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Haydamaky musical rebels


Haydamaky could be compared to the Red Hot Chili Peppers rock group but only on a superficial level. Haydamakys musical style is uniquely their own and combines rock with the Western Ukrainian folk melodies. In September 2003, Haydamaky came back to Ukraine from an extensive tour that took them to Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia.


Oleksandr Yarmola, Haydamakys frontman, says that the style Haydamaky play in is often called Karpatyn-Ska (that is ska, Carpathian style) but, in fact, there have been several influences that formed Haydamakys musical foundation  rock, reggae, ska, funk with Ukrainian tunes and Ukrainian national instruments used to underscore the Ukrainian sound.

It would be a misstatement to say that Haydamaky enjoy a wide popularity in Ukraine. The main reason for this lack of all-Ukrainian popularity, in the opinion of Yarmola, is Haydamakys principal position in their refusal to be promoted by the big companies which have nothing to do with music in general and our kind of music in particular. Many other rock groups are getting plugged and then their creativity is stifled by their promoters. We want to be independent and we want to create our own kind of music. Our popularity will grow thanks to our music, and not because we are getting a big boost from the moneybags. We released our first album two years ago, and now we are cutting a new one. We want to remain independent but its a pretty hard thing to do in the music business world of Ukraine.

It is Haydamakys foreign tours that keep them afloat. They seem to be better known abroad than in Ukraine. They started touring about ten years ago. Their original name was Aktus but in 2000 they changed it to Haydamaky (Haydamaky were members of a national liberation movement in Ukraine in the 18th century; in 19171921, some units of the Ukrainian Peoples Army fighting for independence of Ukraine, called themselves Haydamaky  tr.). For some time, they had a Polish producer but later Haydamaky switched to hiring managers in the countries they go to on tours.

Says Oleksandr Yarmola: Its a shame Ukrainian young people travel so little. Travelling and seeing the world help get rid of stereotypes. I find theres not enough information available in Ukraine about whats going on in the world of music around the globe, and most of the information young people get comes from the mass media, mostly Russian, and people get quite a wrong impression of what is popular or fashionable. They read in papers and magazines or see on TV that such and such group is popular  and they believe it. Many of the things they think are cool are not cool at all.

When we perform, we never use any gimmicks  like playing recorded music during a live show  that are used here in Ukraine by many performers. We give all we can at a show, all of our energy and emotions. Western audiences want that and we give it to them and they appreciate it.


Love of Ukraine and of her music

Aktus, later renamed Haydamaky, came into being in the early 1990s. Originally, the group was made up of Kyiv Polytechnic students who were gradually replaced by professional musicians. Currently, Haydamaky are: Oleksandr Yarmola, vocals (and being the frontman, he is the most vocal member of the group); Ivan Lenyo, accordion; Volodymyr Sherstyuk, bass; Ruslan Ovras, drums; Oleksandr Demyanenko (a recent acquisition), guitar; Ruslan Truchynsky, trombone. They will be possibly joined soon by a trumpet player. On big tours, Haydamaky take along a group of singers from the National Music Academy, Bozhychi, made up of young women (at the Academy they sing traditional Ukrainian songs).

Haydamaky are the musicians who love Ukrainian music  traditional, folk, classical and current  and know it well. They openly declare their love of Ukraine. Says Yarmola: I would not care to go into discussing politics here, but I do want my country to be prosperous, and I want the people of Ukraine to live well, in dignity, respecting one another. Ukrainians must have a high awareness of their national roots and of their traditional religion. We believe that all of these things are achievable. We are young and we believe in the future of our country. Weve seen a bit of the world on our tours, and weve seen what national dignity and respect are. Ukrainians spend too much of their energy and time just to stay at the subsistence level. Theres hardly any time left for anything else, and the politicians who rule this country are left to their own devices. And it is the main reason why life is so hard for most of the people of Ukraine. Ukrainians must get rid of the slave psychology that still plagues them. They must have a good look around, they must assert their rights, and if they started doing that, Ukraine would soon get to be a wealthy country with a stable economy and order in everything, the way, say, Germany is. I feel so sorry for Ukraine  its going to the dogs, and there seems to be no upturn for the better in the foreseeable futureWe, Haydamaky, do what we can for Ukraine in our way  we make good music, we call on the people to rebel, to act now, to start thinking! It is not accidental that we are called Haydamaky, you know


Full involvement

There is an opinion that Haydamakys success in the west has been achieved largely thanks to what may look and sound exotic to the western audiences. There may be some truth in it, but it is Haydamakys emotional message that probably is more important. The spectators in foreign countries may not understand the Ukrainian language but they do understand emotion which fills every Haydamakys song to the brim.

Says Yarmola: When we are creating a new song, we want the full involvement of all the members of the group, we want the full participation of everyone, so that when this song is performed at a show, every musician feels its his song, and puts his soul into it. Id say theres a lot of spiritual contents in our songs, not in the sense that we promote church or religion, but in the sense of getting deep into the issues of what we are, why we are  that sort of thing. We think that those civilizations which understood the most profound issues of existence in the right way, contributed so much in so many spheres of human endevour  people understood what the ultimate source of the cosmos was, and those civilizations that chose the path of evil sank into oblivion. We are believers in the things spiritual. The essential message of the world religions is Good, Love, and Compassion. We do our best to introduce these most noble values into our music in our own way.


Success of the recent tour

During their recent tour, Haydamaky performed in Estonia and were an unqualified success. Their shows were given in the framework of the 12th Viljandi Folk Festival in which 13 bands, mostly from Western Europe, participated. The Festival proved to be a major musical event and was even compared to Woodstock. The organizers said that Haydamaky had a reception which had not been granted to any of the bands who had performed in all of the previous Viljandi Folk festivals. After the performance, the Haydamaky website had so many visits that the electronic server got jammed. The Estonians are considered to be reserved people who do not show their emotions openly, but during the Haydamaky show the Estonian audiences reaction was anything but reserved  it was highly enthusiastic. Haydamaky are now planning a more extensive tour of the Baltic countries.

In Poland, Haydamaky performed within the framework of the Eurofolk Festival held in Wroclaw, alongside with groups from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It was by far not their first appearance in Poland and they had built quite a large following there. The Eurofolk Festival was televised and broadcast to many countries of the world.

In the Czech Republic Haydamaky were called the discovery of the year 2002 and a fact that their music was pirated and released on disks which sold like hot cakes, can be quoted as evidence of their popularity in that country. Incidentally, Haydamaky brought one of the pirated discs as a souvenir to Ukraine.

In Germany, Haydamaky played at the Tanz-Folk-Fusion Rudolschtadt World Music Festival and they were invited to play at the Festivals closing ceremony. The only other group from the countries of the former Soviet Union was Zdob Si Zdub from Moldova. Yarmola found the Germans to be socially active who care for their society and are not at all egoists.


Haydamaky are not the only group in Europe, of course, that combine traditional folk music and other musical genres. Musical critics found musical parallels in the countries of former Yugoslavia. In Ukraine, Vopli Vidoplyasova (VV) and Mandry are close to Haydamaky in some respects, but Haydamaky remain largely a unique phenomenon. One of the things that differ them from others is the unpredictability of their music  no one can guess what kind of music they will be performing at their next show or on their next album. VV is largely a one-man show with Oleh Skrypka being the central figure, and with Haydamaky it is different  at least three members of the group provide an equally powerful music message and performing energy.


By Svitlana Abakumenko

Photos are from Haydamakys archives

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