I was serenaded by this group last night on a riverboat restaurant here in Kiev.
My friends here took us out for a big traditional Ukrainian dinner, and started plying me with this deadly local concoction made of vodka, honey and hot peppers. It’s designed to hit your stomach, and warm you up in the winter. It had just started snowing when we got here, and looking out the window, I saw huge heavy flakes floating down to disappear into the dark, slow Dnieper River. Chunks of ice, broken free from the mass far upriver, kept floating by on their way to the Black Sea. With this music in the background, it felt somehow timeless…
So yeah, it’s campy and melodramatic. But as the song goes on, you start to see the changes come over the faces of my dinner companions. I don’t know what they were singing about, but it must’ve been heavy.
Eugen, the dean here at the Digital Future of Journalism school, explained to me that traditional Ukrainian songs are all tragedies, drawn from their long and heartbreaking history.
“The potato harvest fails, so to support his family, the man goes off to fight in the Tsar’s wars,” he said. “He knows that there is small chance of him ever coming back alive, and his wife knows this is probably the last time she sees him in this world. So they sing of their love for each other, and he embraces his children goodbye. It’s like Ukrainian bluegrass, or country and western. Where the man has no money, no job, his pickup truck is broke, his wife left him and his dog just died. That kind of thing.”
Anyway – enjoy.