English, Russian or Ukrainian
The first question comes from Natalia: “You are in Ukraine, why are you studying Russian, not Ukrainian?” I tell her it’s because my Russian isn’t yet good enough to start learning another language, and since I’ve started with Russian I’d like to see it through. She smiles at me, sweetly, and switches over to Russian, with bits of English, for the rest of our interview.
You can’t get away from how important Ukrainian, and being Ukrainian, is to Natalia though, “I’m from the west, Ivano Frankivsk, my roots are all there. My family are all from there. We are proud Ukrainians, we speak Ukrainian and it’s the language I can best express myself in. I know that many people are grateful for this, and appreciate it.” I’m certainly one of them. Despite not really understanding quite a lot of what she sings about, without first going via Google translate, I love her voice. It’s so mellifluous, so flowing, so soulful.
So many different styles of music too – from soaring ballads such as Znaesh Yak Bolit to pure pop with Svitlo I Tin and even rather rocky stuff with Ne Mama. I ask her about this, “I have a lot of musical influences,” she says. “The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and many more. When I start writing a track though, I don’t plan it to be any particular way, it all depends on which way inspiration takes me.”
Life Becomes Art
As to what inspires Natalia, she says the city plays a big part. “Back in Ivano Frankivsk, life is calmer, more peaceful, things move almost as if in slow motion. Moving to Kyiv, I was immediately struck by the pace of life – everything is super-animated, super-charged. It was a little hard to adjust to, but I met someone who helped me make the transition, a spiritual guru, who told me all about Buddhism. This gave me insight into how to live happily. Now, Kyiv is my home and I love it – walking in the Botanical Garden, up Andriivskiy Uzviz, even down Khreshchatyk.” Asking after her fans and whether they recognise her, she laughs and admits, “It happens, and it’s always a pleasure. What happens more often, is that people think I look like Lama!”
Enquiring a little more about her fans and how she connects with them, she says, “Of course, the best way is through concerts. It’s both sad and true to say that since the credit crisis, there have been fewer concerts for the public. A lot of my concerts now are corporate gigs, which are great, but there’s nothing like the connection with a paying public, people who’ve come just to see you. I remember one show in particular, at October Palace here in Kyiv. The show had ended and I just came out on stage and sang to my fans without any backing music as they were leaving. I was just so full of emotion after the concert that I didn’t want to stop singing! I wanted them to know that our connection doesn’t end with the last number of the night.”
This Year and On
For this year, there’s an album in the works and plans for more concerts. I ask Lama about her status as ‘huge’ in Ukraine, but as of yet not having really broken into the western market. “Naturally, there are massive advantages in doing that, the system in Ukraine makes it hard to really thrive here. There are a lot of creative, talented people, but there is also quite a lot of amateurism. Ukraine needs western influence and, in turn, I would like to show the west what Ukraine can do.”
So, as Ukraine as a country looks to the west, so too does Lama. With no plans, ever, to sing in Russian, there are already recordings in the English language, something that could really propel her into the larger market her music deserves.
I’m sad to realise that our time is drawing to a close. I rush back to the office to listen to more of her music, understanding it on an even deeper level after my hour with this lovely, genuine, inspired and inspiring young lady.