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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 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 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.