“If you try to popularize something traditional, like folklore, it does not mean that you should do this by traditional means,” consider the musicians of the capital’s traveling band Folknery, Yaryna Kvitka and Volodymyr Muliar.
This extraordinary project combines music, ethnographic expeditions, filmmaking, and promotion of bicycle touring. In their search for authentic songs, they have traveled for thousands of kilometers on their bikes, across Ukraine and abroad – they went from Uzhhorod to Luhansk, reached Turkey and Italy. The musicians give new life to the artifacts of folk culture they found through unexpected and at the same time harmonious interpretations.
Recently Folknery have returned from their trip to Karelia, when they had a symbolical aim to unite the waters of the Black and White seas. Having set out in Odesa, they left Ukraine behind, went past Belarus, Russia, and Finland. On their way the travelers not only recorded folk songs, but also managed to prepare material for a new film, familiarize local residents with their artistic work, and run a blog. In an interview to The Day the founders of the band, Yaryna Kvitka and Volodymyr Muliar, told how one can popularize traditional culture with the help of the Internet and social media, what is the difference between European music industry and Ukrainian one, and that civilization is not always good.
You use social networks and various multimedia means to popularize your activity. What are the results?
V.M.: “This is what the world has become, and you cannot escape from it. The information is spread very rapidly. If you want to be on the crest of the wave and make people know you, you have to use the new media.”
Ya.K.: “We have no producer or PR manager who would be involved in the promotion of the band, so we do what we can on our own. One video on YouTube, if watched by many viewers, can make anyone popular in a matter of two or three days. Television and radio won’t report about you for any reason. We have noticed the tendency that traditional mass media for some reason take little interest in positive things: they need trash, action, or naked bodies. When we were organizing a press conference in Odesa, as many as one journalist came before the start of our expedition. As we were explained, if the press release touched, for example, the language issue, all the local mass media would have turned up. It is hard to imagine mass media to pay attention to folklore research. I have brought all our videos to TV channels: everywhere I was told that it did not fit the format. However, in Bulgaria or Romania, for example, there are TV channels that are dedicated to folk culture, and musicians like us can without hesitation offer their music to them. It is no surprise that Folknery are perceived abroad differently than in Ukraine. There people take a greater interest in folklore. We have just returned from the festival in Lithuania, where we were received like stars: owing to the Internet many people from the audience knew our songs and danced to them. To compensate this information vacuum, we decided to start an online diary. I was impressed that the blog evoked such a great interest: people were waiting for a new post every day.”
I have heard you are raising money for your own website. What kind of resource will it be?
V.M.: “We tried to raise money via the Internet portal ‘Great Idea,’ where anyone can offer their projects, and every user has a possibility to finance it. Unfortunately, we did not manage to raise a needed sum. But even beyond the project many people have offered their help to us. The resource we are going to create will at the same time be a website of Folknery and an ethnographic project ‘Two-Wheel Chronicles.’ There we will post the materials from our expeditions: videos, audio recordings, song lyrics. They will look like a catalogue, systematized according to titles, genres, and region. Any person will have access to these recordings. The films we have already presented include only a small part of the materials we have gathered. We are making the website namely to show the rest.”
You have shot three films about your expeditions.
Ya.K.: “Yes, every film has a new concept, but they all are alike and they were made by the same team. When we were editing the third one, we did not know until the end what it will be. We came up with a concept practically several days before the presentation: we decided to present our several-week trip like one day on the radio [Yaryna works as a host of programs on Promin Radio Station. – Author].”
V.M.: “The films have their own atmosphere, but they cannot cardinally differ from each other, because their genre is always a video chronicle of a trip. We are trying to find some new artistic means all the time. You should ask the audience how successful we are in this.”
In your opinion, are the new media and the Internet an efficient instrument for popularizing the traditional culture?
Ya.K.: “This is a good way, but we still need television to attract a great number of people to this layer of culture. For example, people in villages not always have a possibility to use the Internet, whereas almost everyone has a TV set, and many of them watch it on a regular basis. We have a long-time dream to show our films on a TV channel, probably, as a separate section. It seems to me, they deserve a broader audience.”
V.M.: “The Internet is spreading very quickly. I think it will soon be available to everyone. Time changes and the ways to transmit information change as well. This is quite normal.”
What do you expect to get the higher feedback from the audience: music or other projects?
