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31 May, 2011  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

Steel Tenderness

Sasha Koltsova talks about the role of Captain Obvious, TV, matriarchy and politics

Sasha Koltsova is the leader of Krykhitka, the most popular rock band with a female vocalistin  Ukraine. Over her career – quite long for someone of such a young age – Sasha has experienced a lawsuit, financial troubles, and the death of her friend and guitarist who was one of the band’s founders. Sheisbraveenoughtodorealart,ratherthan just provide music for corporate parties. However, she admits that music is not all she does for living and she still has time for civic activities and writing.

THE HARD TIMES OF GROWING UP

Without music I wouldn’t be me. Every teenager decides, to be or not to be. I said yes to music because I had my personal weird illusion that music could do someone some good. Without art in my life I would find it hard to have a reason to live.

I spend most of the time inside myself. Acceptign the fact that I just have to live in Ukraine, do music here and co-exist with representatives of the other gender at the same time, all this takes a lot of self-cultivation. Perhaps, I’m still in adolescence, but I really enjoy being a grown-up. I can’t say that I wore rose-tinted glasses all my childhood, but I was shocked to find out how the real world was built compared to the one I’d read about in books. I write a lot for myself, much more than what the world can see.

You can’t compromise with yourself in art. When you know that a song should sound a certain way, you must have the guts to accomplish what you started. It’s like having a wheat field of your own where somebody asks to put a foot first, and then grabs 90% of it gradually. You shouldn’t compromise or save on what’s dear to you.  

All people are children. They only grow up physically, but their qualities hardly change. People who know how to deal with children will definitely get on with adults. I think many features freeze in a person at a certain important point in their life. This is how we remain; five- or thirteen- year olds, and we spend all our lives with a certain emotion following us like a constant thread.  

I wanted to get a degree in psychology. But I changed my mind after an internship in an asylum. Ifellintodepression. I have a very strong sense of empathy, so I have a hard time getting out of somebody else’s mind once I plunge deep into it. I don’t think I want to die like the vocalist of Joy Division (Ian Curtis hanged himself at the age of 23 – ed.).

THE UPS AND DOWNS

Show-business is not just about showing-off. It’s a system that helps pieces of music bring money to their creators. It allows people to make a brand which is worth something. The fact that I have to be the face of the band is an inevitable evil. I would be happy to start an anonymous art project so that nobody knew who I was. Music and show-business are two completely different things. The latter is a fun game, and sometimes it really feels good to be part of it.

I have to be a producer, negotiate with people, think about where to find money for the band and make important decisions beyond the field of music. As an artist, I don’t find this particularly enjoyable; I feel a lot of tension when I do it. Like every girl, I have always wanted to be protected from these types of troubles. I tried hard to find somebody to promote the band but I didn’t see anyone who would work harder than me. Such a person should get financial benefit from our promotion and be a fan of the band. So far, we haven’t found anyone, it’s the fact that our audience believes in us which inspires us the most.

I have already had a peak in the media spotlight in my career. We performed on Maidan (Independence square) during the Orange Revolution and Channel 24 broadcast the show live. This was the biggest Ukrainian audience that had ever seen us play. I’m not sure when our own creative peak will come. By the way, we played for free then, like idiots. Today we realize that we should have charged politicians for our work, but we were too excited to think that way at the time.

Private concerts are okay. There aren’t many oligarchs who have good taste, although I have met some. A Russian tycoon once invited Radiohead to his party. Some rent a charter plane to bring the fabulous Nina Matviyenko to sing for them because they like to listen to Ukrainian songs live. I don’t see a problem in performing for a person who cannot go to a club because of his or her status but is ready to pay for good sound and stage lighting because he or she wants to listen to our music. I love playing on stage and I don’t care who’s there to listen - I will always do my very best. Moreover, in 5 or 10 years there will be tycoons of my generation, well-educated and with a taste for good music.

The difference between a corporate concert and a private one is that “someone from the silver screen” is a must for the former. This is where celebrities are needed, anyone from the stage, no matter what they do. The celebrity factor is the only thing that matters. People who work at corporate parties alone are not artists – they are musical waiters. If you want to be called an artist, you should go on stage and gather a concert hall of people who are ready to pay for a ticket to your concert.

