Various Artists

Originally published in The Rough Guide To World Music, Europe and Asia, Vol 2, 3rd Edition.

A piece of work comprising articles, album reviews and short artist profiles commissioned by The Rough Guide to World Music (Vol 2, 3rd Edition): Europe and Asia (Rough Guide Music Reference, 2009).

Main Article (inserts)

In terms of folk traditions the nuclear accident at Chernobyl left a deep wound. The rich local culture of Polissya was irreparably affected as a large area was evacuated overnight and its communities scattered across the country. By the bitterest of ironies, before the tragedy scholars had considered the area’s musical traditions to be so well established that documenting them was not a priority.

INSERT 3 Kyiv based Drevo is the first and probably the best of these – other ensembles with an excellent reputation for attention to detail are Hilka from Kirovohrad and Bozhychy, also from the capital. All three can be heard on various recent compilations.

INSERT 4 The best performers are lirnyk Mykhailo Khai, kobza player Volodymyr Kushpet and Tkachenko’s student Mykola Budnyk, a fine singer, kobza player and musicologist who sadly passed away in 2001 just before some of his excellent work, compiled on the defintive Bervy CD, could finally be made available to a wider audience.

INSERT 5 A significant Jewish revival has been taking place in recent years. Impossible during Soviet times, the appearance of the annual Klezfest series of concerts and masterclasses, run by Yana and Boris Yanover of the Centre for Jewish Education in Kyiv, has provided an invaluable platform for old Yiddish singers and instrumentalists who experienced pre-war Jewish cultural life to pass their knowledge onto the younger generation. Particularly worth mentioning are the Yiddish Buena Vista, Khaverim, a trio of septuagenarian Yiddish tango aficionados from Simferopol in Crimea; Natalya Kasyanchik, who plays virtuoso klezmer on the domra, a four stringed round bodied mandolin, and the Kharkov Klezmer Band, who are fast earning a reputation as the best traditional klezmer band in Europe. Alik Kopyt, leader of Poza and the Amsterdam Klezmer Band is a kind of Ukrainian Jewish Tom Waits, growling his way through the wonderful body of larger than life blatnye pesni (underworld songs) that celebrate ducking and diving in pre-war Odessa, the USSR’s great multi-ethnic melting pot. Thanks to Poza’s seminal 1997 recording Odessa, these songs are now a staple part of the traditional repertoire in the Jewish music scene across the ex-USSR.

Crimean Tatar guitarist Enver Izmailov is perhaps the Ukraine’s best kept musical secret – his mastery of various folk and jazz styles combined with his astonishing double-handed finger tapping style has given him such a reputation inside former Soviet cultural circles that he is now something of an international ambassador for the Krymsky Tatary. From his home in Simferopol he builds his own double-headed guitars with and without frets which allow him to imitate all manner of instruments: Indian sitar, Afghan rubab, even the Japanese koto. The entire Crimean Tatar population of some 200,000 was deported by Stalin to Central Asia in 1944 on a pretext of wartime collaboration, and not allowed to return until the late 1980s. With the exception of Enver and stodgy Soviet era folksong and dance ensembles, it is not easy to find identifiably Crimean Tatar music within Ukraine, although there are several good music internet pages amongst diaspora communities in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Largely thanks to Stalin’s forced starvation policy and the onset of WW2, the worldwide Ukrainian diaspora currently numbers approximately 10 million, including such unlikely sons as Argentine accordionist Chango Spasiuk. Other diaspora musicians, such as the New York based bandurist Julian Kytasty and the British band the Ukrainians continue to have a notable impact on the music scene back home - indeed, it is said in some circles that if it wasn’t for a group of lyrical Yorkshireman led by expat Ukrainian Pete Solowka, the current explosion of folk based Ukrainian rock might never have happened. Other musicians from the large North American diaspora experimenting successfully with their heritage include mandolinist Peter Ostroushko, jazz pianist John Stetch and singer Alexis Kochan.

One of the most interesting things about the domestic Ukrainian music scene in recent years is the way in which rock and hip-hop have started to draw on folk influences. One of the main figures in this movement is renaissance man Oleg Skripka and his band Vopli Vidopliassova (see box Underground Music and the Orange Revolution). Amongst other names to watch out for is the Carpathian ska of Haydamaky, folk rock band Mandry, rising reggae stars 5Nizza from Kharkiv, Carpathian underground pop folk Ocheretyany Kit (or Komyshovy Kot in Russian) from Vynnytsa, hip-hop crew Tanok Na Maidani Kongo (TNMK) and Greenjolly from Ivano-Frankivsk, whose people power anthem Razom Nas Bohato (Together We Are Many) was downloaded more than 100,000 times during the first days of the mass protests during the controversial 2004 presidential elections that launched them into the stratosphere.

