Tag Archives: tartak

Modern Ukrainian Music

If there’s one thing that is noticeably different from my mental image of Ukraine and the country as it is right now, it’s the music. Whereas in Canada “Ukrainian music” often means polka, in Ukraine “Ukrainian music” is an ambiguous term. So here is a list of Ukrainian music that I either discovered in the music shops, my students told me about, or was given to me. Unfortunately, some discs aren’t available through regular music outlets overseas, though some specialty shops may carry them. Beware, however, even some Canadian shops may carry pirated discs.

Ukrainian National Anthem: Shche ne vmerla Ukrayina (Ще не вмерла Українa)

Ukrainian flagForget singing modern Ukrainian pop songs or even reciting popular Top 40 dribble. If you want to impress your new found friends or make some more in Ukraine, start singing the Ukrainian national anthem. Though not “modern” per se, it’s only recently been allowed to be sung since being banned by the Soviets in 1920. Originally written as a poem by Pavlo Chubynsky, the song is basically about how Ukraine still has troubles to endure but, fighting through all of that, the country hasn’t died yet. The people, united through the Kozak tradition, will fight on through bloody battles to keep the Dnipro as their own. Although I am biased, rarely do you find such a song that incites your pride and bravery. To hear it sung live, particularly by a men’s chorus, is simply awe-inspiring and will leave you no choice but to join in the singing and calling on your Slavic brethren to fight the Muscovites.


Ruslana (Руслана)

RuslanaTHE Ukrainian pop star using traditional folk melodies while adding all the sex and pomp of Western style pop music. Her huge jump to fame and fortune came from winning the Eurovision contest in 2004, the same year of the Orange Revolution. She’s toured the world, including performances in Canada and, of all places, South Korea! (This would later strike me as nothing odd because, the one thing you will find shocking in Ukraine is the amount of KOREANS!) That being said, her album “Wild Dances” is available both in Ukrainian and English and most of it is pretty good. Driving pop music, scantly clad women, Ukrainian-dance-themed hip-hop dancing, there’s something here for everyone 😉


 Ani Lorak (Ані Лорак)

Ani Lorak in Moscow
Ani Lorak in Moscow. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Another hot Ukraine babe doing the Western pop music thing. Her music is diverse as Ms. Lorak aims to stretch her musical muscles from pop-rock to ballads, she even sings in English. She competed in Eurovision 2008 but couldn’t beat Russia’s entry that year… go figure. Though her English lyrics will make her accessible to a larger audience, it’s hard to make out the Ukrainian influences or connection, especially when she does her own version of “The Best”.


Voanerges (Bоанергес)

Voanerges on AmazonExcellent album and probably the one I listened to the most. Walked into the CD shop right next to the Opera House In Kharkiv. Luckily the man at the desk understood some English and I was able to ask what he liked most of the Cds on the wall. He pulled Злата Врата off the shelf and handed it to me. The first track, “За Русь-Україну!”, sets the tone for the album. Exotic sounding guitar chords and a striking melody. Then the chants start! The second track, “Гоп!”, has duelling sopilka melodies and electronic drums. The whole album actually reminded me of Gregorz Turnau from Poland. The music man said that this disc was “ethno-rock/folk”. The album does combine some traditional elements but mixes them anew with gtars and rock drums. Highly recommended for a soundtrack to Ukraine. The other disc I picked up, Бучалчин Гандж, is much more traditional, focusing instead on national folk songs than more original compositions. Much slower in pace and more vocals than music, this song is for those who want to listen to a modern but not too dar out interpretation of national folk songs.


Mad Heads XL

I saw them recently at the Canada National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba and I’ll say they put on a great show. Overheard in the audience, “These guys are destroying our music.” Well, I’d say they’re doing a pretty good job of preserving Ukrainian music, though it seems they mix elements of Russian and English. They’re much talked about in Ukraine and made quite the impression here in Canada. With faint whispers of reggae and plenty of melodic vocals but they appear to carry a punk/rock image. Maybe it’s reggae punk?


Boombox (Бумбокс)

A fairly popular group based out of Kyiv. Their music is diverse, combining elements of “hip-hop, rap, and jazz” as their Last.fm site states, though they look like rappers. I picked up their disc Family Бізнес but it didn’t really turn my crank. I’m told their stuff is hit or miss so I’ll give them another chance with another disc. Their music is pretty accessible, too, which means they could, and should, find success outside of Ukraine.


The King and the Jester (Король И Шут)

Got their disc Театръ Демона, a fun rock disc mixed with elements of twangy guitar. The CD packaging made me think that they would be a little more like metal, but they are not. The disc is pretty solid up until about track 8, but for whatever reason, I lose interest after that. Lots of acoustic guitar reminiscent of North American country guitar, and its mixed with violin and a solid rhythm background.


Haydamaky (Гайдамаки)

Wandering the Earth since Trypillian times their tours have taken all over Europe and even to Canada a couple times to play the large Ukrainian festivals in Dauphin and Toronto. Their lead singer looks like he is a Kozak from the past looking to swig vodka and pillage every town they visit, while the accordian player is like Ukrainian music’s answer to Slash. Great stage presence to say the least. Heavy on the Ukrainian folk elements, they add sopilka, drymba, trembita and other folk instruments as needed. Their album Bohuslavis one of my favs since it has a song titled “Malanka”, a haunting and melodic ballad. Since recording the song on Bohuslav they have changed it to make it much more rock-oriented. However, they have a version in which an eight-year old girl sings the lead vocals and the effect is simply amazing.


Tartak (Тартак)

I was really excited to see these guys live in Lviv on May Day. Although their live sound is distinct from their recorded sound, the vocalist’s style remains the same. I’ve been listening to their Гуляйгород album for years and love just about every song on that album. Dj scratching, rap vocals and rock drums, they also have an amazing and distinct female backing section that enchant like those of the Rusalky. Dangerous dangerous beauty my friends. This is the album I like to tell myself I’m “practicing Ukrainian” with, though I often get distracted by the music instead. They have their lyrics listed on their website along with music clips and videos.


Ocean Elze (Океан Елъзи)

Don’t ask me to pronounce the second word as I still can’t get it right, but this is Okian Ellyezeh, or something like that. Rock music with some unique raspy voices, they’re all the rage in Ukraine right now yet somehow I missed them play live. Some of their music videos are pretty funny, so if you’re looking for something to kill the time between cigarette breaks, look them up on YouTube.



Pronounced “pyat-nizza”, these guys are a singer-songwriter duo. Reggae? Acoustic folk? Little bit of both, but good jammin’ music anyway. Since these guys are one of the bands mentioned in the LP Ukraine, they seem to be the one that hostel-ers know best. Must admit I haven’t listened to much of their music but they keep me interested.


New Sound Of Ethnic Ukraine

Lastly, if you’re looking for a good selection of modern Ukrainian rock tunes, this disc will suit your fancy. Heralding tracks from some of the artists above, it’s a good selection of what modern Ukrainian music sounds like.

There is much more out there to be sure and I will hopefully post again about modern Ukrainian music.