The Ukrainians is a band formed by British musicians of Ukrainian descent. They adapt Ukrainian folk music (as well as Western pop) into a mostly acoustic high-energy style that fuses punk and folk, much as The Pogues did for Irish traditional music.
The idea for The Ukrainians grew out of a side project of British 1980s Indie band The Wedding Present. The ‘Weddoes’ had decided to make one of their BBC Radio 1 John Peel sessions a Ukrainian one. Guitarist Peter Solowka's friend Len Liggins (dubbed ‘The Legendary Len’ by John Peel) was brought in as an extra member because he sang, had been a student of Modern Slavonic languages at Leeds University and played an authentic eastern European village sounding violin. The huge popularity of the session took the lads, the public and Peel by surprise, and two more Ukrainian sessions were recorded for the show.
After this, Peter and Len went on to form The Ukrainians. They were joined by mandolin player Roman Remeynes.
They had written their first songs in Ukrainian, including 'Oi Divchino', which was to be their first single. They flew out to Ukraine to make a video for it. Shot in Kyiv's (Kiev’s) outdoor 'Museum of National Folk Architecture and Way of Life', it was the first pop video to be produced entirely in the east for a western band. 'Oi Divchino' was an NME Single of the Week and The Ukrainians attracted huge coverage in the music and mainstream press.
The first album, 'The Ukrainians', firmly established the group as the world's major exponent of a new hybrid of traditional Ukrainian folk and Western rock music. The group was immediately embraced by rock, punk, folk/roots and world music fans, generating a cross-genre appeal. The group was subsequently booked to play festivals and tours throughout much of Europe.
Word began to spread across the Atlantic, prompting sportswear company NIKE to approach The Ukrainians to record the soundtrack for a TV ad. The music accompanied footage of Ukrainian world champion polevaulter, Sergey Bubka and was screened globally.
The group next released their ‘Pisni Iz The Smiths’ EP, which included the group's Ukrainian language versions of four classic Smiths songs. Voted No.1 ‘Single of the Year’ in Berlin it set the template for the band’s occasional foray into covering classic Western pop songs in Ukrainian style. So far, other bands to have been ‘Ukrainianised’ include The Sex Pistols, The Velvet Underground, T Rex, Prince, The Tornados, Plastic Bertrand and Kraftwerk!
The ‘Vorony’ album extended the Ukrainians' popularity to almost every country in Europe. As a result, the group played a magnificent 110 date tour that took The Ukrainians from Western Spain to Eastern Ukraine, covering most of the countries in between. Included were prestigious festivals such as Glastonbury and Womad in Britain and many dozens of World Music, Folk, Indie, Dance and Rock events throughout Western, Central and Eastern Europe. A part of this frenzy was The Ukrainians' tour of Ukraine as guests of Ukraine's Ministry Of Culture. The tour culminated in a performance in Kyiv's Independence Square before a crowd of
75,000 people, a politically charged and internationally-televised event organised to celebrate the anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union.
The subject matter of the next album, ‘Kultura’ was influenced heavily by the group's experiences on the latter tour. Kultura turned out to be responsible for extending the group's popularity to Poland and, via extremely enthusiastic responses from college radio stations and Ukrainian emigre communities, across the Atlantic to the USA and Canada.
The Ukrainians’ fourth studio album, Respublika, contained mostly traditional songs. It was recorded quickly and captured a post-punk urgency reminiscent of the early Wedding Present John Peel sessions. It seemed as though the band had turned full circle. Respublika generated a huge amount of radio airplay across central and eastern Europe.
In 2009 The Ukrainians released ‘Diaspora’, considered by many to be their best and most mature work. Most of the songs deal with the subject of migration: the heartbreak of leaving family and homeland forever coupled with the excitement of starting a new life. The album had a strong resonance at a time when waves of young Ukrainians, Poles and other eastern Europeans had been flocking to the West in the hope of finding something better. The album asked: “will they disperse successfully like seeds”, or will they be “scattered like leaves in a field”?
Official website: http://www.the-ukrainians.com
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