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ą7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Ukraine Today

A Subversive Girl-Pop Group Kuzma Talks About Singing Pants

A new girl-pop band is launching in Ukraine. Big surprise, right? But wait – this group won’t be singing about expensive cars and up-market clothes. It’s actually a parody of the whole post-Soviet girl-group phenomenon. What? Making fun of girl-pop? It’s a sacrilege! The group’s Andriy Kuzmenko gave What’s On the low-down.
But first a little more about Ukraine’s pop music scene. It’s still all about half-naked, weak-voiced, big-chested bimbos miming along to a soundtrack and manipulated by male producers, even though they make ‘girl-power’ pronouncements about how they’re out to achieve success on their own terms.

 These are the famous ‘singing pants’ – singing panties for our American friends – who seem to take up about 97% of the real estate in Russian and Ukrainian show business. This article isn’t about them, however. It’s about the Singing Pants, a parody girl-pop band with the goal of taking the piss out of the CSI’s pop glamour girls. The group is the brainchild of Andriy Kuzmenko, aka Kuzma from the top Ukrainian pop-rock band Skryabin, who’s been involved with the strange world of the music business since 1989 and knows all its ins and outs. Kuzma’s the man who wrote satirical Skryabin songs like ‘Glamour’ and ‘Oligarch Guys’, which really didn’t say very nice things about post-Soviet culture. Anyway, Kuzma’s the guy who recently announced a casting call for a brand-new girl-pop project. The reader of the ad would have noticed the planned group’s name, the Singing Pants, deliberately misspelled in the original Cyrillic. Lots of people thought it was a joke, including me, but just to set things straight I called Kuzma, who at the moment was down at the Dovzhenko film studio, shooting a clip for the ‘Chance’ television show. “I understand that a lot of people took it as a joke,” Kuzma told me, “but I can assure you that this is a 100 percent serious idea that’s going to be a reality very soon.” Apparently it’s his way of sneering at everything that’s fake and soft, punk-style. “I’m into punk,” he says. “It’s everywhere in me. Skryabin has a pop-rock style and we can’t afford to play punk.” Frankly, he’s being modest. Skryabin makes fun of our so-called “glamorous life” and show-business scene and does it very well.

 Stop Copying the West
“Recently I was at one of our radio stations and we heard concurrently some songs by our [Ukrainian] performers and some by foreign ones. It was disgusting to hear the copying. What astonished me was that some Ukrainian performers are really talented, but they still stoop to copying. I can’t stand it anymore.” He continues, “I think the main problem of our musical culture is the actual absence of sub-cultures. What do they have in the West? Different styles of punk, new wave, disco. All that coexists in a coherent way and don’t kill each other off. There’s no culture without subculture. We used to have some promising bands, like Tabula Rasa, but later they were forced to change their style.” I was no good at physics, but I remember that every action triggers a counter-reaction, and Kuzma would seem to agree. “We copied, or tried to copy, only the most glamorous pop style and failed to do it properly. In other words we don’t have any subculture that competes with the pop that’s so ubiquitous. And so the pop here in Ukraine is of low quality.” Of course, pop makes money, and in contemporary Ukraine making money is what it’s all about. “I can’t stand it any more,” Kuzma says. “I don’t want my children to watch TV and see that all the boy and girl bands resemble each other and pretend to be talented. I came up with the idea of the Singing Pants to reveal the behind-the-scenes secrets of pop culture. The members of this brand-new band will perform canned music, but they’ll say true things from the stage.” “What astonishes me is that even though our band doesn’t exist yet, its concerts are already booked in advance, all the way up through July. We’ve got 30 concert venues booked. The project will be scandalous, but it will be popular. They’ll mock not only everyone else in show business but themselves as well. The way I see it, if you’re not demanding of yourself you can’t criticise others.’ As for the group’s derogatory name, Kuzma says, “We called a spade a spade. We do show business according to its own rules. We use prerecorded music and the girls will act like the rest of the girls do. I want everybody to see things as they are in reality. The project is very controversial. It will create a lot of critics and mudslinging and the girls will have to be stress-resistant to respond to it, to talk back.” The music channel M1, in a self-referential move that proves that a sense of irony is alive and well in Ukraine, is running Kuzma’s announcement of the group’s casting call.

 The producers asked the applicants to take off their shirts, and they almost all did. Those who did were cut; the others went on to the next round

 “At first we planned to have three members,” he says. “We didn’t want to enroll models, but regular girls, not extremely skinny or super-tan. We were looking for regular girls with a casual fashion sense. And it was very difficult. Almost everybody tried to pretend to be somebody else, to be better. Frankly, the casting session was a real success.”

 Three Hot and One Not
The Singing Pants project is being produced by Kuzma and the music producer Volodymyr Bebeshko, with informational support from M1. The band’s motto is “We’re three from Brovary and one from Bishkek.” Says Kuzma, “It was a challenge to pick three girls out from 360. First we thought of getting three really hot girls and one who was horizontally- challenged and with crooked legs, to take a shot at Ukrainian showbusiness… We decided to get girls who were over 25 just to make sure they know what they’re doing.” Volodymyr Bebeshko asked the applicants to take off their shirts, and they almost all did. Those who did were cut; the others went on to the next round. “We talked with the girls about their lives,” Kuzma says, “and those who were obviously lying failed. Though the band is already cast, we’re not rushing into signing the contracts. We want to measure things out. We’re not yet sure about the band stuff, maybe there will be some reshuffling along the way.” It’s a fair bet that this project will be controversial: the post-Soviet gilded classes as yet have little experience with being teased. The project doesn’t even fully exist yet, but already everybody is talking about it. “We are playing roles,” Kuzma says. “Here in show business we pretend to be somebody else and we often seem ridiculous. This band won’t have a stylist, there won’t be any glitzy clothes. They’ll be real.” Kuzma was always different from a run of a mill pop star. He doesn’t preen, he talks with journalists not to aggrandise himself, but to get his message across. Good for him as his Singing Pants project gets set to explode onto the Ukrainian pop scene.

 Kseniya Karpenko

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer­sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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