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A Polish Song For Ukraine's Revolution

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This is a story of a song. Revolutions are often fertile breeding grounds for good music, and the song this story is about was at the heart of the Ukrainian Revolution (or "Euromaidan") earlier this year. It's easy to forget now, but the current situation in the Ukraine was preceded by an uprising of the Ukrainian people in Kiev's Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in the bitter cold of last winter. This popular uprising started in November of last year, but it really exploded into revolution this February.

The song is called "Podaj Reke Ukrainie" ("Give Ukraine A Helping Hand"), and was created by the band Taraka. It became an unofficial anthem of the Ukrainian uprising. You can listen to the original Polish version sung by the band's leader Karol Kus, but to me it's this version in the English language (from YouTube) which is not only revolutionary and inspiring, but downright transcendentally haunting.

Take three minutes and listen to it yourself -- it's almost impossible not to be moved by the experience (the video clips are expertly edited, as well).

Taraka is a band with both Polish and Ukrainian members. Their manager and co-producer Alicja Golianek writes below about the experience of making the song, and what happened to it immediately afterwards. The story is an excellent example of "going viral" at precisely the right time. You can see a bit of an interview with Alicja (in English) in a piece done about the English version of the song.

That's really all the introduction that is necessary, as Alicja Golianek now gives us her story of the song "Podaj Reke Ukrainie," or "Give Ukraine A Helping Hand."

-- Chris Weigant

 

The Song That Became Known As The Unofficial Anthem Of Maidan

During the last few months, Ukraine has witnessed the most violent acts of civil unrest in the country's post-Soviet history. Blood has been spilled and lives taken. The whole of Europe and half of the world got to know a nation, who after months of protests and fighting is not giving up. Here is a very little known story of a song, which was on the lips of every protester on the 18th of February 2014, and is still with them today.

It all started at the end of January 2014, in the western part of Poland. One frosty day, Karol Kus rang me up and said that he wanted to record a song, as a proof of his solidarity with the protesters in Kiev. I knew that Karol had been working with Ukrainian artists and musicians for many years, so his idea didn't seem unusual. The next day we met in the studio and he showed me the lyrics.

"What about the music?" I asked him. Then he explained that he wanted to sing the lyrics to one earlier song of his, which in fact was the first song he had written with a gifted Ukrainian violinist Maryan Lomaha. Understanding the personal context of the song, I asked no further questions. After a couple of hours we finished recording the vocal parts. Karol left the studio saying that he needed to make a few very important phone calls and he'd like the mix to be ready as soon as possible.

Tanaka photo 1

The following day, I sent him the finished mix and asked what he was planning to do with it. He replied with great confidence: "On the 2nd of February, at exactly 5:15 PM, this song will be played by numerous radio stations and also over the P.A. system in Kiev's Independence Square." I just stood silent and looked at him in confusion.

"And how exactly do you want to do it?" I asked. He answered: "I've sent a letter to all radio stations saying that I prepared a special song as a tribute to the brave actions undertaken by the Ukrainian people in Kiev, and am now asking them to join my initiative and play the song at 5:15 PM on the 2nd of February. I also contacted Miron Sych and Ruslana Lyzhychko who agreed to arrange for the song to be played via the P.A. system."

At first I could hardly believe what he was saying but the rapid unfolding of events left me no doubt. The Ukrainian television ESPRESO TV had prepared video material to accompany the song during live broadcast. And so it happened. On the 2nd of February, at exactly 5:15 PM, nearly all the radio stations in Poland and Ukraine played "Podaj Reke Ukrainie (Give Ukraine A Helping Hand)." It is impossible to describe in words the light of hope that magically appeared in the protesters' eyes. At that moment I realized that we had given them something more than just another song, similar to many other songs that had been presented on the Kiev stage since the beginning of Euromaidan.

Of course as a natural result, "Give Ukraine A Helping Hand" attracted the attention of the press, television, and even the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To my relief, everyone spoke of it with great respect, admiration and pride.

Tanaka photo 2

On the 9th of February, Karol and his band Taraka, performed the song live in front of 150,000 people. "We went there because we knew how much the song and its message meant to those people," Karol explained. "The concert in Kiev was my greatest musical experience ever, and a groundbreaking moment in my life. It is difficult to describe in words what I felt that day. I was standing on that stage and could see thousands of tired but hopeful faces waiting in anticipation for that first note, and then heard them sing the song along with me despite of cold, the presence of armed police forces and the uncertainty of tomorrow."

On the 18th of February, all hell broke loose in Kiev. On one side of the barricades were the protesters armed with Molotov cocktails, pavement blocks, fireworks and handmade weapons, while on the other police forces with tear gas, water cannons, guns, and rifles. Lidia Pankiv, a Ukrainian journalist, described in an interview for Polish television (TVN) how she participated in the protests and what she witnessed during the memorable fights. At the end of the interview she added: "When we were fighting, people constantly played the Polish song 'Give Ukraine A Helping Hand.' It kept on circulating in our heads, and was louder than the explosions of grenades or fireworks."

I personally think, that her words are the strongest proof of the song's power and genuineness. Karol decided to produce an entire album under the title Give Ukraine A Helping Hand, with the opening song performed in three language versions: Polish, Ukrainian, and English. In addition to that, the whole band agreed to donate their royalties from the album's sale to the suffering Ukrainian families.

Tanaka photo 3

But even the most noble deeds need to be supported by mass media if they are to reach larger audiences. Hence on the 27th of June 2014, Taraka performed "Give Ukraine A Helping Hand" during the biggest concert of East-European music in Poland, which is an annual event commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and broadcast by the Polish National Television. Karol wanted to keep the Ukrainian need of help still valid after the fights and riots ceased a bit.

Many things seemed to be heading in the direction of stabilizing the chaos in Ukraine. The band received an invitation from the city of Lviv to play a concert on the 13th of July. Karol went there three days earlier and gave an interview for Ukrainian television (Zik). Apart from typical questions about music and how the band met, the interviewer asked Karol about Europe's attitude towards Ukraine. I knew Karol had been pondering over this topic for weeks. He'd been into the history of Ukraine for years and once the question was asked the replied with great confidence.

"In my opinion, Europe is not able to make decisions and act quickly. On the one hand, Europe is said to be like one organism whose different parts strive for better and better integration but on the other, the recent European Parliament election showed us that more and more support was given to nationalist parties. Europe minds her own affairs and strong countries like France, Germany and the U.K. are not going to, all of a sudden, destroy their contracts with Russia. However I dare think that a deep integration of Poland and Ukraine would kind of shake the order and peace of the 'Old Europe'."

The following day brought news that no one wanted to hear. The riots in eastern Ukraine dramatically escalated and many people lost their lives. A national mourning was announced and all concerts were cancelled. However, Karol did not want to simply leave without saying anything. He told me to email him the demo version of a poem written by our good friend Katharine, which he had set to music. The song was titled "Lullaby for Maidan" and was immediately played by radio stations in Lviv. Within the first 15 minutes, emails and comments of gratitude were sent to the radio DJs. That was all he could do.

Taraka's and my journey with "Give Ukraine A Helping Hand" started six months ago. We keep on making our beloved Slavic music and hope that the positive messages of Karol's songs will long reverberate in the consciousness of our audiences. We want no more wars.

-- Alicja Golianek

 

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