Ukrainian rapper’s tribute to his mother wins hearts ahead of Eurovision contest

As Russian missiles pummel Ukraine’s cities and towns, a band’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest has become an anthem for the war-torn homeland.

Initially written as a tribute to the mother of the leader of the Kalush Orchestra, Stephanie is the most viewed song on YouTube among the 35 national entries that will compete in the Eurovision Song Contest next week in Turin, Italy.

The hugely popular international event, which was watched by 183 million people last year, takes place annually and features mainly European countries.

While some odds makers and data analysts have pegged others to win, Kalush Orchestra’s upbeat, melodic song is fast becoming a sentimental favourite.

“I will always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed,” Kalush Orchestra leader Oleh Psiuk writes in Stephanie.

The lyrics have become more poignant after the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced more than 11 million to flee the country.

CLOCK | Official music video for the song Stefania by Kalush Orchestra:

“In fact, some things here were written long before the war, and they were dedicated to my mother,” Psiuk told The Associated Press at his hotel in Turin, wearing a sparkly bucket hat that makes him instantly recognizable to anyone passing by. have transmitted. Stephanie.

“After it all started with war and hostilities, it took on an additional meaning, and many people began to see it as its mother, Ukraine, in the meaning of the country. It has become very close to the hearts of many people in Ukraine.” , said.

The performance will send a political message

Mixing traditional Ukrainian folk music with hip hop, Kalush Orchestra’s Eurovision performance will have an additional political message, depicting the uniqueness of Ukrainian culture in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the former Soviet republic has always been part of Russia. .

“We ourselves show that the Ukrainian culture and [an] The Ukrainian ethnic code exists,” Psuik said. β€œOur purpose is to make Ukrainian music popular, not only in Ukraine but throughout Europe. And Eurovision is the best platform for that.”

Stephanie incorporates old Ukrainian melodies and unique musical tones from a difficult-to-play woodwind instrument called telenkaplayed by singer Tymofii Muzychuk.

The members of the band mix breakdance with skip, a Ukrainian folk dance, in an energetic performance punctuated by Psiuk’s rap interludes. Costumes feature embroidered Cossack shirts and vests mixed with contemporary street wear.

The Kalush Orchestra, pictured here rehearsing their song Stefania, will represent Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 in Turin, Italy, next week. (Corinne Cumming/EBU)

Psiuk and five bandmates, all men between the ages of 21 and 35, received special permission from the Ukrainian authorities to travel to Turin to participate in Eurovision, travel overland to Poland, and then fly to Italy. An original gang member stayed behind to fight.

Psiuk, 27, left behind a network of volunteers he organized two days after the war to help deliver logistical aid to people across Ukraine seeking shelter or transportation. Everyone will return to Ukraine when the song contest is over.

“We feel a great responsibility,” Psiuk said. “It is very important for us to be as useful as possible for the country. We want to represent our country decently.”

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russia’s Eurovision entry was removed from the contest in a move organizers said was aimed at keeping politics out of the event.

Embracing folk and hip hop

Kalush Orchestra is more than a musical group. It is a cultural project that includes folklore scholars and deliberately combines hip hop with traditional Ukrainian music, dance and costumes, some long forgotten, according to Psiuk.

The six-month project takes its name from Psiuk’s hometown of Kalush, which is located in the Carpathian Mountains, south of the western city of Lviv. It is an evolution of the original Kalush hip-hop group that Psiuk also fronted.

Ukraine has won the Eurovision competition twice, both times with songs performed primarily in Ukrainian: by Ruslana in 2004 and Jamala in 2016.

Psuik attributes Ukraine’s success to the “peculiar character our music has”.

“I really hope that after we perform it at the Eurovision Song Contest, Ukrainian music will be even more popular and listened to,” he said.

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