Three Georgians, a Ukrainian, and an Azerbaijani – this is the international composition of the Ukrainian (because the musicians live and work in Kyiv) music band Persona Grata. From the stylistic point of view, it is one of a kind in our country because of the diversity of music performance. Their manner of singing and playing, vocal range, international style, and charisma are all proving it. Persona Grata is also an example of how various mentalities can get along together and create unique vocal art.
They sing in six languages: Ukrainian, Russian, Georgian, Azerbaijani, English, and Turkish. Last year they won the grand prize at the International Festival “Russian Wave 2013” in Lithuania, and mass media included Persona Grata in the top 7 list of the New Live Stage at TheBestCity.Ua Festival in Dnipropetrovsk. By the way, the band members’ marriages are international too: Georgians are married to Ukrainians, and the Ukrainian is married to an Azerbaijani.
Persona Grata are members of the Peaceful Sotnia. Musicians’ creed is to stand up for principles of non-violence, peace, and friendship. And who, if not these five guys, can demonstrate an example of friendship and cooperative creation among the representatives of various nationalities? We talk about the events in Ukraine with producer Said Gafarov (Azerbaijan) and frontman Ilo Djikia (Georgia). Also, the band includes Kote Imedaishvili (Georgia), Miho Buadze (Georgia), and Dmytro Chekmariov (Ukraine).
Persona Grata is a member of the Peaceful Sotnia. What does this mean for you?
Said Gafarov: “The goal of the project is to say ‘No to war!’ and show that your nationality does not matter, neither does the language you speak, because the most precious thing is human life.”
All of you speak Russian. How can you comment on statements made by the leading Russian mass media on the intimidation of people who speak Russian in Ukraine?
Ilo Djikia: “I have never faced it. This issue was artificially exaggerated. I am a Georgian and I view the annexation of Crimea and the growing numbers of Russia’s troops near Ukrainian borders as a geopolitical disaster!”
Would you transfer from the Peaceful Sotnia to a combatant one if the circumstances at Maidan required it?
S.G.: “Hypothetically, everything depends on the amount of harm done to a person. But the thing is, war does not solve the problems. It did not settle anything anywhere: neither in Abkhazia, Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, nor in Transnistria. And it will not settle the problems in Crimea!”
You came to Ukraine because of the political conflict between Georgia and Russia.
I.D.: “We came to Kyiv from Russia: on October 2, 2006, we participated in a tourist exhibition. We were going to stay for a month in Moscow, but a diplomatic scandal burst out: Russia’s spies were allegedly caught in Georgia. Air connection between Russia and Georgia was shut down then and we could not fly back to Batumi. It was impossible to stay in the streets: the police was after us, there was an order from above to detain Georgians, fingerprint them, force them to write explanatory notes. None of our musicians could write in Russian then, and I had to be their interpreter, speak for all seven of them (that is how many people we had in the band). Truth be said, there was no bad attitude towards us personally, the police did not humiliate or treat us badly. There just was this order... And that is when we decided to go to Kyiv, because we did not see another way out of the situation.”
S.G.: “When the guys came to Kyiv, a part of them had to live a precarious existence, because as foreigners they could stay a certain number of days during a calendar year. After we registered a company, the musicians were employed by it. After some time, they registered as residents and became persona grata. By the way, this is where the name of the band comes from.”
Do you feel that your art is highly demanded in Ukraine?
S.G.: “We do, since we play rock music, but unfortunately, after 2009 there has been a decline in the commercial aspect (the number of concerts decreased). Now the economic situation in the country is far from being satisfactory. In such conditions, there is less attention to art and creativity. People are busy with their own problems, making money, taking care of children, ensuring safety. And art in any form is demanded when people live a calm and steady life. That is when they have time for social and cultural activities.”
How are you received in Ukraine? Do you go on tours often?
I.D.: “Yes, we do. We are a unique band for Ukraine. If you compare us to some ordinary band from the point of view of nationality, where all members are Ukrainians, they all are the same: the way of playing, singing, vocal range, and stylistic vocal performance. And all of us are different. We sing in all of the six languages as if they are our mother tongues!”
S.G.: “I studied in Turkey, and Turkish is my third native language, along with Azerbaijani and Russian (I studied at a Russian school in Baku). I sing in Georgian with the guys, but I do not know it well, I only know some words.”
Don’t the differences in your mentalities ever get in the way?
S.G.: “No, they help, actually. They give some special flavor. For example, we perform the song Chornobryvtsi not as it is sung originally. If you listen to it with your eyes closed, you will understand it is performed by non-Ukrainians, but in a very heartfelt manner.”
Do you like Ukrainian songs?
I.D.: “Yes, I do very much. Recently, we prepared a song to the lyrics of Taras Shevchenko’s poem Banduryste, Orle Syzy for a special project. We also have a Ukrainian song Yikhaly Khloptsi, for which we made modern arrangement with a Georgian tonality.”
Why do Georgian musicians speak with an accent, but it is absent when they sing?
S.G.: “Because they talk in a free mode, as they feel, but when they sing, they sing according to a template. If we want, there will be an accent there too.”
What are you currently working on?
S.G.: “We are working on the songs for our second album, it will include 12 titles. The guys have written interesting songs, it will be possible to listen to them soon. Also, we have made several versions of ethnic works, national songs in various arrangements. We will include these songs in a separate album.”