Punk rock to folk, how music is playing a revolutionary role in Ukraine’s fight for freedom

TULSA, Okla. — Many Ukrainians have stated that music has played a revolutionary role in the country’s fight for freedom amidst Russia’s invasion.

The Oklahoma Center for the Humanities is hosting an event to explore this phenomenon through music and discussion.

Musician and author of the New York Times “Best Travel Book of 2021,” The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar, Franz Nicolay will be speaking at the event.

Nicolay spent 15 years touring Eastern Europe as a musician in various punk rock and indie rock bands.

And his wife, award-winning writer, Maria Sonevytstky is the author of Vopli Vidopliassova’s Tantsi, the story behind the watershed late Soviet Ukrainian punk rock cassette album known as Tantsi. It will be published in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Europe series in the spring of 2023.

Her first book, Wild Music: Sound and Sovereignty in Ukraine, was awarded the Lewis Lockwood First Book Prize from the American Musicological Society in 2020.

“The history of Ukrainian music has been one of resilience and defiance against imperialism for centuries,” states Sonevytstky.

Sonevytstky will be sharing her insight on the influence and power of music in Ukraine’s war for freedom.

Sonevytstky and Nicolay both have roots in Ukraine.

“We met in New York in accordion circles, we were both accordion players,” said Nicolay.

The couple says they personally know many musicians who have taken to the front lines in Ukraine.

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“It’s just pretty incredible, really. And I think it shows how meaningful this fight is for Ukrainians who are really battling for their right to continue to exist,” said Sonevytstky. “If you just see how Ukrainians themselves are reacting in this moment, and that includes a lot of musicians, most musicians that I know. It shows you that this is a profoundly existential battle for them.”

The conversation will be held on Friday, Jan. 20 at the Henry Zarrow Center for Arts & Education at 124 E. Reconciliation Way, in downtown Tulsa at 7 p.m. The event is free for the public.

“It’ll be a wide-ranging discussion. It’s going to be the two of us, moderated by the acclaimed poet and translator and Tulsan Boris Dralyuk from the University of Tulsa,” said Nicolay. “Folk and vernacular music from Ukraine and some of our original songs, you know, influenced by my experiences in Ukraine and with Ukrainian culture. And I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, awesome.”