Ya.K.: “It seems to me Folknery is a whole thing, which combines music and expeditions. I think most of people who go to our concerts know about our ethnographic studies and films as well.”
“THE MORE CIVILIZED A COUNTRY IS, THE FEWER BEARERS OF AUTHENTIC CULTURE ARE PRESENT THERE”
In what country have you recorded the highest number of songs during your latest trip?
V.M.: “As usual, Ukraine has no equals in these terms. Probably, the reason is that it is our homeland, so namely here we manage to record the most. Belarus as well has quite a good situation with folklore, and Russia somewhat disappointed us. On the whole, it is often hard to find people there, like in Pskov region we went through. It is even harder to find people who sing. Like one elderly woman from a 20-resident village said: ‘People here mostly drink, rather than sing.’ Unfortunately, it is often true.”
Judging by your experience of travels across Western and Eastern Europe, Near East, and Ukraine, where the chances to meet bearers of authentic culture are the highest?
Ya.K.: “It seemed to us, the more civilized the country is, the less chances are to meet there an old woman who sings. In Europe there is a supermarket and a bank in every village, it is very clean there. But it is practically impossible to find folklore there. Poland and Slovakia have a better situation.”
V.M.: “This is a kind of a paradox. On the one hand, we want to live in comfort and in civilization. This seems to be good. But, on the other hand, civilization ‘kills’ the folk culture. We have many times made sure of this. Austrian villagers are leading, in a sense, an urban lifestyle: they have the same communications and infrastructure, but on a lesser scale, and elderly people go in for sport. It is impossible to imagine such picture in Ukraine. But they don’t have any folk culture: an Austrian old woman won’t show you her national clothes she embroidered on her own and she won’t sing you an old folk song either. In the countries with underdeveloped economies and low life standards all these things have been preserved. And the farther you go to remote areas, to the mountains, the better. So, you have to choose, whether you want to live in civilization, but without folk culture, or preserve it, but live on a low civilization level, without comfort.”
In what regions of Ukraine has authentic culture been preserved more, in western or eastern?
Ya.K.: “Western Ukraine was influenced by Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Austria-Hungary. For example, in Zakarpattia region Ruthenian-Slovak dialect and corresponding songs have been preserved. The eastern part instead was influenced by Russia: it is no surprise that Russian songs and chastushki prevail there. As for me, the most interesting authentic Ukrainian culture was preserved in central Ukraine and Polissia. Ukraine has historically been divided between different countries, therefore every territory and every village has some elements of a foreign culture. For example, in Odesa and Mykolaiv regions we have come across Bulgarian villages: people there speak Bulgarian to each other and sing Bulgarian songs. At the same time, modern Bulgarians who come there do not understand them, because namely Ukrainian Bulgarians have preserved the Old Bulgarian language, which exists in quite modified way in present-day Bulgaria. Therefore one can say that in certain places authentic culture has been preserved much better – in every place in a different way.”
“A BICYCLE IS THE BEST MEANS OF TRAVELING FOR ETHNOGRAPHIC EXPEDITIONS”
Do you need to listen to many songs in order to come across some really precious material?
V.M.: “Of course, to find a really precious material, we need to ‘dig’ much. People often sing what we have heard many times before. Sometimes we come across new couplets and new alternatives to well-known songs. At times it can be very interesting. During our 2011 expedition across Ukraine we recorded nearly 600 songs and 100 out of them can be regarded rare.”
You have many interesting songs, you get invitations to perform, but Folknery has not released any album yet. Why?
V.M.: “At the moment we are actively working on this. Till the end of the year we are going to release our first full-fledged album. We explain such long delay by the fact that we are working on it alone. Besides, we are self-critical enough – so, we remake it a couple of times.”
Finally, why have you chosen bicycle as a means of traveling for your expeditions?
V.M.: “Cycling is the best for ethnographic expeditions. You go with an optimal speed and you can stop whenever and wherever you like to communicate with locals. We, on the whole, would like to encourage people to travel more – traveling helps you discover the world, and at the same time it helps you to learn people better, get to know yourself better, and this makes you love your country the most, whatever it is.”
Ya.K.: “Traveling broadens your worldview. It teaches you to perceive people around you in a new way and respect them. Those who live in a closed environment become spiritually poor and more vulnerable to ideas imposed from outside.”