If you are travelling to Ukraine and want to visit a festival, there are two recent additions to the scene that come highly recommended. First is Kraina Mriy in Kyiv, organised by Vopli Vidopliassova frontman Oleg Skripka, which takes place on the banks of the Dnipro river in Kyiv on the first weekend in July. Sheshory Festival in Ivano Frankivsk region, by the Carpathian mountains, is a young eco-festival that takes place every July and has garnered much praise for the beautiful surroundings and atmosphere. At both festivals you can expect the focus to be on top quality world music, traditional folk from Ukraine with special guests from neighbouring countries.


Ukraine, the second largest state to emerge from the wreckage of the Soviet Union, is undergoing a dramatic cultural renaissance. Against all the odds, its rich and varied folk heritage has survived into the 21st century and a new generation of urban musicians is taking folk music to its heart as a defiant badge of independent post-Soviet identity. Continuing a tradition in exile, Alexis Kochan and Julian Kytasty explore the roots of their music and Jonathan Walton checks out the latest sounds.



Vopli Vidopliassova “Rai” (Fayno ) Almost oriental-sounding violin and guitar riffs weave in and out of the slick rhythm section in an all-round belter of a song.

Haydamaky “200 Years” (Haydamaky) A perfect example of their sensitive yet street take on traditional Carpathian sounds: the plaintive folk harmonies beguile and soar, but you know the dub bass, ska trombone and delay guitar are ready to rock in at any moment.

The Ukrainians “Anarkhiya” (Istoriya: The Best of the Ukrainians) Head banging Ukrainian-language cover of the Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK. All together now, ‘Ya ne antikrist, ya je anarkhist….’

Greenjolly “Razom Nas Bohato” ( Oleh Skrypka presents Songs from the Barricade) The now legendary hip-hop street protest anthem reborn as an unplugged bardic song for Oleg Skripka’s Orange Revolution compilation.

5Nizza “Soldat” (Pyatnitsa) Funky, soulful acoustic reggae anti-military anthem that established their burgeoning reputation.

Enver Izmailov “The Same Root” (Kara Deniz – Black Sea) Imagine John McLaughlin brought up in the steppes of Central Asia – mind-bendingly brilliant Eastern guitar playing.

Kharkov Klezmer Band “Londoner Nign” (Ticking Again) An achingly beautiful slow Hassidic tune from Europe’s best traditional klezmer ensemble.

Poza “Shopa Nebritaya” (Odessa: Jewish Music from Russia) Brilliantly filthy Odessan version of Misirlou – the clarinet soars as Ailk Kopyt growls about the last time he had a good wash.

Julian Kytasty “Cossack Lament” (Black Sea Winds: The Kobzari of Ukraine) A wonderfully evocative musical trip back in time: the harp-like, cascading sound of the bandura complemented perfectly by Kytasty’s delicate and quite beautiful voice.

Village singers of Kriachkivka “Early on Sunday” (Bervy) A striking example of vocal folk polyphony from the Poltava region.

Discography (inserts)

Over the last few years, important recent field recordings have started to become widely available for the first time. These compilations, often lavishly produced, provide an excellent insight into the breadth and diversity of Ukrainian vocal and instrumental traditions.


Bervy (ArtVeles, Ukraine) CD This is an encyclopedia of Ukrainian folklore on one CD. The music is a representative sampling of the best traditional performers and regional styles from around the country. The disc can also be viewed on a computer and includes a wealth of documentation, photos, and articles not only on the music, but also on traditional decorative arts, folk architecture, and other related topics.

Etnichna Muzyka Ukrainy (Ethnic Music of Ukraine) (Atlantic, Ukraine) A new series of field recording releases from Atlantic’s Ukrainian affiliate featuring beautifully produced large format CD booklets with a wealth of information and excellent English translations of song texts and notes. The early releases concentrate on the vocal and instrumental traditions of the Carpathian Mountains, and there are apparently plans to cover other regions as well. Available from http:// or

Oleh Skrypka presents Songs From the Barricades - The songs of Orange Revolt (Moon Records, Ukraine, MR-1035-2, 2005) CD By far the most interesting ‘Orange Revolution’ compilation to emerge from the 2004 elections and protests: Skripka has gathered together most of the leading musicians who performed on the frontlines and put together an alternative ‘Greatest Revolutionary Hits’. Best of the bunch is Greenjolly performing their anthem ‘Razom Nas Bohato I Nas ne Podolati’ (Together We Are Many and We Will Not be Defeated) as an unplugged cafe session on voice and guitars. Available from

Also check out: Ukraina Orange – Songs of the Orange Revolution (Eastblok Music, Germany, 2005) Featuring Ruslana, Haydamaky, TNMK, Mandri and others, this is a good introduction to the current folk-tinged pop/rock/dance scene and is the only compilation available internationally.

