THE UKRAINIAN WEEKLY(Sunday, December 3, 1989)
Modern-day bards reflect on humor, heritage and spirituality
by Marta Kolomayets
NEW YORK - While America was rocking to the beat of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy," in the summer of 1988, Ukraine thundered "Don't Worry, Be Happy" for reasons of it's own. The sounds of Ne Zhurys erupted and can now be heard on a whirlwind tour of the United States and Canada.
Ne Zhurys (Don't Worry), the Lviv-Stage Theater-Studio is currently Ukraine's number one export, supplying audiences of all ages with a brand of music and humor that reflects the changes in Ukraine. The ensemble reacts to the new openness prevalent in Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union; its repertoire demonstrates that Ukrainian music is experiencing an explosive rebirth and its style is uniting Ukrainians throughout the world.
During a recent conversation in New York three of the group's members, Andriy Panchyshyn, Victor Morozov and Vasyl Zhdankin, spoke about their concerns, work and plans for the future.
"Our name does not really reflect the mood in Ukraine today," said Mr. Panchyshyn, who often at concerts introduces himself, tongue in cheek, as the popular singer Andriy Panchyshyn, who performs songs written by the famous Lviv songwriter Andriy Panchyshyn and music by the well-known composer Andriy Panchyshyn.
According to the ensemble's artistic director, Mr. Morozov, the group's name came about accidentally, and not-so accidentally. "It was during one of our early appearances, we performed under the auspices of the Lviv-based Tovarystvo Leva (Lion Society) as its musical section. A fan came up to one of our members and asked him our name. He answered, "Ne Zhurys."
"However, we're not the first Ne Zhurys to perform in Lviv," he continued. Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a jazz ensemble by that same name entertained audiences with Ukrainian language jazz songs, tangos, etc."
"People in Ukraine today don't necessarily want music to entertain. The changing atmosphere is not conductive to this," Mr. Panchyshyn said.
But, he also understands that music is an important vehicle of expression for today's youth and feels they, in particular the youth of eastern Ukraine, can be spoken to, can be nationally and culturally reawakened through music. "Our youth has relied on British, American and Russian rock because we did not have our own music," he added. "We talk about shortages in Ukraine: sugar, soap; we've also had a deficit of Ukrainian music for our youth."
The times, they are a changing, according to Mr. Panchyshyn, who was pleased to see a good eight to 10 groups appear at the Chervona Ruta festival this past September in Chernivci, a four-day fest which was billed as the first republican competition of Ukrainian contemporary music and pop song. "That's still a tiny number for a country of 52 million, but it's a start," added the man who just two years ago made a living as programming engineer.
Yet, today, as the 30-year-old performs in concert, donned in jeans and a t-shirt, it seems that the stage has always been home to him. Of the three interviewees, he is the only one who performs solely his own works, humorous-satirical songs that comment on society today. "I've always said what I think. The older generation has lived in fear, and this panic has become a way of life for them. I found this fear, this life instilled by a Stalin stereotype to be so absurd that it became funny. And as I found humor in it, it stopped being powerful.
"Now, I see as my goal at each concert to have at least a few people walk away with a lighter heart, being able to laugh at it all. Yes, the times have changed; whereas before we had laughter through tears, now we have laughter with hope of a better tomorrow."
Mr. Panchyshyn is the author of such songs as "Oholoshennia" (Advertisement) which comments on the state of the Ukrainian language and "Video" which includes the words: "To have a VCR is like being abroad. Over there life is so wonderful; everyone owns a car, loads of money, a white villa and a fair-skinned woman. Everyone there dances for joy and only the blacks work."
He has also dedicated a series of songs to such memorable figures in the history of Ukraine as Lazar Kaganovich and is constantly looking for new victims to attack. He jokingly confesses that he has a special power in predicting history, citing the fact that just a few short days after he wrote a ditty suggesting that Volodymyr Shcherbytsky resign, the Ukrainian Communist Party chief fell from power.
Mr. Morozov, who is the artistic director of Ne Zhurys, also indulges in satire, putting to music some of Mr. Panchyshyn's biting words. Yet, this 39-year-old composer, poet and translator also looks to reawaken something spiritual in his Ukrainian audiences. A native of Ternopilshchyna, but a Lviv resident since the late 1960s, Mr. Morozov begins every concert during this current tour with his rendition of Vasyl Symonenko's poem, "Ukrainskyi Lev," which he set to music. "Gray Lviv, capital of my dreams, the source of my joy and hopes. My soul bursts, I understand you, but Lviv understand me at least a bit," he sings in his captivating baritone.
In an expressive style, he also sings of the blank spots in Ukrainian history, demonstratively calls for the return of the Ukrainian language in a song with words by Eduard Drach and traces all the suffering Ukraine has undergone over the centuries, in a song titled "Istoria."
"Now we have a historic chance to claim what is ours," referring to this period of perebudova. "If we miss the moment, the next time may be too late for Ukraine," he added.
In recent days, Mr. Morozov admits he has spent much of his time thinking about Ukraine. "I've been able to see the Ukrainian diaspora, to talk to people, for which I am grateful. But I've also had the opportunity to step back and look at Ukraine objectively. When you're right in the middle of a situation, you get caught up in a daily routine and lose sight of reality," he concluded.