Ukrainians are not used to paying for music or concerts. Most would rather pay UAH 25 for a beer than a show. In the late 1990s and early 2000s big open air shows on city squares were all free, so people got used to this and now they can’t understand why they have to pay at all. Moreover, they don’t think of music as work. We've started this one campaign on our own website and in other social networks where we go to any city where we get 150 emails from people who would like to come to our concert. We look for a club there and make a deal. And then all people have to do is just come to the concert they invited us for. Having 150 people at a concert in a city outside of Kyiv is great. The number of people who are ready to pay for a ticket reflects how reliable the given city is.

I’m tired of playing Captain Obvious.I want to sing and write, but I always end up explaining something to my colleagues, people on the TV and radio and the audience. Ican’tonly beamusician. Although, if you think about it, musicians are like that straw on the camel’s back – they express what bothers others. Recently, I participated in yet another march initiated by the Save Old Kyiv community and I saw so many artists I know there! We must understand the problems of our listeners, not satisfy tycoons’ whims.

I’m from the generation that still reads magazines. I was in seventh heaven when the Rolling Stone wrote about us. I stopped writing music reviews because criticising my colleagues isn’t very nice for me. But I think I might have made a good music journalist because sometimes I really feel like opening a blank page and writing a killer review.

DEAF LISTENERS

Building a musical brand is difficult in Ukraine since TV decides everything. There are very few people on Ukrainian television who can tell a real artist and a musician from the fakes who work at corporate parties or as occasional celebrities. We disappeared from the silver screen two years ago because of the trial with our record company. And central channels stopped playing our videos a year ago. Many people claim that this means death for a rock band in Ukraine. However, we have not disappeared, we still play concerts and the internet is a perfect vent for us as all our fans follow the band on twitter. But it was the TV that made our song I Have a Man the most popular piece in my career, while my favourite ones, Something Like That and The Model, which I think are much more elaborate, are less well-known because they never reached a broad audience.

The lack of self-respect continues to drive the life of Ukrainians. You can only have a chance in Ukraine once you’ve become popular in Moscow or elsewhere. Another option is to be a successful soviet artist with a trace of mothballed fame. We have an island-shaped mentality similar to that of the UK: the same thing happened to the band Muse – nobody seemed to be interested in them until the US recognized them.  

It’s getting harder to reach the audience. Its imagination is twisting and listeners are growing deaf. Thus, the industry needs more powerful effects to impress the audience. It’s not enough to write a good song. In addition to that, you need good stylists to create a good image, use some 3D effects and many other tricks. I would really like to perform like Edit Piaf did – just go on stage wearing a black dress and sing and that would be enough.  

We don’t earn our living from music. Show-business has some boundaries, while individualism and the perception of art don’t. I’m interested in the deepest theories inside every person which I can reach with my music. If I were jumping around the stage wearing high heels and lip-synching at corporate parties, I would definitely earn more. But I don’t pursue any financial goals. Instead, I’m able to choose more interesting artistic things.  I’d rather write a text for an ad than the music for it.  

I’ve been dreaming of putting a camera on stage and filming how the audience moves and then show the results. People have totally different ways of moving in Lviv, Dnipropetrovsk or Odesa. An Eastern audience is very interactive; they always shout something and try to hold a dialogue with us. Actually, it startled me at first because I had been used to a stage that sent out verbal signals, not received them. In contrast, the audience in Western Ukraine watches me closely and doesn’t move a lot at first. But then they start dancing, all as one. And every region has some weirdos in the crowd with their unique funny moves.   

Ukraine has only now started to understand itself. I wonder how the previous generation of Ukrainian musicians, including Tartak, TNMK, Mandry, Skriabin and others, survived. And I really appreciate their pioneering efforts when they went to Ukrainian radio stations and every art director would tell them how bad and hopeless their Ukrianian-language music was. Believe me, I’m not playing a drama queen! I used to work as a PR manager for Maria Burmaka in the early 2000s and I remember all those letters saying that nobody needed us in Ukraine with our Ukrainian-language music. The situation improved when we appeared on the radio in 2005.

FORGET THE COUCH

We can’t just sit still on our chairs in this country.We must rise and act. We must open the Constitution and know what rights we have or realize that we actually have them. I remember one campaign where an old lady gathered other old ladies from her neighbourhood to protest against the construction of yet another mansion in front of her windows, and she succeeded. What she did was perfectly legitimate and it worked!  I don’t care who our President is as long as he or she fulfills his or her functions. It’s the title of an official that matters, not his or her personality. As long as they have that title, they should make sure they fulfill their obligations.  

