TURIN, Italy (AP) — Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra’s upbeat and melodic entry for this month Eurovision Song Contest was written as a tribute to the leader’s mother.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has become a hymn to the war-ravaged homeland.
“Stefania” is the most-watched song on YouTube among the 35 national entries that will take part in the Eurovision Song Contest next week in the industrial city of Turin in northern Italy. While some betting takers and data analysts have bet others to win, the Kalush Orchestra song is quickly becoming a sentimental favorite.
“I will always find my way back, even if all the roads are destroyed,” Kalush Orchestra leader Oleh Psiuk wrote in “Stefania.”
The lyrics have become more poignant as Russian missiles pound Ukrainian towns and villagesalready forcing more than 11 million people to flee the country.
“Indeed, some things here were written long before the war, and they were dedicated to my mother,” Psiuk told The Associated Press at his Turin hotel, wearing a shiny bucket hat that makes him instantly recognizable to anyone who has streamed “Stephanie.
“After it all started with war and hostilities, it took on extra meaning, and a lot of people started to see it as their mother, Ukraine, in the sense of the country. It became very close to the heart of so many people in Ukraine,” he said.
Blending traditional Ukrainian folk music with hip-hop, Kalush Orchestra’s Eurovision performance will have an added political message, representing the uniqueness of Ukrainian culture against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s belligerent claim that the former Soviet republic has always been part of Russia.
“We are showing ourselves that Ukrainian culture and the Ukrainian ethnic code exist,” Psuik said. “Our goal is to make Ukrainian music popular, not only in Ukraine but all over Europe. And Eurovision is the best platform for that.
“Stefania” incorporates old Ukrainian melodies and unique musical pitches from a primitive and difficult-to-play woodwind called telenka, played by lead singer Tymofii Muzychuk.
The members of the group mix break dance with Hopak, a Ukrainian folk dance, in an energetic performance punctuated by the rap interludes of Psiuk. Costumes include embroidered Cossack shirts and vests mixed with contemporary streetwear.
Psiuk and five bandmates, all men between the ages of 21 and 35, received special permission from Ukrainian authorities to travel to Turin to compete in Eurovision, travel overland to Poland and then fly to Italy. An original member of the group stayed to fight.
Psiuk, 27, left behind a network of volunteers he organized two days into the war to help bring logistical aid to people across Ukraine seeking shelter or transport.
All will return to Ukraine at the end of the song contest.
“We feel a great responsibility,” Psiuk said. “It is very important for us to be as useful as possible to the country. We want to represent our country with dignity.
Kalush Orchestra is more than just a musical group. It’s a cultural project that includes folklore scholars and deliberately combines hip hop with traditional Ukrainian music, dance and costumes, some long forgotten, according to Psiuk.
The 6-month project takes its name from Psiuk’s hometown of Kalush, which is nestled in the Carpathian Mountains, south of the western city of Lviv. It is an evolution of the original hip hop group Kalush which Psiuk also led.
After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russia’s Eurovision entry was barred from the contest as part of a move by organizers to keep politics out of the spotlight. extremely popular event, which was seen last year by 183 million people.
Psiuk said Russia’s exclusion from Eurovision, as well as other cultural and sporting events, could send a message to Russians “who may say they don’t fully understand the situation…that he there’s a reason why the whole world, Europe, bans them.”
Ukraine joined the Eurovision Song Contest 19 years ago. He has won twice since, both times with songs performed mostly in Ukrainian: by Ruslana in 2004 and Jamala in 2016.
Psuik attributes Ukraine’s success to the “special character of our music”.
“I really hope that after performing it in the Eurovision Song Contest, Ukrainian music will be even more popular and heard,” Psiuk said.
Follow all AP stories about the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.