He worries about the assimilation of youth, a problem that has affected not only the young people of Ukrainian descent in the West, but also many Ukrainians throughout the Ukrainian republic.
Mr. Morozov is overjoyed that Mr. Zhdankin, a kobzar, won the grand prix at the Chervona Ruta Festival, for Mr. Morozov notes that this is a symbol of our cultural and musical rejuvenation. "Kobzars are our heritage," he said.
Mr. Zhdankin, a kobzar/bard concurs with Mr. Morozov. At the Chervona Ruta festival, he noted, the youth saw that our culture is worth preserving, worth imitating. "Although for decades, their heritage, their traditions were taken away from them, their genetic memory was impossible to crush.
"Our youth is interested in its history, its roots. The time has come for our national culture to have meaning in the global community. Our culture must compete internationally, as it did in the early 1920s when Petliura's government sent the Koshetz choir to Europe to gain international prominence. Such relations once again could build bridges for Ukrainians," concluded the bard.
Mr. Zhdankin sings traditional Ukrainian folk songs, historic ballads and dumy, and contemporary poetry he sets to music. As he sings in a deep, rich voice, he accompanies himself on the kobza.
All three artists see the Chervona Ruta festival as a most positive step in the rebirth of Ukrainian music. They are all winners of top awards at the festival, and realize the influence Ne Zhurys extends and the following it has in Ukraine.
"For almost a year, we worked in a kind of vacuum," said Mr. Panchyshyn, and "it seemed to me that we were all alone, we had no descendants, but we arrived at the festival in Chernivtsi and saw that among the performers we had soul-brothers," said Mr. Morozov.
"I saw the group, the Brothers Hadiukyny and felt that they were native to us, there was a common ground," said Mr. Panchyshyn. "We've also noticed quite a few voluntary populizers of our programs," he continued.
"In Kyiv, I know the Chervona Ruta tapes are circulating among the young people," added Mr. Zhdankin.
Mr. Morozov, who has been involved with music for practically his entire life, as a soloist with the group Smerichka and as the director of the Lviv ensemble Arnika, sees that other groups, different in style from Ne Zhurys, are also gaining popularity in Ukraine. He classifies then into three types.
In the first category, he includes the group Ve-ve, labeling it a Ukrainian post-punk rock ensemble, which has a surrealistic center that reflects the surrealistic reality of Ukraine today. Ve-ve, he concluded, is a very sad group, and if listened to for long stretches, its music can send one into a depression. "That music, reflects the life of a person in the big city, lost without a language and a culture."
In the second category, he places the Brothers Hadiukyny, who fall into the category of Ukrainian post-punk-rock-wedding. Their compositions are popular songs often using the deformed language spoken by youth. "Sometimes I get goosebumps listening to how sincerely and how accurately they capture specific moments in the life of a Soviet citizen."
The third category includes such poets as Irvanets, Andrukhovych and Neborak, collectively known as BUBABU (burlesque, balahan and buffomania). Mr. Morozov notes that the ensemble began as a joke among the poets, but is now a very serious group, whose first book of poems is soon to be released.
In the years to come, such groups will influence the up-and-coming generations of Ukrainian music stars, yet, it is the members of Ne Zhurys who have left an indelible mark on Ukrainian music during this era of perebudova.
Yet, where did they get their creative drives? Mr. Panchyshyn found his musical inspiration in country-western music, for as he explains, it allows the artist to have a dialogue. "I never imagined that it could work in Ukrainian, but I heard the Poles adapt it to their needs, so I thought I'd give it a try."
Mr. Morozov, on the other hand, was influenced by the sounds of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, as well Simon and Garfunkel and the Mamas and the Papas. Mr. Zhdankin adds Pete Seeger to this list.
Now, the three men are looking ahead to the future, as they approach the last stretch of their Canadian tour.
Although their first performances in October in western Canada were characterized by a stand-offish reaction from the audiences, the performers believe that at first the public was suspicious of a group that came from Ukraine, solely under the sponsorship of a Canadian company, Kobza of Toronto. However, by the time their concert came to a close, the public's hearts warmed to them and any problems were quickly dismissed.
As the tour progressed, Mr. Morozov noted that certain audiences in North America were indistinguishable from audiences in Ukraine.
"It is essential for us to work together for the good of Ukraine," said Mr. Panchyshyn, "to do good for Ukraine. In my opinion, the stronger Ukraine is, the stronger its emigration will be, the bonds then exist for the preservation of our youth, of our language, of our culture."
Planning is already under way for Ne Zhurys to head down to Australia for a series of concerts and then possibly swing over to western Europe to tour Belgium before returning to Lviv. Once at home, the group has already begun thinking of a tour of eastern Ukraine.
Ne Zhurys may also incorporate some material from the original group of that same name into its repertoire, stated Mr. Morozov. "Recently, we were fortunate to meet up with some of the original Ne Zhurys ensemble, and they were very excited about this idea," he said.
But don't worry, for they plan to return to North America, probably next year with a new repertoire.
Will any songs cover their experiences in the United States and Canada? They won't say anything definite, but Mr. Morozov and Mr. Panchyshyn have already written some new material since they arrived on these North American shores. However, cautions Mr. Morozov, "creativity is never understood and never foreseen."