EU funds largest online archive of Ukrainian folk music 

Five years of expeditions, 2000 unique Ukrainian songs, “sold outs” in European cities. Journalist Kateryna Bachynska tells how and how creates the largest online archive of Ukrainian folk songs – Polyphony.

“This project is not just about a song. It is about the support, idea and future generations. It is about things that we must safekeep today as tomorrow it can be too late. The song lives with the voice, carrier, person who shares it. We are not ageless; therefore, it is necessary to keep transferring it and manage to save it».

We are meeting the deputy director of Ivan Honchar Museum, Myroslava Vertiuk, in her office. «We started working on Polyphony project in 2014. In those days no one could think that we would achieve such results. Nowadays it became an integral part of life of thousands of people”, she says.


How one Hungarian and EU revive Ukrainian songs


“Aren’t you surprised that a Hungarian researches and saves Ukrainian songs? And that this process is financed not by Ukraine, but European Union? It’s not us, Ukrainians, but foreigners help us revive what is our”, I start our conversation with Ms. Myroslava with a question. “I think there is nothing surprising. Ukrainian songs have value both in Europe and in the world”, Ms. Myroslava answers.

Five years ago, a Hungarian musician and ethnographer Miklosh Bot started researching Ukrainian folk songs. Later his hobby turned into an idea to collect the oldest Ukrainian songs from all regions. This is how Polyphony project started. Later Ukrainians joined the project: National Centre of People’s Culture “Ivan Honchar Museum” agreed to become a partner, while Ms. Myroslava Vertiuk agreed to become a coordinator of Polyphone on behalf of Ukraine.

Twice a year a team of scientists together with Miklosh Bot visited one of the regions of Ukraine. About give weeks of expeditions, tons of audio and video files. As a result – a unique online archive of Ukrainian folk songs, where one can listen to over 2000 songs from 100 Ukrainian villages, was created.

Full text of the song and information about the video

After the first expeditions and tours of elderly women abroad people out of Ukraine started talking about Polyphony. 2017 became the peak of development, when the largest program of European Union in the field of culture “Creative Europe” started cooperating with the researchers. The EU program covers 57% of the project budget and enables to continue researching Ukrainian polyphony. In those days these changes became a gulp of air for the researchers and a change not to stop the work on researching Ukrainian songs.

Full text of the song and information about the video

«We set two goals to ourselves: to collect a quality archive of Ukrainian polyphone and to popularize it in the world», explains Myroslava Vertiuk. The international team of musicians was the first one to join the project. They presented it in Poland, Hungary and France. “The project became available to the world mainly due to the archive, its quality presentation and English version. We constantly receive letters at our site inviting our ladies to different festivals”, Ms. Myroslava adds.


Popularization by DakhaBrakha


Ukrainian folk band Dakhabrakha sells out concert halls in Europe and the world. In 2017 their song became a soundtrack to American film “Fargo”, but the group became most popular after live air program on BBC. A proposal after a proposal and as a result their track sounded in the famous advertisement with football player David Beckham. When Dakhabrakha found out about Polyphony project they agreed to cooperate immediately. The musicians demonstrated videoclips from Polyphone expeditions during their concerts.

PR manager of Dakhabrakha, Iryna Horban tells that many foreigners are interested in Ukrainian songs: “Due to this project we can present our songs to a wider audience”. 

Dakhabrakha is planning to add at their site a page about Polyphone project. Also, in addition to showing videoclips they are going to distribute printed materials about the project during their world tours. “Very often after the concert people are interested to know which songs we sing, what they are about. Due to the materials the visitors can get closer acquainted with the sources and project”, Iryna adds.

However, the musicians are not going to narrow down their efforts on it and would like to use in their work the materials from the archive: “We are trying to use our art to give new life to the old songs and to popularize folk songs. It is our memory, our peculiarity without which we cannot move forward. I think more and more people are interested in their roots and now they have an opportunity to easily dive into the enormous world of polyphony due to the project and its popularization”, she explains.


Songs and complexes


The main problem of the project, according to Myroslava Vertiuk, is the vanishing of Ukrainian songs. It dies together with singers in most villages. It is not transferred to children and grandchildren. Even more, the problem of song extinction lies is complexes of Ukrainians. During the project when asking to sing the melody researchers often got a rejection: “What are you talking about. I will not sing! What will my children and neighbours think? Am I crazy? What a person will sing such songs now?”, repeats the words of some elderly woman Ms. Myroslava.

“Honestly speaking, at first when we heard such answers, we were shocked”. The project coordinator reassures that such “wake up calls” are very dangerous for scientists and society. However, the situation can be changed. The neighbour countries, such as Hungary, Georgia, Lithuania and Poland, are a perfect example. They managed to safekeep and even restore and develop the tradition of folk songs and dances.

Full text of the song and information about the video 

Ms. Myroslava tells that under the example of Hungarians it is worth implementing the knowledge of Ukrainian folk songs at the educational level: “Traditional songs, dances and instrumental music are being taught almost in each Hungarian and Lithuanian schools. In Hungary there are many festivals and master classes where one can learn how to dance. Folk songs of different regions are heard in usual pubs. While we are embarrassed of our folk songs. Instead of creating our own brand of intangible cultural heritage, we close university departments”, adds Myroslava Vertiuk.


Packed Halls in Europe


As strange as it may sound, Ukrainian polyphone is better popularized in the world. It is proved by the packed halls during the concerts of Polyphone project and interest from the side of cultural programs. During the five years of the project the singers visited France, Poland and Hungary.

The concerts are also planned for summer 2019: “The halls are always full of young people. People come to the concerts with a huge interest”. In its turn due to the project some of the performers managed to travel out of Ukraine for the first time. “They cry because the music and traditions which they value a lot is interesting to other people. People listen to it and thank for this art not only in Ukraine but also abroad”, Ms. Myroslava tells showing photos of the concert tour in Hungary.

Full text of the song and information of the video

Polypnony plans to continue its expeditions, as during the term of the project Ms. Myroslava and her team got several calls with the sad news: “More than one singer died during these five years and I realize that we have time to popularize but we are limited with time to save. Therefore, most important task for us now is not to stop and search for possibilities to continue the project”.


By Kateryna Bachynska