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Homegrown Plus Premiere: Ukrainian American Bandura Master Julian Kytasty

Alt Text: In this photo of Julian Kytasty, he plays a bandura. Photo is accompanied by the Homegrown 2022 logo, which includes the words "Library of Congress American Folklife Center Homegrown 2022 Concert Series, "Homegrown at Home."

Julian Kytasty. Photo courtesy of the artist.

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Julian Kytasty, a third generation player of the bandura, a Ukrainian stringed instrument with similarities to the lute and the zither. Julian also sings beautifully and composes for the bandura and other instruments. Below you’ll find an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Julian Kytasty was born in Detroit, Michigan, into a family of Ukrainian refugees who came to the United States after World War II. He first learned to play the bandura from his father and grandfather, and from his great uncle Hryhory Kytasty, a renowned composer and conductor. In 1980 he moved to New York to be the music director of the New York Bandura Ensemble and began a career that has taken him all over the world. As a performer, recording artist, composer, teacher, and ensemble leader, he has redefined the possibilities of his instrument. His discography includes tributes to the bandura’s deep tradition (“Black Sea Winds”, “Songs of Truth”), innovative ensemble recordings (“Experimental Bandura Trio”), World Music collaborations (“Wu Man and Friends”), a duo with Free Improvisation master Derek Bailey, electroacoustic projects, and a recent recording of his own solo instrumental music (“Nights in Banduristan”). He has worked cross-culturally with such artists as Chinese pipa player Wu Man, klezmer revivalist Michael Alpert, and Mongolian master musician Battuvshin.

In this photo of Julian Kytasty, he plays a bandura in front of a backdrop depicting large grapes.

Julian Kytasty. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Julian Kytasty has composed music for theater, modern dance, and film, including an award-winning film score for the National Film Board of Canada’s feature documentary, “My Mother’s Village.” His work on Yara Arts Group’s “1917-2017” earned two New York Innovative Theatre Awards, for Best Original Score and Best Musical. In 1989-90 Julian Kytasty first toured Ukraine, performing over 100 concerts as a soloist and with a bandura ensemble. He has returned many times since, performing all over the country, as a solo artist, in Yara Arts Group theater projects, and in collaborations with Ukrainian artists. In September 2021, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy awarded Julian Kytasty the title “Honoured Artist of Ukraine” in a ceremony in New York City.

Julian’s Homegrown concert video is brought to you in collaboration with the Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s program, “Beat of the Boroughs: NYC Online” and the Ukrainian Museum in New York City. See it in the player below!


[Transcript of Concert]

In the interview, we talked about a range of topics, including Julian’s family background as a child of people displaced during World War II; his family’s bandura group, which made the trip from a DP camp in Europe to the United States; the bandura tradition, including the music of the kobzars, or blind epic singers;  his own career in Detroit and New York; his trips to Ukraine and elsewhere; and (the elephant in the room) the ways in which the current war in Ukraine, as well as previous wars, have affected the country’s traditions. It was a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion. Watch it in the player below!


[Transcript of interview]

After the premiere, you’ll be able to find both these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, as well as on YouTube.

Collection Connections

If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to Julian’s concert.

Event Videos

The Homegrown Concert Series has featured Ukrainian music before. Watch the concert by Gerdan: Kaleidoscope of World Music at this link.

We’ve also had Ukrainian music in concerts by multinational bands. Harmonia played and discussed Ukrainian, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Croatian, and Romany music in their concert and interview, which are at this link.

Julian Kytasty has often collaborated with Jewish musicians, including leading Klezmer and Yiddish music master Michael Alpert. Alpert played in our series as part of the An-Sky Yiddish Heritage  Ensemble, which was formed to commemorate an important fieldwork expedition documenting Jewish traditions in Ukraine. You can see the An-Sky Yiddish Heritage Ensemble‘s concert and interviews at this link.

Field Collections Online

The links below will take you to Ukrainian American Materials online in the following AFC Field Collections:

Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection

Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection (including a youth group playing bandura)

Ethnic Heritage and Language Schools in America Project

Finding Aids and Guides to Other Collections

As a useful first stop, you can visit our finding aid Ukraine Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture at this link.

