Remixing, Updating, and Transforming Ukrainian Folk Music

As we were putting together our post last week about Ukrainian fairy tales, we sort of stumbled sideways into the fascinating world of Ukrainian folk music as well. Because so many Ukrainian-specific things were outlawed under Soviet control, the rediscovery and reclaiming of Ukrainian folk music has been a huge part of the country’s music scene since, and even before, they achieved independence in 1991. This music has been remixed, updated, and transformed by various performers to make it thoroughly modern, incorporating techno, rap, metal, and many other kinds of musical genres. The result is some of the coolest music we’ve ever heard – a wild celebration of folklore with a completely modern sound. We’re kind of obsessed, not gonna lie!

We’ve always loved this kind of music, but – let’s face it – our experience of what many people call things like “pagan folk,” “folk noir,” “techno folk,” “folk metal,” etc. has been largely restricted to Western European countries, particularly music influenced by the songs of Ireland. We were thrilled to discover that Ukraine has a huge variety of awesome music in this vein that’s sadly mostly unknown in the West. Many of these bands actually use traditional Ukrainian instruments as well, such as the bandura and the sopilka!

The Ukrainian Sopilka

We’ve put together a playlist of some of our favorite songs we’ve come across so far so that you can enjoy them too, but know that we have MUCH to learn, so please feel free to share more with us!

We weren’t able to find out everything about these songs, but we did dig up SOME interesting stuff (including translations!)

Khrystyna Soloviy – Несе Галя воду (Halia Carries Water) – This is actually a very famous Ukrainian folksong! Here’s a link to a more traditional version. It’s a conversation between two young lovers.

Наталья Валевская (Natalia Valevskaya) – Палала (Blazed)

Ruslana – Північна (North)

Illaria – Й уберемо Куста (And We Will Remove The Bush) – This woman’s style game is ON POINT. Fabulous headpieces. Also check out her multiple EuroVision Song Contest appearances!

DeKarina – Про Дівчину Молоденьку (About the Young Girl)

Natalka Karpa – Калина – Remix (Guelder Rose)

Alina Pash – Bosorkanya (Barefoot)

ВІЙ (Eyelashes) – Очі Відьми (Witch’s Eyes)

Go_A – SHUM (Noise) – SHUM, which was the Ukrainian EuroVision Song Contest pick for 2021, is a new version of an ancient song used to awaken spring. We love how well you can hear the sopilka in this one!

Gránat – По горі ходила (I Walked on the Mountain)

Atmasfera (Atmosphere) – Syamakunda Radhakunda

GG ГуляйГород (GG WalkCity) – Рясна-Красна (Abundant Red)

DakhaBrakha – Karpatskyi Rep (Carpathian Rap) – DakhaBrakha (whose name comes from the Ukrainian words for “give” and “take”) is a group founded by an avant-garde theatre director.

Dakh Daughters – Inshe Misto (Another City) – Dakh Daughters is their all-female cabaret sister group!

Kozak System – Три слова (Three Words) – Kozak System is one of the most famous bands from Ukraine, and they have performed numerous times in support of Ukrainian soldiers. This song is full of, like, poetic angst and it’s kind of awesome.

Joryj Kłoc – Lis (Forest)

Folknery – Karchata (The Dwarf) – This band combined the word “folklore” and “Faulkner” (yes, as in William Faulkner) to make their name, which is kind of fabulous. They also apparently travel everywhere by bicycle!

ONUKA (Granddaughter) – Time

The Doox – Галочки (Tick)

The Hardkiss – Журавлі (Cranes) – This is the song we used in the TikTok video we made about our last post – so beautiful!

Andrey Vinogradov – Aequilibrium

If you’re interested in learning more about the traditional folk songs that inspired many of these tracks, we highly recommend that you check out The Polyphony Project. As they put it, the “mission of the Polyphony Project is to explore, preserve and present the living musical folklore of Ukrainian villages. In addition to recording the intangible cultural treasures of the Ukrainian peasantry using state-of-the-art technology, our priority is to make this heritage of unparalleled value accessible to contemporary society.” This is an amazing online achieve of videos recording Ukrainian people singing these songs in high definition and, frankly, it’s incredible. You could absolutely get lost in it (and you should!)

We also recommend checking out this video lecture by Maria Sonevytsky, a scholar of Ethnomusicology, Anthropology, and Music, called “Understanding the War on Ukraine Through Its Musical Culture: An Introduction in Four Songs.” It’s a fascinating talk that really brings home how much we can learn through folklore. Her book, Wild Music: Sound and Sovereignty in Ukraine looks fantastic as well – you can check out some of the media featured in it on the book’s website.

Lastly, please do go back to our first post about Ukrainian folklore and scroll to the bottom to find ways you can help #StandWithUkraine during the current crisis.

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