The war in Ukraine has been raging on for more than a month now. Entire cities are left in ruins by bombs, people continue to flee the country, families are being torn apart, civilians are dying. The air strike alarms ring constantly, hissing as well as I connect to Lesik Omodada from Tik Tu via zoom last week. “They ring everyday”, he tells me from his location in Ternopil. His bandmate Natalie Bagriy left the country with her child and is staying in Italy right now.
He is calling from his studio, as his apartment is close to a strategic military standpoint and the artist is scared to stay there. In peaceful times, Lesik records artists from all over the world in his studio Shpytal Records. Aside of the project – Tik Tu – which was started in 2014 and is described as cosmic pop by the trio (Lesik Omodada, Natalie Bagriy, an Roman Bozhko), Lesik makes music with Omodada Gee, works as a sound engineer supporting artists on tour and records music for cartoons. “Now, I keep working to earn money to send to our defenders”, he says. “Many people lost their jobs, but we need money to keep things alive, to send meds, to support the military”.
“We need to be morally and physically prepared for everything”
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, which inhibited artists and musicians from performing, working now is almost impossible. In a reality in which nothing is like before, Lesik is lucky to still be able to work. “If I wouldn’t be working, I would volunteer. Everybody is doing something. I am working to send money to the people in dangerous places like Kharkiv and Mariupol. They need the money much more than I right now”.
“Musicians like everybody else right now are supporting the struggle against the Russian aggressor”. Amongst Ukrainians the solidarity is huge. People in the Western parts are opening their homes for people fleeing from the east, volunteers bring essentials into critical areas. “Ukrainians are very consolidated in hard times”, Lesik tells me. Since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 the strong Ukrainian identity has become increasingly visible discerning its culture, art, and mindset clearly from its large neighbor.
“I see help internationally as well. People understand and care for the struggle. But regarding the military defense we feel very much left alone with the aggressor. Nobody wants to get involved because it is scary for every country, but it is also scary for us.”
While Lesik keeps working to earn money to support himself and others in the heavily affected regions, he tells me that working creatively now is not something he can do. “Sound engineering is more mechanical. It keeps my mind off the news, and it makes money”. And that is understandable how can you create while everything around you is being destroyed? Listening to the previous records of Tik Tu, the tracks are soaked with creativity and versatility. The title of their debut describes it well – Shuma – a made up word based on the Ukrainian word Shum (noise). “It means the eclectic mix of genres in our music”, Lesik grins. Between dub, psychedelic electronic, and traditional influences, the records are full of surprises.
Fighting At the Cultural Front
“Music, our Ukrainian music is also our weapon. The cultural weapon to keep our nation alive”, the artist tells me. Music has been playing a special role in the country for decades as it continuously faced hostile aggression from its neighbor, throughout the 19th and 20th century and increasingly again since 2014. “In 2014 the question of Ukrainian identity became really intense, and we started understanding our history and culture more. Our long relationship with Russia is not the brotherhood it is painted to be by Russian propaganda.” In the 20th century, Russia committed a genocide of Ukrainian people Holodomor, and planted Russian culture on Ukrainian territory.
Lesik describes the painful experience of the Ukrainian culture being erased by the Russian government. “In Ukrainian we call it the Executed Renaissance. In the 20th century around Kharkiv, a lot of creatives, writers, and poets were killed from one day to another. People living and creating Ukrainian culture, as if our neighboring country does not want for our culture to be alive.”
“Understanding Who We Are”
Music transports identity – cultural and personal. It carries tradition and turns the scars of history into something beautiful. Understanding the torments of the neighboring country, in the past is important to make sense of the situation today as well. In 2014 the government invested a lot in creating informational material for children, like cartoons, about the history of the country. “Music plays a very important part in that. It makes history accessible, and helps to understand our past, which still influences the Ukrainian identity”, says Lesik who has been arranging the music for many of these educational programs for children.
As musicians the question of identity prevails also throughout the industry. Russia intended and intends to control the popular media and the artist explains that a lot of the movies, music, and art from Russia were installed and fostered in the Ukraine overriding the local culture. “When we start making music – for many it is a big question in which language to we sing. English, Ukrainian, Russian? Do we care about which language we sing in? We have been shown again that we need to care.”
While many of contemporary artists are pushing into new musical territory, like the genre-bending project Tik Tu is as well, the traditions are still deeply rooted in Ukrainian art. Lesik’s bandmate, Natalie is a professional violinist playing in orchestras. She brings a lot of the traditional influences to the music, Lesik tells me. They can be heard on the debut album as well as on the second record. “There is no straight forward connection to one folk song, but it is more the general feeling of Ukrainian tradition that is being transported in our music.” Arranged with dub, distortion, and electronic elements, the tradition gets a cosmic twist catapulting it into the future of Ukrainian art.
Tradition is still prevalent in in the way of how Tik Tu build songs. “It influences the way of we think and how we feel. Passed on through generations, grandparents sing traditional songs, melodies, making voices, that of course influences the way we approach music.”
Listen and Support
Musicians and artist use their musical expression as a weapon against the cultural hegemony that Russia aims to install again in the neighboring country. To raise Ukrainian culture, art, and musical expression, we updated our playlist with songs recorded in Shyptal record studio. If you would like to support the struggle of musicians through financial aid, check out this personal initiative, through which Lesik already received support.
But the war continues to be fought at a cultural front as well as at a political and military one. Right now, Lesik highlights, the country urgently needs military and financial defense support to fight back against the Russian aggressor.
Your support of the Ukrainian resistance makes a difference. Please consider donating to organizations like Come Back Alive.