A funny thing happened to me at the Top…

Well once again I have found the energy and reason to write something related to music. Even though the Eurovision Song Contest is just around the corner, I’ve become fatigued by all of that hoopla. In fact I lived through it for the period it was here in Ukraine as the the English language Web Journalist in 2005. I saw all the ins and outs… and really, the only guys who I met who were really professional were the lighting crew from Sweden.

Well, you may be wondering what Top I have in mind as you read the title of this post. Top, has many different meanings, but maybe I it would be more apropos to say Spinning Top, after all that is what a Dzyga is. Hence, I was not at the top of Hoverla, Ukraine’s tallest peak, but at 35 Virmenska Street (Armenian St.), in one of my favourite cities anywhere: L’viv’; where Dzyga is located. Prior to about 1995 it was located in the Powder Tower in L’viv. It was there that I met with the founder and friend of mine Markian Ivashchyshyn, in 1993, and I first heard the name Ruslana, as a performing artist. And a place I also ended up sitting until the wee hours of the morning with Pikardiska Tertsia‘s manager and friend Roman Klymovsky, at the end of July in 1994. But I think that that will have to be a completely different blog entry… [Someone remind me about the story of Vsevolod, coffee and Roman, and I will try to find the time! I’ll also include some pics of Ruslana with Pikardiska Tertsia and Taras Chubaj and I will include them in that blog entry.]

Yes, nearly a month as passed, before I have sat down to recall what just happened at Dzyga.

An organizational meeting of the 20th Anniversary for a student organization, had just finished, where I was in attendance. That organization played an extremely important role back in the late 1980s and early 1990s prior to Ukraine’s independence. At that time, I happened to be extremely involved in Ukrainian-Canadian student life, and the changes that were going on here in Ukraine, even though I was located thousands of kilometres away in Montreal. Earlier that day, April 16, I had met with an old friend Rozhyk, to work on some annotations for an commemorative photo album.

Fortunately, a few years back I had scanned pictures I took during my first visit to Ukraine. That visit, was a reciprocal visit to the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union (SUSK) invitation of a number of students from Ukraine to attend their annual congress in Ottawa, in August 1989, just two months after the Tienanmen student uprising, that left a number dead, and chilled relations between China and the democratic world. A year earlier, the leadership of SUSK had been at the founding conference of Studentske Bratsvo (Student Brotherhood) in the city of L’viv(May 1989); however, the organization included sisters as well. So what does this have to do with music.. it has a great deal to with it.

Amongst those that were invited to Canada during the summer of 1989, was to have been a young Maria Burmaka, who had been one of the laureates at the First Chervona Ruta Festival in Chernivtsi, where she performed Oleksandr Oles’ poem, accompanied on guitar, Oj ne kvitne vesno. Unfortunately, Maria did not get her passport in time to make that trip, but a number of years later I met her in Montreal nonetheless; at a demonstration and ceremony to commemorate the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine(Holodomor).

Oh yes, back to the brotherhood and Dzyga!

So what does Studentske bratsvo have to do with music? One hell of a lot…

I can’t recall the year exactly, but I believe it may have been shortly after the student hunger strike on what was then the Square of the October Revolution, now Independence Square (Majdan) in Kyiv in 1990, which they organized the first Vyvykh [Whirlwind] festival in L’viv. This festival featured a variety of local musicians and others popular ones at the time. I recall from a VHS cassette that was couriered to me through undetermined channels at the time, that Plach Yermii was definitely performing. I particularly remember Litayucha Holova. But from what brothers and sisters tell me, there were also performances by Vika Vradiy, Mertvi Pivni, Braty Hadjukyny and others.

Then, there was a second second Vyvykh Festival, that I think happened in 1992… sometime in the fall.. but .. after 10 years in Ukraine.. and nearly 20 years later.. there is only so much one can remember.

So back to the TOP!

So this organizational meeting is winding up and Markian Ivashchyshyn walks in with some packages. He opens them and starts handing out copies of Spivanyk Studentksoho Bratstva, they were literally hot of the press. The ten or so people gathered around the table went silent, and started leafing through the 272 pages, published by the Students’ Brotherhood of Ivan Franko L’viv National University. I was included amongst those flipping through the pages.

The collection of songs is divided up into five different sections: Comical Songs, Lyrical Songs, Patriotic Songs, Travel Songs, and a Pot Pourri as they say in French. Amongst the songs included I found many that students twenty years ago were singing. Songs by Tryzubniy Stas, Braty Hadyukyny, Viktor Morozov, Taras Petrenenko and songs by more contemporary bands like Khvyliu Trymaj, Flit and Skaj.

Anyhow, as the meeting came to a close a journalist friend of mine walked in. A tall son of a gun, and someone that I had lived through a bunch of shit with in the early months of 2004 when a friend of ours radio station was about to get closed down by the Kuchma government. He was handed a copy of the song book, and then he asked me if I was staying for some live jazz. How could I refuse!

We left for the other room at Dzyga , my friend sits down and leaves this song book, he has just received, sitting on the bench next to our table, stating that he has to meet a common friend of ours to take care of some things. In the meantime, a young lady sits down and starts leafing through the song book. I ask her to join us. She comments about the songs in the book, music and life in general. In a short while my friend returns, not alone but with his girl. We introduce oneself to one another and we partake in each others company.

While I often enjoy looking at a band as it performs, particularly when it is musicians that I know, or well known musicians, that evening I sat with my back to the band, enjoying the ambiance of the location, the people I knew, and the young woman with long reddish hair, pulled back over her shoulders. She seemed to enjoy, my recantation of my experiences with different musicians, their styles, and interpretations.

At one point, she says to me, “Excuse me, but I have to join my friends!” I, as I always do comply with anyone who is a pleasant, and seemingly good person.

About a minute later, my journalist friend smiles at me… he says… “Look over your shoulder!”
I glanced over my shoulder, and there stood the young lady, with the hair of a autumn sunset, that had been sitting with us for nearly an hour…

For those of you who want her number… it will cost you dearly!