Why Ukrainian Music Should Become Your Next Obsession After K-Pop
Plus Twelve Hand-Picked Artists To Begin With
Some groundbreaking news. There are countries beyond the UK and the USA that produce good music.
I know, it’s shocking. And you might need some time to comprehend this.
Remarkably the press you read won’t tell you about Ukrainian music. You’ll be informed about wars, disasters, and conflicts happening in foreign countries but not about their culture and art. So pacifistic.
This is a shame as you’re missing on something fairly gorgeous and alluring.
So my intention is to reclaim this nuisance. And I can humbly say — this is nothing less than an act of kindness from my side. An incredible gift that you shall not forget and cherish for the rest of your life.
I’m just kidding.
But, surely, discovering Ukrainian music can be a life-changing experience. It’ll add more color and flavor to your life. You might indeed become a better person after listening to some fine specimen of this genre.
So, please, let me be your guide and help you to explore, perhaps, something new.
Before we dive into this indulgence, I shall make a few brief points or observations on why is Ukrainian music so indescribably amazing.
The Language, Instruments and Ethnic Tunes
The language definitely makes the Ukrainian music somewhat of the eighth wonder of the world. Yes, I know what you think. Slavic languages are an acquired taste (no insult is intended here). I can understand if you aren’t very fond of them. Indeed, they might sound harsh on the first encounter.
But the Ukrainian language is an exception to this rule. It has more soft consonants than other members of the Proto-Slavic language group. This makes the sound of it actually mellow to a delicate ear and free of obvious roughness. And in some magical way, those slight variations in phonetics give the Ukrainian language incredible fruitiness. It almost feels like it was specifically designed for signing rather than speaking.
And then — as a pleasant complement — you get folk tunes and traditional instruments that play a huge role in the making of a modern Ukrainian melody. You will notice the prominence of woodwind instruments, like Ukrainian sopilka or Armenian duduk, in the arrangements of many contemporary Ukrainian artists.
Though used to this by now, hearing a new song with the sound of duduk still channels some grand emotions in me, making me feel like I reunite with my ancestral heritage.
Okay, this sounds grossly pathetic.
Let’s just say that I find Ukrainian music refreshing. A good way to escape the world dominated by tropical and Latino sounds.
And now it’s time to do exactly that.
The Ultimate Playlist
A fun fact about the music industry in Ukraine is that many popular artists come from talent shows like The X-Factor and The Voice. Which is unlike in other countries where former contestants get lost in the cacophony of other voices.
KAZKA is one of the bands that managed to become incredibly successful after taking part in the local franchise of The X-Factor. The lyric video for their song “Плакала” is the first one in the Ukrainian language to attract more than 50 million views on YouTube.
The sound of KAZKA must appeal to the audience beyond Ukraine as the band incorporates a lot of contemporary trends in their music. But despite this mainstreamness, KAZKA’s identity remains to be recognizable via folk pastiche of their instrumental and vocal arrangements.
2. THE HARDKISS
THE HARDKISS is probably a personal favorite of mine. They create a truly unique material complemented with glamorous and robust aesthetics. It’s hard to label them in terms of genre. I guess you can say they’re a progressive rock band often inspired by ethnic music.
The lead vocalist, Julia Sanina, has, perhaps, one of the richest and clearest voices I have ever heard in my life. The song “Журавлi” is an interesting example of how Ukrainian artists manage to recycle traditional ethnic melodies into songs that sound current and fresh.
European audience might know Jamala from her winning performance at the Eurovision Song Contest 2016. But for me, she is much more than that victory. Jamala is the embodiment of Ukrainian neo-soul and ethnic fusion. She has an extremely memorable sound with her vocals having a uniquely earthy quality.
Jamala’s music imbibed traditions of many nations as her creative talent is a product of many ethnicities and cultures. “Шлях Додому” is a telling example of her artistic style. The rhythmic of house and RnB music are often used as a foundation for everything else here.
4. Sergey Babkin
Sergey Babkin performs in a genre that I believe does not exist at all in the contemporary Western music. The closest example of a similar style in the popular music is, perhaps, Adele’s song called “Million Years Ago” from her latest album “25”. A good deal of instrumental asceticism is common for this genre as well as a focus on lyricism and rawness of vocal performance. The song “Крізь твої очі” is a fortunate and unexpected experiment, very likely inspired by James Blake’s languid and ambient oeuvre.
ONUKA’S music is the space where the experimentality and boldness of electronic sound meet the harmony and tranquillity of folk tradition. The band prominently and intentionally uses Ukrainian folk instruments to channel indigenous and primordial energy. The latest single “Strum” is ONUKA’S best attempt to fuse tradition and progress into coherent and conclusive sound.
6. Gurt [O]
I was not sure about including this band as their sound is quite underground. But their tunes are so catchy and current it would be unfair to leave them behind. I actually think that “Мушечки” is my go-to song on the list. The combination of words in the hook is absolutely brilliant. Well, the whole song feels like a hook, to be honest. A definite ear-worm.
7. Okean Elzy
I fell in love with Ukrainian music after hearing Okean Elzy for the first time. The raspy voice of the lead singer and heartfelt lyrics are the things that got me hooked. Okean Elzy’s music is a true representation of Ukrainian people and their national character — brave, freedom-loving and heartwarming. The song “Не твоя виiна” is, definitely, a good illustration of that.
8. TINA KAROL
My guilty pleasure. Tina is a mesmerising singer with a rich technique, array of melisma and an ear-piercing whistle register. Her music is not always right there for me as it tends to get a bit too commercial. But she, nevertheless, does an excellent job, especially when she sings in the Ukrainian language. Her piano ballad “Космiчнi почуття” showcases her voice in its purest and rawest condition.
9. ODYN V KANOE
ODYN V KANOE is an indie-pop band first and foremost notable for their beautiful lyricism. I rarely listen to music for the sake of meaningfulness. But finding something both pleasant to your ear and beneficial for your mind is not without its perks. The lyrics in “Човен” are comprised of verses taken from the poem of the same name by Ivan Franko.
A friend of mine described DAKHABRAKHA’s style as ethnic-chaos. I genuinely struggle to come up with something more precise than this. Their music, indeed, carries this instinctive and animalistic odor. It wouldn’t be out of place as a soundtrack to something like Game of Thrones. “Monakh” is as experimental as you can get with folk music, combining styles of several ethnic groups at once.
The most experimental band in Ukraine, YUKO combines traditional folk vocals with progressive electronic sound. Their music serves a motley reimagination of rudimental chants sung by folk singers across the country. For the sake of inspiration, the lead singer went on many trips to small Ukrainian villages to find the keepers of old Ukrainian tradition and gather material for her oeuvre. YUKO’s latest album “DURA” paints a story of a young girl going against societal expectations to freely express her identity and will.
12. alyona alyona
alyona alyona is a hip-hop artist with an unusual packaging for both local and international music landscapes. She can drop a truly catchy tune and communicate a message with meaning and substance while neglecting the common-or-garden bawdry typical for this genre of music. This lady knows who she is and she knows how she looks, and this sober realization of one’s own identity allows her to be ironic, honest and ultimately sensational.
Honorable Mention — Alina Pash
I must mention this beautiful creature. Alina Pash has a lot of potential for becoming an excellent artist with an original and zingy image. She has only released two songs but both of them are excellent. Alina is trying to marry hip-hop and folk genres, decorating her music with the Ukrainian street dialect. “Bitanga” is, for sure, a robust anthem to free creativity and crossover fashion.
This is all I have for today. Enjoy and share. Lots of love.