Ukrainian rapper’s tribute to his mother wins hearts ahead of Eurovision Song Contest

As Russian missiles pound Ukrainian towns and villages, a group’s entry into the Eurovision Song Contest has become the anthem of the war-ravaged homeland.

Originally written as a tribute to the mother of the leader of the Kalush Orchestra, Stephanie is the most-watched song on YouTube among the 35 national entries that will take part in the Eurovision Song Contest next week in Turin, Italy.

The hugely popular international event, which was seen last year by 183 million people, takes place every year and mainly features European countries.

While some bet-takers and data analysts have bet others to win, Kalush Orchestra’s upbeat and melodic song is quickly becoming a sentimental favorite.

“I will always find my way back, even if all the roads are destroyed,” writes Oleh Psiuk, leader of the Kalush Orchestra. Stephanie.

The lyrics became more poignant after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced more than 11 million people to flee the country.

WATCH | Official clip of the song Stefania by Kalush Orchestra:

“Indeed, some things here were written long before the war, and they were dedicated to my mother,” Psiuk told The Associated Press at his Turin hotel, wearing a shiny bucket hat that makes him instantly recognizable to anyone. who broadcast. Stephanie.

“After it all started with the war and the hostilities, it took on an extra meaning, and a lot of people started to see it as their mother, Ukraine, in the sense of the country. It became very close to the heart of so many people in Ukraine,” he said.

The performance will send a political message

Blending traditional Ukrainian folk music with hip-hop, Kalush Orchestra’s Eurovision performance will have an added political message, representing the uniqueness of Ukrainian culture against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertion that the former Soviet republic has always is part of Russia.

“We are showing ourselves that Ukrainian culture and [an] The Ukrainian ethnic code exists,” Psuik said. “Our goal is to make Ukrainian music popular, not only in Ukraine but all over Europe. And Eurovision is the best platform for that.”

Stephanie incorporates old Ukrainian melodies and unique musical pitches from a difficult-to-play wind instrument called a telenkaplayed by singer Tymofii Muzychuk.

The band members mix breakdancing with hopak, a Ukrainian folk dance, in an energetic performance punctuated by Psiuk’s rap interludes. Costumes include embroidered Cossack shirts and vests mixed with contemporary streetwear.

Kalush Orchestra, pictured here rehearsing their song Stefania, will represent Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 in Turin, Italy next week. (Corinne Cumming/EBU)

Psiuk and five bandmates, all men between the ages of 21 and 35, received special permission from Ukrainian authorities to travel to Turin to compete in Eurovision, travel overland to Poland and then fly to Italy. An original member of the group stayed to fight.

Psiuk, 27, left behind a network of volunteers he organized two days into the war to help bring logistical aid to people across Ukraine seeking shelter or transportation. All will return to Ukraine at the end of the song contest.

“We feel a great responsibility,” Psiuk said. “It’s very important for us to be as useful to the country as possible. We want to represent our country decently.”

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russia’s Eurovision entry was kicked out of the contest in a move organizers said was meant to keep the policy on the deviation from the event.

Between folk and hip-hop

Kalush Orchestra is more than just a musical group. It is a cultural project that includes folklore scholars and deliberately combines hip hop with traditional Ukrainian music, dance and costumes, some long forgotten, according to Psiuk.

The six-month-old project takes its name from Psiuk’s hometown of Kalush, which is nestled in the Carpathian Mountains, south of the western city of Lviv. It is an evolution of the original hip-hop group Kalush which Psiuk also led.

Ukraine has won the Eurovision Song Contest twice, both times with songs performed mostly in Ukrainian: by Ruslana in 2004 and Jamala in 2016.

Psuik attributes Ukraine’s success to the “special character of our music”.

“I really hope that after performing it in the Eurovision Song Contest, Ukrainian music will be even more popular and heard,” he said.