Oleh Skrypka is truly Ukraine’s ambassador to the world. His band, Vopli Vidopliasova, more simply known as VV, has thousands of fans in the UK, France, the US, Canada, Switzerland, Israel, Hungary and Portugal. In 2004, Skrypka became the artistic director of the international ethno festival called Kraina Mriy or Land of Dreams. Skrypka has brought Ukrainian culture to Paris, Berlin, Perm, Suguti, Moscow, Oslo, Toronto, and New York. The Days of Ukraine in the United Kingdom festival is giving him the opportunity to do so in London as well, where he is the curator of the Ethnic Festival that takes place on October 19 in the Potters Field Park. We talked to Oleh Skrypka about what visitors might expect at the festival, how Ukrainian culture is different from other European cultures, and what makes this event so important to Ukraine.
What makes being curator of the Ethno Festival during The Days of Ukraine in the United Kingdom festival important for you?
I see this as an amazing opportunity for Ukraine. Promoting Ukrainian culture abroad is my primary strategic aim. This is completely in line with the goals of the organizers of this event, the Firtash Foundation and Group DF. If this event has any impact at all—and I’m positive that the result will be superlative—it will be hard to overestimate its significance for Ukraine. I’ve done many events abroad, representing Ukrainian culture in Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Oslo and many more places. The impact of this kind of event is immense. As both a performer and producer, I find it stimulating to work in this field. The Days of Ukraine is a logical extension of my educational and cultural efforts all these years. The world will see Ukraine from a variety of angles in one of the greatest capitals in Europe.
How will this event differ from others you’ve been involved in?
To some extent, it’s simply a continuation of what I’ve done before. However, this is the first time that we will be presenting Ukraine abroad on such a scale, and it’s taking serious resources: musicians, artisans and dancers. As you can see from the program, visitors will have access to the children’s meadow, where they can take master classes in folk crafts, listen to the performance of authentic, ethnic and ethno-rock groups such as Krosna, Astarta and Folknery, and the joint projects like Kozak System & Taras Chubai and Vopli Vidopliasova with Le Grand Orchestre.
In the past, Ukraine has not typically been shown abroad in a very contemporary manner, based on European standards, so these events often looked outdated. But the world has changed, Ukraine has become far more interesting, and standard formats are no longer especially necessary. We will be showing the best of what modern-day Ukraine has to offer here in London.
What, to you, is contemporary Ukrainian culture?
Well, for starters, there are the wonderful traditions and history. Then you have the adaptations, mixing modern styles with the past. When contemporary singers perform, even folk songs sound different. The intertwining of Ukrainian music with foreign music is also very exciting. I think that the most interesting things happen at the point where two cultures intersect. In terms of music and art, Ukrainians have lots to show the world.
But it’s also naive to present yourself as a “European” and sing in English. Show your uniqueness! Otherwise, the cultural product loses its flavor. Americans sing in English because that’s their culture and it comes across as natural. You have to be honest with yourself. Ukraine is not Russia, but it’s also not Madagascar or Brighton. The trick is to reflect what you really are both appropriately and well.
How did you get involved in this project?
It was proposed by the Dmytro and Lada Firtash Foundation. We’ve worked together before. Last year, I performed in Chernivtsi at a literary festival that was broadcast on Inter TV. Indeed, before deciding to approach me, the organizers attended Kraina Mriy. Obviously, they were pleased with the quality of the events there and I was invited to apply my approach to the Ethno Festival.
How do you see Ukraine?
To me, Ukraine is unmanifested quality, not just today, but for the last 300 years, really. It’s a deeply buried vein whose richness people are unable to understand or to even be aware of. It is an unpolished precious stone that can’t seem to come to the top. The world is contradictory: many phenomena in other countries have a great image yet are empty inside and not particularly interesting. In Ukraine, it’s the exact opposite. People have no idea what kind of cultural treasures there are here. So, for me, as a musician and producer, it’s pretty easy to work with Ukrainian “raw materials.” You can take just about anything and it will be a revelation to people. But you have to do this with respect, with taste and understanding. That’s when you get a fantastic result. It makes me incredibly happy that we are becoming real Europeans and are beginning to feel ourselves more at ease and worthy.
How often are you in London and what’s your favorite spot here?
I get to London quite regularly. As a rock-n-roller, the district that feels most like home is Camden Town, the district with all the alternative folks, and lots of clubs, restaurants and shops. That’s where all the artists and musicians gather. To me, it feels almost like another country. This is the real historical heart of London. By the way, the best gear that I wear when performing was all bought there. I also like Soho, which is a fashionable and more touristy district.
If somebody offered you a multi-million grant and told you to do something for Ukraine, what would you do?
I would spend the money on information policy. The main problem with Ukraine is not just bad roads, poor wages or political instability. It’s the lack of informedness about what is good, bright and spiritually powerful in the country. We need to build a media environment that would establish the country’s image at home, so that we ourselves knew more about the place and respected the country that we live in. The trouble is that the positive is never mentioned, while the negative is on everyone’s lips. This situation needs to be changed.