was trying to get as much of the same air as them as possible on the odd chance I will get at least an atom of their awesomeness. So far it is not working. But I will keep you posted.

@I really do not remember who took this...

And there you go! Hopefully this lesson on Music Education - a Musication! - did not go to waste. If you want to read more pieces like this - let me know. If I left someone super important out - let me know as well. This is the Internet - you can be rude without much consequence. So don’t be shy. Love y’all!

Nevertheless, She Persisted

@courtesy
I did this interview at the end of January while visiting my hometown of Kostyantynivka, Ukraine. I discovered Natalka Sosnytska by the means of the almighty Instagram. Her enchanting photos, the fact that she lived in my hometown AND was a native Ukrainian speaker just kind of blew me away. I followed her stuff for a hot minute (fangirled a little too). One morning she posted something about opening up a Free Space in Kostyantynivka and how challenging but rewarding working on that project was. A free space is kind of like a university of nontraditional studies, a place where you can come and listen to a lecture on project management or enjoy a night of board games. Basically a Mecca of progressive-thinking humans that was missing from my little town.

Natalka grew up in a Ukrainian-speaking family, a rarity in Kostyantynivka. After graduating high school she packed up and decided to start her college adventure in Kyiv. At the end of 2012 she came back to our hometown to help out her parents with their businesses and her little sister that was just born. You see, both of her parents are entrepreneurs which led to Natalka opening up her own store as well. When 2014 rolled around and the war happened, things were gloomy, especially for the people who are Ukrainian speakers and are well-known around town. Threats kept piling in, their businesses were robbed. Two cars were stolen as well. Natalka’s parents had to move from Kostyantynivka. The businesses had to be divided between Kostyantynivka and Kyiv. Natalka had no choice but to stay here and take care of what was left.

“My whole life I wanted to build some sort of art school for children, not something soviet and strict but rather something modern, where kids can learn about modern art. Last year when I returned to Kostyantynivka I saw that there is a giant need for unity. The youth did not have access to any opportunities. When the road to Donetsk was closed [an occupied city about 30 miles from my hometown - edit] the alternative that our youth was left with was literally to do nothing. Unless your family could afford to take you to Kyiv or somewhere to travel there weren’t any opportunities here in this town”.

Last summer Natalka met another badass girl and their journey to opening up their own space started. Sofiya Pylypenko was no stranger to social work and community development. She singlehandedly wrote a project directed on beautifying one of the parks in our town. She successfully got funding. She was 14 at a time.

These two wonderful women, who didn’t seem to have much in common, were united by a selfless dream: creating a better place for the youth in their hometown. Even writing this is making me misty-eyed. In my small politically divided town creating something like this is not only difficult - it is flat out dangerous.

The first event they organized together was a salsa lesson in the park with a little dance at night. Instead of a ‘few strangers’ that the girls thought would show up - over 300 people participated. The town clearly was thirsty for young progressive energy and Natalka and Sofiya were ready to give it to them. They followed up the event with a movie in the park and again, hundreds showed up. After this people did not only hear about these ladies - they eagerly helped.

Having all of these ideas for events and trainings required something bigger than a park in the city. “We agreed on the same thing: we wanted to have some kind of space where we can implement all of our stupid, sometimes awesome, ideas, work on them, touch them up, polish those diamonds of ideas a bit and release them to the public”. Looking for a space to create all of this was not easy without any budget for leasing. However, that didn’t stop Natalka. This girl walked into our Deputy Mayor’s office and demanded he listen to her. This girl, who is naturally shy when she meets new people had guts to insist he listens to her. This girl, dagainst bureaucracy and all odds talked the Deputy Mayor into giving them a space for free. The groundwork was completed.

Then came sleepless nights of writing grant proposals and trying to figure out the budget, the concept, and the gist. The Lviv Education Foundation and USAID came to the rescue and granted Natalka the finances to open up a free space in Kostyantynivka, Ukraine.

The grand opening of ‘Druzi (Friends). Free Space’ happened in January and Andrew and I were lucky enough to witness it. Natalka and her team were excited, nervous, and hopeful. Judging by how many people showed up for the opening I knew that this is going to be a success. Students, moms and dads, teachers, social workers, poets, journalists - it seemed like everyone wanted to be a part of the opening and was eager to help in any way possible. Druzi did not get all the funding before their opening date and did so much more work after we left. When you are around those people you feel like there is nothing that you can’t do. Their laughs, their ideas, and their attitudes are infectious. They are the future.

I want to thank each and every volunteer who helped Druzi and Natalka. Some of them do not even know how big of a movement and change they are creating and how completely mesmerizing it is to watch them take their future by the horns. You can learn more about Druzi on their website http://druzispace.com.ua/. You can follow them on Instagram and Facebook.
If you would like to drop by and write a couple of nice words to Natalka herself you can follow her Instagram here.

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