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Last Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Ukraine rock battles Russian pop
By Kateryna Khinkulova
BBC Ukrainian Service, Kiev

The Ukrainian capital has hosted a new rock festival billed as an attempt to roll back a tide of Russian pop and promote the country's alternative music scene.

Oleg Skrypka
Organiser Oleg Skrypka is a rock legend in Ukraine
Almost 50 bands performed over two days at Kiev's Rock Sich festival, whose slogan was "Live sound! No to pop! Yes to the Ukrainian language".

The festival's name "Sich" harks back to a kind of training camp for Ukrainian Cossacks that was a feature of the late Middle Ages.

The idea is that Ukrainian rock musicians are defending the country's music and culture from Russian pop in the way that Cossacks once defended the Ukrainian steppe from the Ottoman Turks.

Along with some well-known and successful bands, Rock Sich provided a platform for groups trying to make their mark in the tough world of Ukrainian showbusiness. Their music can be described as "non-formal" - a term adopted by the music industry in former Soviet countries and better known in the West as Indie.

Hand-picked by the festival's organiser, veteran Ukrainian rocker and cultural patriot Oleg Skrypka, they had to fulfil three festival conditions:

  • To sing professionally and live (ie - not miming)

  • To play rock, hip-hop or anything other than pop

  • To sing in Ukrainian.

"Since the Orange Revolution [in 2004] Ukraine has been undergoing a cultural renaissance," believes Skrypka, who for this occasion swapped his famous Ukrainian-style embroidered shirt for a rocker's leather jacket.

"But if we don't support it, it will die away."

Ukrainian TV channels and FM radio stations choose to play generic Russian pop music, known to keep listeners happy, rather than risk experimenting.

Even 15 years after independence, the Ukrainian language remains a minority tongue in many parts of Ukraine, often spoken only in the countryside or by intelligentsia and state officials.

Unique chance

Skrypka is a cult figure in Ukraine - a doer of good deeds, a rock legend and an ingenious stage performer, a kind of Ukrainian Bob Geldof, Mick Jagger and Robbie Williams fused into one.

We are now faced with a situation where it's possible for Ukrainian music to carve out a place for itself in society and in the media - if we don't do it now, we'll have the same thing as happened in Russia, where alternative music is frozen deep underground
Oleg Skrypka

He started out 20 years ago as lead singer in the country's oldest rock-band, Vopli Vidopliasova or VV ("vopli" means "screams" and Vidopliasov is a character from a Dostoyevsky novel). He evolved into an icon, but not merely for his rock cool.

Skrypka tried to make it in France as a rock musician in the early 1990s but came back to Ukraine in 1997. His hit Vesna (Spring) propelled him and his band to stardom, both at home and in neighbouring Russia.

For the last few years he has been producing an ethnic music and arts festival, Kraina Mriy (Land of Dreams), in Kiev. In the summer of 2004, a few months before the Orange Revolution, the festival became a rare place where the then opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko could address the people.

During the liberal, pro-Western Orange Revolution, VV and many other bands tirelessly performed in front of the crowds in the centre of Kiev.

Oleg Skrypka believes that now is a unique chance to give Ukrainian culture a boost of confidence and his new venture - a rock festival calling on the musicians to become Cossacks for a weekend - will, he hopes, become that needed boost.

"We are now faced with a situation where, after the Orange Revolution, it's possible for Ukrainian music to carve out a place for itself in society and in the media," he says.

"If we don't do it now, we'll have the same thing as happened in Russia, where alternative music is frozen deep underground and what's left on the surface is rock dinosaurs."

Hear some of the music played at the festival

Country profile: Ukraine
04 May 06 |  Country profiles
Ukraine cherishes orange sounds
21 Nov 05 |  Europe

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