Lviv’s Ethno Fest Summer of Love
Any budding social anthropologists searching for the key to a modern Ukrainian national identity need look no further than the country’s flourishing ethno-folk subculture. This eco-friendly and somewhat pastoral passion for ancient Ukrainian styles, riffs and motifs is visible in everything from pop music to high street fashions, but nowhere more so than when traversing the annual summer season of Ukrainian ethno festivals. These fun and unpretentious outdoor festivals have been attracting increasingly large numbers from all age brackets for the past decade to what are essentially celebrations of an eternal Ukrainian spirit which transcends the grubby politics of the post-independence age. Fittingly, this folklore fiesta phenomenon has its roots in West Ukraine and remains very much centred on the country’s unofficial cultural capital, Lviv.
Ukraine folklore resurgence and Perestroika The first ethno festivals appeared in Ukraine in the early years of independence. In many ways they were a logical continuation of the patriotic and often defiantly celebratory mood which had coloured much of the Perestroika era of Soviet rule. Then, Soviet Ukrainians had taken advantage of relaxed controls on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression to host an increasingly raucous public debate on the many previously taboo skeletons in the Soviet closet. Although succession from the USSR was not initially on the agenda, national folk costumes and traditional Ukrainian folk songs played a big part in setting the tone for the public meetings of the time. As the universally recognised symbols of a Ukrainian identity, these songs reflected the timeless rural idyll of the Ukrainian imagination and made a mockery of suggestions that Ukraine was some kind of non-state or indivisible part of Mother Russia. Songs have always played a key role in political struggles – unlike most other traditional symbols of national identity or class struggle, nobody can take a song away from you, hence its power. Most of the nursery rhymes English parents teach their children today are actually pieces of 15th and 16th century political satire, while we have read much in recent months about the songs of the antiapartheid movement. But whereas in the West the ‘pop protest song’ has now taken over from more traditional folk ballads as the favoured musical medium for political protest, in today’s Ukraine a post-independence desire to explore and exalt Ukrainian folk culture has produced an unlikely renaissance in folk song and early medieval fashions. Luckily, Ukraine has a huge repository of folksong - arguably among the most extensive and impressive in the entire world today. This should not perhaps come as a surprise, given Ukraine’s long experience as a land dominated by foreign powers. Denied the national identity pillars of a shared history which earlier state sovereignty would have brought, ordinary Ukrainians have managed to build a musical mosaic of Ukrainian singularity which has endured and even prospered throughout centuries of foreign rule. This huge treasure trove of folksong is part of what remains a largely agrarian Ukrainian identity embedded close to the nation’s black soil roots. Throughout the early modern period, Ukrainian culture and traditions were largely confined to the country’s rural regions, while the cities served as international hubs in which the ethnic Ukrainian community was just one of many. For the past three centuries at least most Ukrainian cities were populated by Poles, Jews, Russians, Armenians, Germans and Ukrainians alongside many other national minorities. In those days the only place where you could find the ‘real’ Ukraine would be in the ountryside. This is where the country’s treasures of national memory resided within the rural community, and this is where the country’s unique character blossomed and entrenched. Chauvinists in both the Tsarist and Soviet eras traditionally attempted to poke fun at the rural motifs of Ukrainian patriotic imagery and portray it as quaint and utterly provincial, but the arrival of independence in 1991 shed the nation’s village traditions in a more favourable and historical light. Festivals approach a whole new target audience This rich folksong heritage has always been a source of huge national pride to Ukrainians around the world and was also a prominent feature of much Soviet culture, but it was perhaps inevitable that folk mania would be part of any patriotic upswing associated with the arrival of Ukrainian independence in 1991. What had once been confined to the concert hall, the overnight railway carriage and the campfire was suddenly given the rock n’ roll treatment as folk music festivals began to spring up like ushrooms in the nation’s traditional patriotic heartlands of West Ukraine. These festivals have proved a major success story of the past twenty years, attracting international participants and a burgeoning regional reputation at a time when much of what has been on offer to young Ukrainians has been substandard or cliched. They have managed to tap into the growing desire among young Ukrainians to embrace their cultural identity and reclaim their ancient heritage after decades of denial and institutionalised halftruths. The 2010 ethno fest season is already well underway (see this week’s Lviv Society section for coverage) but if you have yet to book your ticket or dig out your tent poles then the good news is that there are still plenty of events on the festival calendar.