Treasures of Jewish Culture in Ukraine vol.1 [Sokrovishcha Evreiskoi Kul’tury v Ukraine] (Institute for Information Recording, Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, 1997) A unique snapshot of pre-war Ukrainian Jewish music history from the priceless Edison cylinder archive in the Vernadskiy Library in Kyiv. Collected by the pioneering ethnographers Moishe Beregovsky, Zinovy Kiselhof and Semyon Ansky between 1912 and 1947, these scratchy but delicately restored recordings were fortunately evacuated to the Russian steppe during WW2. The first in a planned series of twelve CD reissues, this is a rare piece of essential klezmer homework.

Available from Yana Yanover at the Centre for Jewish Education, Kyiv: [email protected]

Zeleniy Shum Polissya (The Green Murmur of Polissya) (ArtVeles, Ukraine) The people of Polissya (Forest Land) in the North West are considered to have the best-preserved and most archaic vocal repertoire in Ukraine. This disc, with its focus on ritual songs, is in the same series as “Bervy”, containing 35 audio tracks recorded from village performers alongside 13 articles and over 400 photographs.

With thanks to Julian Kytasty.

Artists and recordings (inserts)

Haydamaky Named after a historical 18th c. rebellion, Haydamaky are the Carpathian ska reggae punk kings of the Ukraine scene – the Pogues meets Burning Spear over a bottle of homebrew horilka. With members drawn from all parts of Ukraine, including a former member of Moldova’s top band Zdob Si Zdub, their socially informed outlook was formed by their experiences in the anti-globalist underground music scenes in Germany and Poland. Very experienced international performers, see them live if you can. And their website has good content in English too.

Haydamaky (Comp Music/EMI Ukraine, 2002) * CD Folk sounds and instruments from the Carpathian Hutsul, Bukovyna and Zaporozhye traditions are laced with a heavy dose of funky horns and dubby basslines, and vocalist / bandleader Oleksander Yarmola’s strong voice and conscious lyrics combined with accordionist Ivan Leno’s deft arrangements elevate them far above most of the other nu-folk rock bands out there.

Enver Izmailov The great ambassador of Crimean Tatar culture has been well-known within the former Soviet jazz scene for twenty years but is only just gaining recognition in the West. He has featured on dozens of collaborative jazz projects and released four albums in his own right.

Burhan Öçal – Enver Izmailov Kara Deniz – Black Sea (Unit Records, Switzerland, 1992)* CD One of Turkey’s most prolific percussionists head to head with one of the world’s great guitarists. The duo format provides ample space for Izmailov to showcase his inimitable multi-textured folk jazz sound. At times it is difficult to believe there is only one melody instrument playing: harmonies and bass counterparts dance around the Oriental lead lines complimented by Ocal’s intricate rhythmic patterns. But to be honest, Enver doesn’t need him. A gem.

Minaret (Boheme Music, Russia, 1999) Folk songs from the Caucasus, Central Asia, India and Tatar Crimea all deconstructed and rebuilt in Izmailov’s unique style. Of all the jazz collaborations he has recorded over the years this one stands out: percussionist Rustem Bari and Narket Ramazanov on sax and clarinet are old friends, and the latter’s oriental soprano sax sounds like no other jazzman you have ever heard.

Kharkov Klezmer Band Klezmer music has been slowly creeping back to its ancestral homeland since the break up of the USSR, and this fabulous quintet from Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine are testament to the strength of the current revival.

Ticking Again (Fréa/Music and Words, Netherlands, 2005)* CD With gutsy virtuoso fiddling from leader Stas Raiko and superb Turkish inflected clarinet playing from Gennadiy Fomin, this is raw, passionate, emotion-laden klezmer that hits the spot that so many more polished Western ensembles seem to miss.

Alexis Kochan Winnipeg-born singer Alexis Kochan has a particular interest in giving songs from the oldest layers of the Ukrainian musical culture a contemporary twist. Each of the CDs in her Paris to Kyiv project (there are now four) is years in preparation, allowing musicians from different musical traditions an opportunity to learn each others’ musical language and to create a seamless, unforced fusion of seemingly disparate musical elements.

Paris to Kyiv: Prairie Nights and Peacock Feathers (Olesia, Canada) Jazzy improvisations and voices over a richly detailed stringed-instrument texture.

Julian Kytasty Black Sea Winds: The Kobzari of Ukraine (November Music, 2001)* CD An important recording by one of the bandura’s most elegant performers, Kytasty’s delicate and understated style never fails to make his instrument sing. It’s a real solo album, with Kytasty playing several sorts of bandura, wooden flute and singing very well. A beautiful evocation of historical material from one of the diaspora’s most talented performers.

Poza A short lived but influential group whose Odessa-born lead singer Alik Kopyt went on to form the excellent Amsterdam Klezmer Band, who have two albums on John Zorn’s Tzadik label.

