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24 people pose for a photo
Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American delegation visiting the American Folklife Center on July 5, 2023. Front row (l to r): James Kogan, Ezra Halleck, Ilya Fetysov, Stepan Andrushchenko, Ihor Poshyvailo, Bozena Hrycyna, Nara Narimanova; Back row (l to r) Maria Kennedy, Anatolii Soroka, Laryssa Czebinisky, Dara Sereda, Mariya Kvitka, Susana Karpenko, Yaroslav Dzhus, Tania Poshyvailo, AFC Folklife Specialist Douglas D. Peach, Marharyta Kokoshko, Sofiia Andrushchenko, Jim Deutsch, Yehor Savin, Katya Chilly, Iryna Sizyk, Zoya Shepko, Veronika Seleha. Photo by Stephen Winick

Ukrainian Musicians Visit American Folklife Center

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The following is a guest post by AFC folklife specialist Douglas D. Peach.

On Wednesday, July 5, and Friday, July 7, 2023, the American Folklife Center (AFC) welcomed a delegation of Ukrainian and Ukrainian American musicians to the Library of Congress. The musicians—Shchuka-Ryba, Bozhychi, Mariya Kvitka, Yaroslav Dzhus, Katya Chilly, and Ukrainian Village Voices—had traveled to Washington, D.C. to perform at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Joining the groups were representatives from the Maidan Museum in Kyiv, Ukraine, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, and Dr. James Deutsch, a curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

A man speaks at a podium before an audience.
Steve Winick presenting to Ukrainian visitors about Ukrainian collections at American Folklife Center. July 5, 2023. Photo by Douglas Peach.

During the July 5 visit, the musicians learned about the American Folklife Center and the Center’s Ukrainian collections. Following opening statements by John Fenn (Head of Research and Programs), AFC Folklife Specialist Stephen Winick highlighted several collections featuring Ukrainians and the Ukrainian diaspora. Winick’s presentation included Ukrainian songs from the Robert F. Draves and Helene Stratman-Thomas collection of Wisconsin recordings, images of Ukrainian embroidery artist Taissa Decyk from the Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection, and photographs of Ukrainian pottery artist Michael Huminiak from the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection. He also played them a selection from last year’s Homegrown concert by Julian Kytasty, a leading Ukrainian American musician.

A woman presents a book to a man.
Tania Poshyvailo presenting AFC Folklife Specialist Douglas D. Peach with book, titled Ukraine and the Ukrainians. July 5, 2023. Photo by Stephen Winick

After Steve’s presentation, I spoke about the Rilskyi Institute Ukrainian Cylinder Recording Collection. The Rilskyi collection features recordings of Ukrainian kobzar musicians from the first quarter of the 20th century. A kobzar, or lirnyky, is a traveling musician who, during the era of these recordings, usually sang epic ballads (duma) or non-liturgical religious music (psalmy). The Rilskyi Collection is significant because, during Stalinist purges of the 1930s, many kobzars were killed or arrested. Without these recordings, these kobzars and their performances would have been lost to history. For the visit, staff at the American Folklife Center also created a Research Guide for Ukraine, which details all collections, podcasts, public programs, and lectures from the American Folklife Center about Ukraine and its diaspora.

A person leads a guided tour, pointing at something off-camera with a laser pointer.
AFC Folklife Specialist Jennifer Cutting giving tour of the Great Hall in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. July 5, 2023. Photo by Stephen Winick.

Following the presentation, Tania Poshyvailo presented the American Folklife Center with three books on Ukrainian culture, as a gesture of gratitude. The books included Ukraine and Ukrainians, Ukrainians: Folk Art Treasures from the Ivan Honchar Museum, and a set of postcards. Staff at the American Folklife Center and Library of Congress then gave the delegation a tour of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, to see some of the treasures of the United States’ oldest cultural institution. They concluded their visit with lunch at Madison Café after enjoying coffee and croissants from D-Light Bakery—a Ukrainian café in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

A man plays the bandura, a stringed instrument from Ukraine.
Yaroslav Dzhus performing on the Rinzler Stage at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. July 4, 2023. Photo by Douglas Peach.

While in Washington, the musicians maintained a busy performance schedule. On July 4th, Shchuka-Ryba, Bozhychi, Mariya Kvitka, Katya Chilly, and Yaroslav Dzhus performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for a program titled, De Libertate: Sounds of Freedom and Hope from Ukraine. The program was inspired by a poem, titled “De Libertate,” written by 18th century Ukrainian itinerant philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda, which argues that freedom is more valuable than gold. During Russia’s current war in Ukraine, Skovoroda’s work has been an inspiration for modern Ukrainians fighting for their freedom. During the concert, the musicians’ performances ranged from instrumental bandura music from Yaroslav Dzhus to a psychedelic folk music performance by Katya Chilly. Images of Ukrainian mountains, fields, and streams were projected behind the musicians, showcasing the natural beauty of their homeland.

Three people sing into microphones on a stage. Behind them is a projected scene of Ukrainian mountains.
Bozhychi performing on the Rinzler Stage at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC. July 4, 2023. Photo by Douglas Peach.

The symbolic nature of the performance—which occurred on Independence Day on the National Mall of the United States when Ukraine is fighting for its own independence—was a powerful statement about the value of democracy. On Thursday, July 6th, the musicians then performed at Ukraine House—Ukraine’s cultural center in Northwest Washington, DC. In front an audience of Ukrainian advocates, policy makers, and cultural heritage professionals, the musicians performed a variety of Ukrainian traditional music, including a Crimean Tatar song. The performance concluded with a moving version of the Ukrainian national anthem. The Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, attended both events. She spoke about the importance of music and cultural heritage, especially during the war in Ukraine. From July 6 to 9, Ukrainian Village Voices performed eight times at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Members of the group also hosted pysanky (Ukrainian decorated egg) workshops for festival attendees.

Ten people sing on a stage while members of the audience record cell phone video.
Shchuka-Ryba, Bozhychi, Mariya Kvitka, Katya Chilly, and Yaroslav Dzhus singing the Ukrainian National Anthem at Ukraine House in Washington, DC. July 7, 2023. Photo by Douglas Peach.

The American Folklife Center will soon premiere a new Ukrainian concert. On Wednesday, August 2, we’ll unveil a brand-new concert video in AFC’s Homegrown Concert Series from the Hudaki Village Band. The group specializes in music of the Carpathian Mountains, a multi-ethnic region whose music includes Ukrainian, Romanian, Hungarian, Romani, and Jewish influences. The group takes its name from hudaki—the name for village musicians in the region. The concert video will be accompanied by a video interview with band member Yuri Bukovynets, which addresses the traditional music of Ukraine’s Carpathian region, as well as the current situation of Ukrainians at war. Both videos will premiere right here at the Folklife Today blog. Subscribe to receive a notification, or else return to the blog homepage at noon on August 2.

Nine people dressed in colorful outfits
Hudaki Village Band. The band’s concert video premieres August 2 right here on the Folklife Today blog. Photo Courtesy of the Artists.

We thank our Ukrainian friends for visiting, and we are grateful to Ukrainian musicians and other traditional artists for keeping Ukrainian traditions alive in such a challenging time. Slava Ukraini!

Comments (3)

  1. Thanks for sharing this great musical update. So many of us are working around North America to lift up these fabulous traditions to more and more listeners and fellow musicians! Слава Україні! L. D P. Vellani

  2. The concert was very moving and of a very high quality. I learned a lot about Ukranian musical sound and now I am a very big fan. Thank you Folk Life Festival. e–

  3. Awesome!

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