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At Eurovision, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra Aims for the Prize


No matter what occurs on Saturday night time on the Grand Final of the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, Kalush Orchestra’s Oleh Psiuk gained’t be celebrating a lot. Instead, he—and the 4 band members that make up Ukraine’s entry into the annual televised musical competitors—will probably be getting ready to move again to their nation, the place obligatory martial conscription legal guidelines recommend they are going to be required to serve within the ongoing conflict with Russia.

Kalush Orchestra is true now the bookies’ most secure wager to win the 66th version of the competition as they compete in opposition to 25 international locations with their music “Stefania,” a Ukrainian-folk-meets-hip-hop concoction that Psiuk wrote about his mom earlier than the battle broke out. Now, it has been adopted by listeners as a broader allegory about Mother Ukraine. “After the war, a lot of people seem to be finding new meanings there,” Psiuk says over Zoom, by way of a translator, on the penultimate night of the competitors. He seems within the pink bucket hat that has change into his signature style assertion. It’s a visible at odds along with his demeanor: somber and measured. “I hope that Europe also enjoys this song; my mom is enjoying it very much. And I know that it’s now her ringtone on her phone,” he says, lightening up for a second. “The enemy is trying to destroy our culture. But we are here to prove that we still exist, that we deserve to be seen. We deserve to be known. We’re asking for help to protect our culture.”

Ukraine has gained the competitors twice earlier than, most lately in 2016 with a music concerning the expertise of the Crimean Tartars deported by former Soviet chief Stalin; it was thought-about by many to be a commentary on Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. This 12 months, Russia was banned from taking part because of their invasion of Ukraine. To longtime Eurovision blogger, commentator, and writer of upcoming Eurovision memoir William Lee Adams, who has been on the bottom in Italy for the competitors, the battle is a darkish cloud over the 12 months’s occasions. Eurovision is usually a celebration of tradition and camp, a joyful and over-the-top illustration of among the most buoyant pop characters of the 40 international locations who take part. But this 12 months, Adams says, has felt completely different. “The energy in the press area feels somehow deflated,” he says. “There’s a sense that in the background, something is rumbling, that this festival of joy has a cloud hanging over it. You see this in the literal sense that the kinetic sun, the centerpiece of the stage, was supposed to move. It was a series of arches that were supposed to move, celebrating what they call the sun within. But it doesn’t work. It’s now a black rainbow of death.” To Adams, it’s a symbolic illustration of the negativity engendered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Last 12 months, the pandemic tamped down the vitality of the occasion. But this 12 months, Adams says, feels even “less free.”

And then there may be the Kalush Orchestra and their probabilities. “A huge conversation that’s taking place among journalists and fans is whether Ukraine should win because of sympathy,” Adams says. It makes him uncomfortable to need to separate our emotional reactions to the narrative of Ukraine from the music itself, although. “Music is feeling, right? Music is here to tell stories. And what story is more relevant at this moment than the war in Ukraine? Eurovision was founded to help prevent war, to bring country warring countries together to promote peace,” he says. “People talk about fairness. They say, is this unfair to other countries? Well, I say no, Ukraine didn’t ask for this war.”

Despite the truth that he’s seen their efficiency “about 17 times,” he says it makes an emotional impression every time, thanks partially to staging that facilities the maternal narrative and references Ukrainian historical past and people aesthetics. “Honestly, every time I see it, I well up,” Adams says. “They gave a statement before Eurovision, and they said our stage show will not be political. However, when you watch it, you can very clearly read a story. People always say Eurovision is a political, but I say that’s impossible, because popular music reflects the zeitgeist.”

The historic references, a minimum of, are intentional: “As a band, Kulash Orchestra is trying to mix together the old folklore that’s been forgotten by now with the new, contemporary hip-hop, and bringing it together into this vibe that is like nothing else that you know,” Psiuk explains. “The whole world is watching us perform. And it is important that we promote Ukraine successfully, that we do Ukraine proud.”

Win or lose, nonetheless, Kalush has already made some extent—to ardent Eurovision followers, to their Ukrainian countrymen, and to informal viewers who could be listening to concerning the group now. “No one is trying to destroy another country’s culture. But ours is [being destroyed], and that is why we need all the support we can get,” Psiuk says. The future—and the current—are already weighing on him. “It’s been pretty challenging, all of it,” he says. “It is very stressful knowing that missiles are just flying at Ukraine, and you never know where it hits. And even when you are not in Ukraine, but your family is, it’s extremely stressful. So it’s just not easy to focus at all.” Adams has seen that weight, too. “The other contestants are celebrating, laughing, doing impromptu dances on the street. And these guys have this quiet dignity to them,” Adams says.

When the competitors is full, Psiuk and his bandmates will return on to their properties in Ukraine. They acquired a short lived allow from Prime Minister Zelensky to signify their nation, however that ends this weekend. (Currently, a sixth bandmember is already combating again residence.) “If we have to, of course we will take arms and we will go fight for our land,” Psiuk says.

In the meantime, they’re enjoying the Eurovision sport in addition to anybody can. On a purple carpet lately, Adams and Psiuk interacted—and Psiuk gave him a replica of a pink bucket hat, his signature. “They’re going through the biggest crisis of their country’s modern history, and he’s bringing gifts to journalists at Eurovision? I can’t even compute,” he says.

If they win, as custom dictates, Ukraine could be anticipated to host the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. Psiuk is optimistic. “It will be a whole different Ukraine. It will be newly rebuilt, and happy, and prosperous,” he says.

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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.



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