Here’s our pick of the best:
Krayina Mriy (‘Dreamland’) International Festival of Folk Music
July 17-18, 2010 Shevchenkivskiy Hay Museum of Folk Architecture (1, Chernecha Gora Street)
This annual festival is part of farreaching efforts by pop singer and noted patriot Oleh Skrypka Ukrainian language crooner Skrypka first made his name in the mid 1990s as the frontman of hugely popular Ukrainian language rock group ‘VV’. Although many initially assumed that the Ukrainian-speaking Skrypka was a native of West Ukraine, he is in fact from Poltava and has often criticised the stereotype that patriots are only found in the west of the country. These annual Dreamland festivals are part of the singer’s efforts to promote traditional Ukrainian folk song and introduce Ukrainian musical traditions to an international audience. Traditional Ukrainian songs are performed at the event both in the original haunting style and also in a number of modern interpretations includsing jazz, blues and rock.
Fest Mosty Joint Ukrainian-Polish ethno festival
July 23-25, 2010 Velyki Mosty town, Sokal district of Lviv region
For the first time ever this ethno festival will unite enthusiasts from Poland and Ukraine in the town of Velyki Mosty late this July. The mission statement of the event claims that it is an attempt to build bridges between the two neighbouring countries and celebrate a shared cultural heritage together. The event is being supported by communities throughout West Ukraine and East Poland and is a reflection of blossoming cultural relations between the two communities following years of historical recriminations following the bloody upheavals of the twentieth century. As well as live music and ethno craft shows this festival will also host discussions and social events featuring guests from both countries.
Slavske Rock Fest
July 30 – August 1, 2010, Slavske village, Skolivsky region, Lviv oblast
Although this is essentially a rock festival in the traditional ‘long hair and leather trousers’ manner, it is also a favourite among the ethno crowd as it showcases the best of the often overlooked Ukrainian rock scene alongside a selection of credible international guest performers. Ukrainian groups expected to perform this year include Gusol Kalipso, Taruta, Routenia, Dead Rooster, Maxima and Smoking mixture. They will be joined by Poland’s Farben Lehre and Tabu, Germany’s Nader and his Band and Georgia’s Zumba. The festival is also popular with ethno fest fans because it has a significant eco element which involves a variety of promotions designed to highlight the ecological wealth and importance of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains. The festival’s motto is: ‘I love the Carpathians’ and festival goers will be able to hire mountain bikes and explore the wonderful mountain region for themselves.
Svirzh ethno festival
July 30 – August 1, 2010 Novi Petrivtsi village, Kyiv Oblast
The first Svirzh world music festival took place last year and was roundly condemned as a flop. Named after its location nearby Svirzh Castle in Lviv Oblast, the event promised an impressive lineup of acts to play over three days, but instead wrapped up on the second day. Meanwhile, both event organisers and musicians claimed that they had not been paid in full, while festival management blamed low ticket sales. In order to try and boost the profile of this fledgling event organisers have decided to move it this year to just outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. It will now be on the banks of the Kyiv Sea and will offer 80 concerts on three live stages as well as theatre performances, nighttime film screenings and plenty of funky folklore master classes.
Pidkamin (‘Under the rock’) Fourth international ethno festival
July 23-25, 2010 Pidkamin settlement, Brody area of Lviv region
Situated in the shadow on one of Eastern Europe’s most striking lowland rock features, this ethno fest has an added pagan symbolism about it which fits in nicely with the overall agrarian ambience. The rock in question is thought to have been an ancient site of worship – hardly surprising given the effect it has on the surrounding landscape. This year’s festival will feature a long list of performers and a number of original alternative entertainments including jousting with knights in full medieval armour and rock climbing lessons. Anyone who doesn’t fancy roughing it in a tent for the weekend can take advantage of local hospitality as cash strapped villagers offer accommodation for as little as UAH 30 a night. Parking is also available at the festival site for UAH 15 per 24hrs.