Normal politicians will emerge in 40 years. These past 20 years of Ukraine’s independence have not even been that Biblical desert which only starts now. We have finally gathered and are ready to move somewhere. When the last slave dies in Ukraine, we will be free. My generation has to raise the first generation of Ukrainians who will truly be free. I love Ukraine, but not the Ukrainian State.  

My friends say that I could switch to politics in seven years, or so. Thank you very much! Civic activities would be my biggest politics. There are a lot of important things to take care of, such as the elimination of parks, the killing of dolphins, my eco-friendly bags, and so on. No matter who we are, poets or musicians, we must all be citizens in the first place. However, politics in Ukraine means drowning in dirt.

The language issue is still in place in Ukraine because people are too lazy to study. Ukrainian is not Finnish or Chinese. I’m a Russian from a Russian-speaking family. My resentment of the Ukrainian language only lasted for six months after I moved here. I even had a fight with someone over it, although nobody touched me after I began to do karate. But then I got interested in this language, and I had a good teacher. At school we were only allowed to speak Ukrainian in class. I couldn’t keep silent so I had to learn it, and it was natural and beautiful. Learning the Ukrainian language is a problem only for those who are either lazy, or dumb. That’s why the level of culture keeps declining, while it’s much easier to control idiots.  

Politicians and officials are interested in depriving people involved in other professional activities of any sense of dignity. Ukrainian journalists are not the fourth column in Ukraine because people with such a status should get paid for their work respectively. Actually, good salaries are most important for teachers, doctors, mass media employees and the road police. If these categories work properly, then society will heal itself. When a country intentionally humiliates its law enforcers with low salaries, it’s committing a crime. Our police has been purchased by MPs and is now ready to chase me every minute. So, I suggest that we all contribute something and buy it back. This could help us feel safe again and let people in uniforms look in their children’s eyes without embarrassment knowing that they did not just kill another student[1] out of rage. Corruption has taken over the core of the system. Sadly, our society is not interested in treating each other decently.

Ukrainian MPs are a caste whose key skill is to steal and abuse office. We should treat them as seriously ill people who became so because of fear of poverty, the sense of inferiority, and the desire to offset Ukrainian reality with something different. They are afraid to change this reality because of their own dumbness. Ukrainian deputies are really afraid to see people of other professions enjoy the luxury of self-respect and dignity.  

I am a law abiding citizen who crosses the road when the light is green. When I see some litter by my house, I go out and clean it. If I see a drunk policeman lying somewhere, I call for his colleagues to come and get him. If I see any trouble, I try to fix it, and this really distracts me from music.

MATRIARCHATE SOCIETY

If I were a man and didn’t do music, the SBU (Special Service of Ukraine) would have a thick file against me as an extremist. Iwould visitallprotests. But I believe the SBU already has one which means that I’m not wasting my life.

A woman has this magic word - maternity leave. I always convince myself that I can use that when I’m completely fed up with everything. I’m not sure the stronger sex has this excuse.

Stupid women have brought up a generation of weak men for whom they do everything. Whenever you tenderly say, “Darling, I’ll do that,” he will definitely think “Sure, why not!” and go do all the men’s stuff, such as fishing or sitting in parliament. In fact, such a man turns into a dawdler. Ukrainian women have always been independent in contrast to Russian women for instance, who couldn’t even choose who to marry. Our women have always chosen their future husbands. Yet, this independence is playing a lame trick on us, as men become abusive rather than free. Ukrainian society is indeed matriarchic, but this does Ukrainian women no good. It is hard to find a man who would assume as much responsibility as a woman does. That’s why I prefer to date 20-year olds rather than those aged 35. The new generation seems more masculine than those who “took the hit of the 1990s,” as they often say.

BIO

Sasha Koltsova is a Ukrainian singer, journalist, composer, poet and activist. She has been the leader of Krykhitka rock band since 1999. Sasha was born in Russia and moved to Kyiv as a schoolgirl. Having graduated from Kyiv National Linguistic University with a degree in French and English languages and literature, she worked as Editor in Chief for the Moloko magazine in 2001-2002, and as a show host at Radio Roks in 2001. Sasha is a straight edge follower and designs eco-friendly bags.  



[1]19-year old Ihor Indylo was beaten to death by the police in May 2010.


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