Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Ukrainia was fantastic!

How can you not attend an event when the performing band claims their sound as the edge of mania, vodka fuelled and drenched in old country passions? Seriously, that’s tempting. And so we (my husband and two girlfriends) found ourselves in the ARC lounge last Saturday night amongst writers and fans, catching a performance that blasted with story, excitement and fun. Ukrainina, how have we never met before? Oh, that’s right. I was out of the country these past five years. And thank goodness for that excuse, because otherwise I should feel ashamed in not knowing (and  loving) this unique Ottawa-based band.


Taking to the ‘stage’ in their eclectic outfits with each member adopting their own spin on looking good (suit vests, bell bottoms, cowboy shirts, platform heels; like a mixed salad, it all worked together), lead singer Damian Sawka spilled his words of thanks in Ukrainian, while funny guy and drummer Tom Werbowetski translated and told stories. Guitarist Paul Granger and Bassist Dave Martindale added into the mix with their constant laughter and ‘Hey! Hey! Heys!’ as the show took off.  


But I’m no music critic. Some people can competently dig into the style of playing, showmanship, synchronicity, technical skills, sound, etc. Here is what my two ears and tapping foot qualifies me to say: they were awesome.  

The whole time I was aching to dance, and promised myself I’d see these guys again in a venue that was more suited to vodka-fuelled-mania and up and down, spin around channelling of the music.


So that, from a musical perspective, is what I can say. They were “good times”.


Then the next day as I listened to their CD and remembered the ballots, the power chords, the clapping, the contagious excitement – I began to reflect upon this idea of Musical Language. Ukrainina’s music is set entirely in Ukraine. The lead singer (who was born in Canada) only speaks Ukrainian during the performance. There is, effectively and ostensibly a language barrier between their music and their English/French speaking audience. And yet, there isn’t.


A novel or poem presented in another language (an unknown language) simply remains unfamiliar letter combinations, or markings on a page. The essence, those feeling of history and life and place – they all fail to ‘be’ with a reader’s lack of understanding. In literature, the written form of storytelling, language is limiting.


But turn the story into music. Suddenly it no longer matters whether or not we grasp the details, everything boils down to the experience – we’re infused with hope, aching, celebration, joy . . . Of course this idea extends beyond music into art and performance, but focusing on last Saturday night, despite not catching the lyrics, we were deep in the high and lows of the experience. Music frees the ‘being’ of a narrative and gives it life away from language.


And that’s cool.


It was a great show, and a lovely topper to a festival gone well. I certainly will be keeping an eye out for the next performance of Ukrainia. After all, my husband is Hungarian and we’ve got some ‘old country’ dance moves I’m eager to try. Keep an eye on their performance list – this pulsing Ukrainian phenomenon is worth a night out on the town.