It's been heartbreaking to watch the situation unfold in Ukraine these past couple of years. Through it all, Ukrainians have demonstrated incredible strength and resilience, finding solace in their rich heritage. One meaningful way they've maintained their national identity amid such hardship is by sharing their folk music traditions.
The recent album by Brothers Ivan, titled "Ukrainian Folk Music, Vol. VIII: Glory to the Heroes," preserves 17 timeless pieces of Ukrainian folk singing that now take on stark significance given current events. Produced following Russia's devastating invasion in February 2022, the collection aims to honor Ukraine's steadfast national spirit through songs that alternately inspire resistance, soothe the soul, and stir emotions.
"Chervona Kalyna" (Red Guelder Rose), one of Ukraine's most recognizable folk tunes, gives you a clear view of how the album will sound. "The Long Road" conveys a sense of determination to persevere through difficulty, evoking images of a nation trudging steadfastly toward freedom. Other pieces like "Out of Ukraine, Enemies" and "Don't Ask Me Why" carry an undercurrent of sorrow and longing for peace.
While some performances stick close to traditional arrangements, others show the artists' willingness to experiment. The a cappella rendition of "Sahaidachny Cossack March" strips away instrumentation for a raw, haunting effect.
Standouts include "Goodbye, My Villages." The simple yet plaintive melody conveys powerful emotions of loss and displacement. "Lord, Hear Our Prayers" offers solace through faith, imploring God to watch over Ukraine in its darkest hour. "Oksana" transports listeners to tranquil rural settings with its lilting instrumentation.
Instrumental skills are showcased on pieces like "The Moon Is Shining Bright" and "Hymn of the Immortal Batava." Both feature intricate folk strains that enchant the soul. The robust chorus of "Do You Hear, My Friend?" and "Where Are You Going, Cossack?" evoke images of camaraderie on the open steppes.
Even the somber tracks aim to inspire. "Fate Is Mocking Me" and "So Long, I'm Leaving Now" tell bittersweet tales of parting but remind us that Ukraine's spirit can never fully be broken. "Snow Has Enshrouded Ukraine" and the simple "Marching Through the Steppes" leaves listeners with a swell of national pride and a renewed commitment to Ukraine's future. The album closes with the moving piece "Father and Mother in Siberia," which provides historical context for Ukraine's enduring struggle.
Throughout the collection, raw vocals and mostly acoustic instrumentation maintain an intimate, documentary-like feel. The very simple instrumentation enhances the listener experience, transporting us straight to Ukraine's breathtaking countryside.
So in these 17 tracks, we hear not just a beautiful song but the beating heart of Ukraine itself - its history, struggles, hopes, and what connects its people. If you only want to stream one album this year, make it this one. While events continue to unfold overseas, "Ukrainian Folk Music, Vol. VIII: Glory to the Heroes," is a small yet powerful way to experience solidarity and help lift Ukrainian spirits from afar. Some things, like freedom and humanity, are simply worth singing about.