09 January 2010

An Oleh Skrypka VV Christmas in Kyiv

Entering Kyiv's Palats Sportu at about 8pm yesterday, Ukrainian Christmas day, it seemed that Oleh Skrypka and VV  (Vopli Vidopliassova) had just taken the stage. I guess I missed the other two acts on the bill "Choboty z Byhaya" and "Konsonans Retro". 

It had been a fairly easy entry process. No lines at the imposing police cordon where well-fed men wearing camouflage fatigues, berets, and body armor made sure all the guests left their nottles of beer, juice, and vodka in large piles on the ice covered asphalt. 

At the door and inside were loads of regular Ukrainian police. No tickets were checked. The posters around town announced: "Free admission if wearing national clothing". Apparently it was free admission for all, but I still wore my Vyshyvanka with pride as did the majority of the attendees. To the right, in the largely empty foyer, two vendors sold Ukrainian CD's, books, vyshyvanky, and Pysanky. 

The coat check was in full swing as the rowdy, young rockers paused in their revelry to politely hand their coats over the barrier. Elderly ladies thickly layered with sweaters and scarves returned numbered tokens with accompanying scowls as if they were being imposed upon.

Regardless of my ever advancing age, I still love the feeling of entering an arena at a rock show, even if I had to stare down two cops (not knowing exactly why) to get through the stairwell door. The arena was only about a third full. It looked like a poorly attended gig at a colleg student union. I immediately felt like a chaperone.

Oleh Skrypka took the stage and began his energetic show. I was pleasantly surprised to see him playing his accordion followed by his guitar. I expected him to be behind a mixing board since the advertisements dubbed the event "Ethno-Disco" with a picture of him behind a mixing board.

The stage setup was great. Typical for Ukrainian concerts now. The showmanship piece has been mastered. Two diamond vision screens hung from the ceiling at each side of the stage with another massive one behind the stage. When he launched into the twangy, cowboy style intro to his rock version of "Rozprahayty Khloptsi Koni" the crowd, mostly congregated immediately in front of the stage, screamed in delight as Kozaky on horses dashed across the steppe in a well worn film clip that was projected on the diamond vision. Was it the old Taras Bulba flick?

There were at least two distinct dancing styles in the house. The first was rooted in traditional Ukie moves, accentuated with some exaggerated jumping and arm waving.  The second style,  at the edges of the crowd involved tilting ones head back, closing ones eyes, outstretching ones arms and rotating ones hands in broad circling motions as if being carried away by the moment. Think Easter at Shevchenskyj Hai in Lviv or any given Grateful Dead Concert. Again I felt like a chaperone.

I looked for evidence of BYuT in the arena given it was a Timo "Mystetska Aktsia" Sponsored event "With Ukraine in Our Hearts". The arena was dark and smokey, from the dried ice, to facilitate the elaborate albeit ill-fitting laser show that was taking place throughout, so it was difficult to see anything other than the stage. There were two pairs of flag wavers, the flag on the fishing pole routine, symmetrically positioned at the rear of the crowd. Two Ukrainian flags, and two Timo flags waved continuously. In the past few months many Ukrainian musicians, one by one, have outwardly proclaimed their support for Timo on specially designed billboards, dressed in white. As an outsider with my own opinions about Timo, I was surprised when such pro-Ukrainian acts like Mad Heads, Druha Rika, and TNMK jumped on the Timo band wagon. Oleh Skrypka and VV have not appeared on such billboards, but the adverts for this event were graphically designed to convey the same image as the other endorsement boards.

On stage, Skrypka invited three backup singers decked out in traditional clothing to help him with his amplified version of "Shchedryk" which pulled not only at this chaperone's heart strings but those of the audience in general.

I exited the arena into the wide hallway that circles the venue. At almost every arena entrance teenagers were trying to convince guards who themselves looked like teenagers to allow them to bring in their oversize cans of Chernihivske White Beer (I was going to write "Bile" instead of "White" but it's too good a beer for such a dark allusion). Some appeared to be succeeding. Others queued for the rest room or ate Pringles and drank beer along the edges. I didn't see any BYuT booths or posters or any other presence.

On the Metro ride home I ruminated about the work Skrypka is doing and what a huge undertaking it is. A city of millions turned out only a couple thousand kids for this healthy dose of Ukrainian culture. Did the Timo affiliation reduce his attendance? At any rate, Oleh Skrypka, in my opinion is one of those few in Ukraine that are doing the work of putting the "Ukrainian" back into being Ukrainian. Heavy-lifting.

For those interested, the Kyiv Post has announced that on January 19th, at 19:00, on the grounds of St. Sophia Cathedral there will be the final concert of Oleh Skrypka's "Krayina Mriy: Kolyada" project  where he will be performing with two of my other heroes of contemporary Ukrainian music: Taras Chubay (son of an influential Lviv underground poet in the 1970's who passed away under shady circumstances) and Maria Burmaka.  See you there!

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