Several other collections with significant Ukrainian content aren’t online, but have finding aids you can consult:

The Rylʹsʹkyĭ Institute Ukrainian cylinder collection, 1908-1930s documents Ukrainian folk music and song on approximately 400 cylinder recordings from the early 20th century.

The Aaron Ziegelman Foundation collection gathers oral histories from the Jewish community of what is now Liuboml in western Ukraine, concentrating on the era between World War I and World War II.

Folklife Today Blogs

‘We have our own long history and culture’: Listening to Taissa Decyk, Ukrainian American Artist” foregrounds one significant interview about Ukrainian Culture.

Finding Inspiration in Traditional Crafts” includes Ukrainian-American crafts among those of other cultures.

The Ancient Art of Decorating Eggs” includes a section on pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter eggs.

Find all Folklife Today blogs that mention Ukrainian culture at this link.

Other Blogs from the Library of Congress

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden’s Statement on Ukraine

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Resources at the Library of Congress

Crimean History, Status, and Referendum

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For several years, we’ve been presenting the concerts here on the blog with related interviews and links, in the series Homegrown Plus. (Find the whole series here!) For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

Homegrown Plus: Traditional Dance from American Samoa

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with a very special presentation of Samoan dance. In addition to the dance video, the blog features an interview with Eti Eti, one of the members of the dance group. The dance video was created by the Student Association For Fa’asamoa, a program of the Samoan Studies Institute at American Samoa Community College. The Samoan Studies Institute’s mission is to ensure and promote the continuity of Samoan culture, traditions, language, and heritage. Since its inception, SAFF has been active in performing the Siva Samoa (traditional Samoan dance), and in teaching and practicing old Samoan customs. For their Homegrown video, the SAFF dancers performed a 30-minute program of traditional dances in several locales at the college, under the direction of Molitogi Lemana. See the video right here in the blog!

Homegrown Plus Premiere: ‘Ukulele Master Herb Ohta, Jr.

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with international recording artist Herb Ohta, Jr., who is one of today’s most prolific ʻukulele masters. In this blog you’ll find an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore! We’re very excited to present Herb Ohta, Jr. in the series. Influenced by jazz, R&B, Latin and Brazilian music, as well as traditional Hawaiian sounds, he puts his stamp on Hawaiian music by pushing the limits of tone and technique on this beautiful instrument. The son of ʻukulele legend “Ohta-san,” he started playing at the age of three, and began teaching at the age of nine. Based in Honolulu, he shares the music of Hawaiʻi and the beauty of the ʻukulele with people around the world, performing concerts and conducting instructional workshops. As a special treat, Herb asked his good friend Jake Shimabukuro to join him for a medley of traditional Hawaiian songs. Shimabukuro, also a Honolulu native, is one of the most highly acclaimed ʻukulele players in the world, and has collaborated with many great musicians, including Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Loggins, and Amy Mills. He’s never forgotten his roots in Hawaiian music, though, and was kind enough to join Herb in his Homegrown concert.

Homegrown Plus: Vri: Chamber Folk From Wales

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with Vrï, a trio from Wales in the U.K., whose members describe their music as ‘chamber-folk.’ The idea of the series is to gather concert videos, video interviews with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections together in one place for our subscribers…so here we go!

Bringing together the experience of Jordan Price Williams (cello, voice) Patrick Rimes (violin, viola, foot percussion, voice) and Aneirin Jones (violin, voice) Vrï plays tunes and songs from the Celtic nations and beyond, attempting to combine the energy of a rowdy pub session with the style and finesse of the Viennese string quartet. They combine high-energy dance music and stately traditional melodies with delicate arrangements, and sing in both Welsh and English.

