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17 December, 2012

Authentic Christmas in Music and Films

The Ukrainian Week offers a selection of films and CDs that reveal Ukrainian winter festivity rituals in a creative modern interpretation


Directed by Serhiy Paradzhanov (1964)

The classic film is based on the novel by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, one of the best Ukrainian modernist writers. The story takes place in the whimsical Hutsulshchyna, a Carpathian region known for its unique traditions, preserved from old times. One of the first episodes shows Hutsuls celebrating Christmas: they put on colourful and spooky costumes, arrange a fair, play music, dance and have fun. Then, an authentic Carpathian church appears in the scene. Such wooden shrines do not exist anywhere else in the world, but being vulnerable to the aggressive environment there, they are also rare in Ukraine. The film was shot in an authentic location, the village of Kryvorivnia in the Carpathians. Locals played in crowd scenes, singing folk songs and speaking the local dialect in the background. This authenticity and the mysterious rituals, surrealistically intertwined with regular village life, reveal the unique psychological portraits of the characters.  One of the best poetic films, it brought its Armenian-Ukrainian director, Serhiy Paradzhanov, worldwide fame, and revealed many talents among his film crew.  Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors won the Grand Prix at 24 festivals, wowing renowned directors including Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Akira Kurosawa and Andrzej Wajda. 


Skriabin, Taras Chubai and friends (Caravan CD, 1999)

Ukraine’s most popular rock musicians of the 1990s, including Taras Chubai, Yulia Lord and Skriabin, joined efforts to create Our Christmas. A collection of traditional Ukrainian Christmas songs performed in acoustic and electronic arrangements, the project has a vintage feel to it. As reviving local folklore is growing more and more popular in Central and Eastern Europe today, musicians look for authentic songs and singing techniques, brush off the dust and insert them into the framework of modern sound. Recorded 15 years ago, this album can be seen as the forefather of the trend. The fusion of original folk rhythms and festive ambience are easy to listen to and enjoy. The electronic basis is laced with live violas, trumpets, percussion and guitars. This CD sounds like a music miniature, playing only thirty minutes, made up of short and somewhat naive tracks, which can be associated with a toy “vertep” – a nativity scene. The record is already part of the Ukrainian music legacy. Released a while ago, it has now become rare, but music lovers can listen to the tracks online for free.


ShockolaD (Dzyga, 2010)

Young Ukrainian band ShockolaD describes its style as world music. Performances at many festivals in Ukraine and abroad have opened its members to different genres, experiments and improvisation. The record is a perfect example of how a folk Christmas song is played in the jazz style, offering brilliant interpretations of Ukrainian ritual songs in acid jazz, cool jazz, fusion, swing and reggae. A Lavish Night with Good Jazz is the band’s fourth record in its six years of recording and performing experience. The band presented its record at the Lviv Philharmonic – to a packed Lviv audience, which knows about good music. In their career, ShockolaD follow one rule: think globally and act locally. They make music that anyone in the world can understand, yet use the original Ukrainian music canvas with its unique local motifs and textures as a basis.  


Yulia Roma, Natalia Lebedeva, Kostiantyn Ionenko, Alik Fantayev (COMP Music EMI, 2012)

Once again, talented musicians celebrate Christmas with modern, classy jazz. They show their love for what is dear to them, rethinking it and placing it into an alternative background of music and mischievous jazzy rhythms. The Ukrainian jazz scene is far from being satiated, since this style only came to Ukraine less than a decade ago. That’s why every new attempt is like a gunshot – it takes courage and professionalism. Rejoice is a record of laconic yet elegant music, flowing in waves, with breakers of emotional and temperamental vocals. In it, Yulia shows the depth and range of her voice, combining strength and sentimentality. According to critics, the Ukrainian songs performed by Yulia Roma and her band create the ambience of authenticity and mystery, comparable to the feel of Nikolai Gogol’s early novels. 

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