Odessa: Jewish Music from Russia (Playasound, 1997)* CD A simple line-up of voice, accordion, guitar, clarinet and tuba in a fabulous faux-drunken recording of underworld songs from pre-war Odessa. Kopyt’s glorious sandpaper voice brings humour and tragedy to the gallery of loveable Yiddisher pimps, prostitutes and dealers while the raucous clarinet acts as his perfectly measured sidekick. A modern Soviet Jewish classic.
NB. Rereleased under the title Crazy Balkans (AirMail Music, France, 2003)

5Nizza/Pyatnitsa A superstar band in the making, 5nizza (pronounced Pyatnitsa) are a Kharkiv-based duo whose languid, acoustic Russian language reggae anthems caused a sensation in Russia and Ukraine when their eponymous debut album was released in 2003. A forthcoming second album, entitled 05, should confirm their status as one of Ukraine’s most exciting and distinctive new bands.

Pyatnitsa (Vdoh, Russia, 2003) * CD With just one guitar and two soulful male voices, this is a statement of intent: pure sun-drenched good time vibes that could not be further away from their environment in arty but industrial Kharkiv. Lead singer San’s voice is sweet as coconut bread and the songs have a laid-back spring in their step that recalls the easy, head-nodding singalongability of Manu Chao at his best.

Mariana Sadovska A contemporary singer who manipulates traditional ritual songs and singing techniques to wonderful effect in a powerfully delicate style reminiscent of the first lady of Czech experimentalism, Iva Bittova. She spends most of her summers living in the isolated villages where Ukraine’s vocal traditions are maintained. “Each song was given me by a specific woman I met… I understood a song can be the way, the map that guides you through life.” An important artist who deserves to be better known in the West.

Songs I Learned in Ukraine (Global Village Music, USA, 2001) Sparsely instrumented cycles of wedding songs, mainly from the Polissya region on the South Eastern slopes of the Carpathian mountains. Accordion, strings and Sadovska’s striking voice create a powerfully raw, intimate atmosphere.

Tafiychuk Family With a family line from the Hutsul village of Bukovets, between Kosiv and Verkhovyna in the Ukrainian part of the Carpathian Mountains, this family has been cultivating local music traditions for decades. Their repertoire is recognized as a canon of Hutsul folklore.

Hutsulshchyna No 2 (Koka, Poland, 2002) Although slightly more produced than the first volume of family recordings with occasional atmospheric reverbs, what gives this CD the edge is the fantastic village trumpet sound of the trembita, the village herding horn. Elsewhere the tsymbaly, sopilka flute, violin and drum ensemble create an otherwordly village fair atmosphere that is strangely hard to place. As with all Koka Records, this is beautifully packaged.

The Ukrainians One legendary BBC Radio 1 session for iconic DJ John Peel back in 1988 inspired Pete Solowka from Leeds rock band The Wedding Present to rework some traditional Ukrainian folk tunes, and a new brand of modern Ukrainian music was born. Now on their seventh album, their work is a classic example of the power of the diaspora to inspire cultural developments back home.

Istoriya (Zirka, UK, 2004)* CD A greatest hits album bringing together twenty of their finest Ukrainian language head-banging hymns to the motherland. Big rock guitars meet Western Ukrainian vocal harmonies and instruments, and once you’ve heard their uproarious indigenous cover versions the Smiths, Sex Pistols and Velvet Underground will never sound the same. Mad but inspired.

Vopli Vidopliassova Now in their tenth year, the band famous enough to be known just by their initials are undoubtedly Ukraine’s top rock outfit. Led by the intellectual Kurt Cobain alike Oleg Skripka, they have released seven albums, maturing into a sophisticated outfit who subtly rework a variety of folk material into satisfying rock anthems.

Fayno (Misteriya Zvuka, Russia, 2003) * CD Recorded in Moscow and Kyiv and mixed in Paris, VV’s superbly produced seventh album brings together Skripka’s bohemian range of influences in unerring style. Hard-dancing funky rock, introspective ballads, punk, electro-pop and a ska-laced, very dirty mock trashpop reworking of a classic Western Ukrainian folk melody are all in the mix. Skripka’s voice and accordion soars over the cranked up guitars, violins and Carpathian flutes bring the roots and even the Ukrainian Armed Forces Song and Dance Ensemble are brought in to rousing effect.


BERVY By far the best site on the net dedicated to Ukrainian folk culture, and entirely translated into English. Music downloads, detailed articles about regional styles and traditions covering everything from folk architecture and dialects to harvest songs and local cuisine. They also publish an excellent series of multimedia CDs with traditional music and lots of extras, although ordering seems complicated.

Other websites particularly worth mentioning in relation to Ukrainian music and culture with good material in English:

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