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¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Kyiv Culture

Gaitana Going Strong Ukraine’s Soulful Singer Talks

Half Ukrainian, half Congolese singer Gaitana is the real thing in an artificial pop landscape. But who knew that she almost became a table tennis champion instead of a musician?
“I know what I want and I’ve always known what I wanted,” says Gaitana, sitting at a secluded table amidst the alpine-lodge elegance of Soho steakhouse. “I loved to sing and I did it sincerely, with my whole heart.”
That statement is in response to a question about what she owes her success to. But what her fans probably don’t know is that long before the singer, who was born in Kyiv to a Congolese father and Ukrainian mother, became a pop success, they almost lost her to the world of sports. And not only to the world of sports, but to a rather unusual sport.

“When I was six,” she says, ignoring her salad, “I started playing table tennis, and that became my life. I wanted to become a table tennis coach and was preparing to go off to a sports training camp. My mother did everything she could to make  that happen – when all of a sudden music popped up in my life.” What happened was that at age 12 she ended up joining a youth musical group, quite as an afterthought. “The director tried me out singing my favourite song and accompanied me,” she says, “and it was really strange, because I really never counted on leaving sports. But he said, ‘Gaitanochka, you’re very talented.’ But I was already an athlete!”

It didn’t matter. Something inside her intuited that singing, and not table tennis, was the way to go. She never made it  to that sports training camp after all. “My mother was in shock  - how could this be! She said, ‘Your life is tied up with  sports, we’ve placed all our hopes in that, we’ve made all sorts of preparations for that!’ There was constant travel, constant competitions, a constant life of athletics, and now there I was starting to sing. And that’s how I got into it.” By the time she was 15, she says, “I understood that I wanted to sing the sort of music that I wanted to sing, the sort that was connected to jazz.” A music teacher at the Economic Lycee for Ladies, where she was studying, gave her a shot in the arm. “He said, ‘Gaitanochka you’re very talented, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you went in for jazz.’ That’s how life brought me to the point where I was 17, and I put together a jazz band.” Her first concerts  were in hotel restaurants and jazz clubs. “Later I started to understand that in addition to jazz I wanted to sing blues, and rock and roll, and reggae – I like all sorts of music. I wanted to sing disco. I tried them all and even put together a disco programme of cover versions that was really successful in the clubs and at dances, weddings, celebrations. We were the best club group around singing disco music.” Overtime was the name of one of these early Gaitana-fronted bands; Unity was another.

First the Voice, Then the Face

“That was all fine,” she says, “but later I realised that I had something to say and that I wanted to write my own music.” Eventually she landed a recording deal with the Ukrainian label Lavinia and her first album came out to wide acclaim. “And then the second record came out,” she laughs, “and then not long ago the third came out.”
One of the various reasons Gaitana is big is because she’s an excellent practitioner of a style of music few people manage to do well in this part of the world. Gaitana is loathe to define her own style, calling it a “mix of styles that sometimes cross over and overlap each other,” but in fact what she’s really playing is mostly a mix of black music styles from around the world. Indeed, when asked what musicians she likes, she answers with a list heavy on black figures: Bobby McFerrin, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield are on it, and she also mentions, perhaps redundantly, that she likes funk. (She throws Slavic acts S.K.A.I and Tabula Rasa into the mix, too.) In a Russo-Ukrainian r’n’b and hiphop scene clogged full of what come very close to being blackface acts, Gaitana is the real, soulful thing. Of course, her looks don’t hurt. She’s not only good-looking, but being half-African, she’s goodlooking in a way that stands out. “That’s a second-order thing,” she says about her appearance. “The most important thing is listening, and liking the music even when you don’t see anything. And then when you see what the singer looks like and you like it even more, that’s great.”
   Is there any singer out there whom Gaitana took as a model? “Absolutely not,” she answers. “I like what I do as an individual, I have my own craft and I write my own music. I write my own words. Being like someone else was never something that interested me.” She continues, “People are always inclined to make comparisons of one sort or another and I find that interesting. If I were blonde they probably wouldn’t say my music was like Rihanna’s. They’d think of someone else.” Christina Aguilera is jokingly suggested. “Christina Aguilera, yes. It’s funny. Music always reminds you of something in some way, because music in the end is eight notes… music is always crossing over itself, and you can always find certain leitmotifs that are similar. Even some melodies are similar in certain ways. That’s all fine. But what’s most important is that I do everything from the soul. I do it sincerely, with all of my heart.”

Ambitions and Disappointments

When asked if she has ambitions to go out and conquer other parts of the world, the singer is circumspect. “I don’t want to conquer anything,” she says. “I don’t have those types of ambitions. I want to keep moving forward, that’s the important thing. I want to come in contact with creative people – that’s the most important in whatever country you’re in. But just to conquer by imposing yourself on a place, that’s stupid. I have my own musical convictions and my own musical passions, and I still want to create the sort of music that I like and move forward.” She says she’s proud that her music “makes people ride a positive wave, a wave of being in love.”
   Strong woman that she is, what upsets her? “Misunderstandings with a person close to me can upset me,” she muses. “Betrayal, or when I understand that a person is playing some sort of game. Or when it turns out that it’s been advantageous to someone to be with me for certain reasons and then I realise that it was some sort of a game. In show business in general there are a lot of people playing with you - a lot of shiny people… some are sincere, some are hypocritical.” She adds, “That’s life and I’m already used to it. I’ve learned not to let too many people too close to my heart.”

   A final question: Is she still happy here in Ukraine. “Yes!” she says, forcefully. “I’m satisfied with Ukraine because it gave me the opportunity to do what I want to do! I grew up here!”

Ksenia Karpenko and Lyudmila Polukhevich



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Comments (2)
You are not authorized! Only registered and authorized users can add their comments!
muti | 20.03.2009 22:24

that girl can sing
I fell in love with her

mark | 24.12.2008 15:43

i was in kiev and i did not know about this gaitana. real nice i hope to see her sing in person some day. kiev is a differant country , i am from the usa, its by mexico and canada. paka

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer­sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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