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Kongero, Swedish Folk’appella

We’re beginning the 2022 Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Kongero, a Swedish vocal group which consists of four women who sing folksongs: Lotta Andersson, Emma Björling, Sofia Hultqvist Kott, and Anna Wikénius. The women of Kongero like to say their music tells tales of life, with moving love songs, dramatic medieval ballads, witty ditties, and spirited dances, all sung in their native Swedish tongue. Traditionally, Swedish songs are usually sung solo. Kongero adds harmonies and arrangements created by the band members. Kongero’s polyphonic music is characterized by tight harmonies, stirring rhythms, and the clarity of their beautiful voices, which bring traditional Swedish folksongs into modern times. Since 2005, Kongero has performed their polyphonic a cappella folk music (which they have dubbed Folk’appella) all over Europe, Asia, and the Americas, singing in concerts and leading workshops in traditional Swedish vocal music and vocal harmonies. In this blog you’ll find videos of the concert and an interview with the singers.

Homegrown Plus: Walter Parks

We’re filling in the Homegrown Plus series with one that got away, our great 2020 concert with Walter Parks, one of the first “Homegrown at Home” concerts. Walter is a consummate guitarist who founded the duo The Nudes before spending more than a decade as the lead guitarist for Woodstock legend Richie Havens. We’re particularly happy to present this concert, which showcased our collections in a unique and compelling way. Walter has done extensive research on our 1944 recordings of Okefenokee Swamp music made by Francis Harper. He has arranged material from the collection for his own performances, including his Homegrown Concert, which is almost entirely made up of material from the collection. If that weren’t enough, Walter made the journey from his current home in St. Louis all the way down to the Chesser homestead, so he could record part of his concert video in the same place where the archival recordings were made. It gives his concert an extraordinary sense of place, and we’re particularly delighted to present it to you here.

Homegrown Plus: Ánnámáret

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with our first concert to feature Sami music, performed by the fascinating singer, songwriter, and musician Annamaret. The American Folklife Center was very happy to co-sponsor this concert with our friends at the Embassy of Finland. Annamaret’s project Nieguid duovdagat has earned her some of the top honors available for folk music in Finland, including Folk Music Record of the Year for 2021. For her Homegrown concert, Annamaret performed songs from Nieguid duovdagat, accompanied by the same musicians who featured on the award-winning recording: Ilkka Heinonen, who specializes in folk music on the jouhikko, G-violone and contrabass; and Turkka Inkila, who plays flutes and electronic instruments. In our conversation, I spoke with Annamaret about Sami culture, the Sami’s status as the only Indigenous community in Europe, and the impact of colonialism on Sami life. And, of course, we spoke about Sami music, including yoik, and her own career as a musician and cultural advocate. Watch both the concert and the interview in this blog post, and find links to some further Sami resources you can explore.

Homegrown Plus: Kardemimmit

Welcome back to the Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with one of Finland’s favorite folk bands, Kardemimmit. The American Folklife Center was very happy to co-sponsor this concert with our friends at the Embassy of Finland. Kardemimmit is a quartet consisting of Maija Pokela, Jutta Rahmel, Anna Wegelius, and Leeni Wegelius, four women who sing and play kantele. The kantele is a zither or plucked psaltery, and is the national instrument of Finland. Kardemimmit is considered a pioneering kantele band. The singing and playing in their excellent concert video have a strong foundation in Finnish, Eastern European, and Scandinavian traditions. In our conversation, I spoke with Anna and Leeni Wegelius about Finnish traditional music, the education system in Finland and its support of music, the importance of the kantele, the history of Kardemimmit, and their surprising connection to…The Spice Girls. Enjoy the concert and the interview, plus links to some further Finnish resources you can explore, all in this blog post, published on the anniversary of the concert premiere!

Homegrown Plus: Ranina Quartet

Welcome to the Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with Ranina Quartet, a music ensemble from the Republic of Georgia. The Ranina Quartet was created out of a love for Georgian traditional music, including urban songs, folk songs, and chants. The current members include Tornike Kandelaki (first voice), Soso Kopaleishvili (second voice), Saba Peikrishvili (baritone), and Beka Kemularia (bass). They have been singing since they were little children, and individual members have performed in many ensembles. The quartet’s repertoire includes classic pieces from various genres including Georgian traditional folk songs, liturgical chants, and popular songs. We follow the concert video with two interviews, one with Ranina member Soso Kopaleishvili and the other with ethnomusicologist John A. Graham.