Dis­cover Onuka, Ukraine’s elec­tronic won­der

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle - BY YU­LIANA ROMANYSHYN ROMANYSHYN@KYIVPOST.COM Ad­ver­tis­ing: Ed­i­to­rial staff: Sub­scrip­tions: Kyiv Post staff writer Yu­liana Romanyshyn can be reached at romanyshyn@kyivpost.com.

The mu­si­cal group Onuka was named the Dis­cov­ery of the Year at the fourth an­nual Yearly Ukrainian Na­tional Awards in March. Although the ex­per­i­men­tal elec­tronic band has only been around for a year and a half, it re­cently sold 1,300 tick­ets for a Kyiv con­cert – and it did so weeks in ad­vance.

The band’s founders, it turns out, have a rich mu­si­cal le­gacy. Onuka’s vo­cal­ist, Nata Zhyzhchenko, a young woman with style, used to be part of the Kyiv band Tomato Jaws. And Yevhen Fi­la­tov, who took up the role as Onuka’s sound pro­ducer, is a front man for The Maneken band.

The un­usual look of the band mem­bers eas­ily cap­tures view­ers’ at­ten­tion – par­tic­u­larly that of Zhyzhchenko. Dressed in black and white, sport­ing a ge­o­met­ri­cal bowl cut, she al­most looks like an alien on stage.

Off­stage as well: She showed up for her in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post look­ing the same, all contrasts, sport­ing cus­tom-made clothes by Kyiv designer Le­sia Pa­toka.

Zhyzhchenko’s look is as mod­ern as the band’s mu­sic – which is a com­bi­na­tion of elec­tronic and ethno sounds, played us­ing tra­di­tional Ukrainian in­stru­ments.

The band’s lineup in­cludes four mem­bers, who play key­board, per­cus­sion, trom­bone, French horn and the banudura, a Ukrainian folk in­stru­ment. Zhyzhchenko sings in English and Ukrainian. She is also writes the band’s mu­sic and lyrics.

Their de­but al­bum, “Onuka,” was the best-sell­ing record in Ukrainian iTunes in Oc­to­ber and is also be­ing sold in the U.S. and Ja­pan.

For­eign fans don’t sur­prise her as much as Ukrainian ones. She says she didn’t ex­pect Ukraini­ans to value her work so highly. “It seems to me that some­one took me for some­one else and all this is hap­pen­ing with an­other girl, named Onuka, and I just play her role some­times,” Zhyzhchenko says.

Although Onuka de­buted in 2013, Zhyzhchenko’s mu­si­cal ca­reer started long ago. Born in Kyiv, she of­ten vis­ited her grand­fa­ther, who made and re­stored Ukrainian folk in­stru­ments in a vil­lage in Ch­erni­hiv Oblast.

Pay­ing trib­ute to her grand­fa­ther, Zhyzhchenko called her band Onuka, or “grand­daugh­ter” in Ukrainian. An­other rea­son to name the band Onuka was the word’s nice sound in many lan­guages: Ukrainian, Rus­sian, English, and Ja­panese.

In her teenage years, Zhyzhchenko played a sopilka, a Ukrainian folk flute pipe and sang in the youth folk en­sem­ble Svitanok (Dawn). At the age of 15, she de­cided to es­cape from tra­di­tions and be­came a DJ. She soon founded the Tomato Jaws band with her brother. The elec­tronic band lasted for 11 years, be­fore Zhyzhchenko mixed elec­tronic mu­sic with her folk mu­sic back­ground in Onuka.

“I wanted to launch a project that could com­bine ir­rec­on­cil­able things, to amaze peo­ple, and I suc­ceeded,” Zhyzhchenko says.

She gets her in­spi­ra­tion from an un­usual source.

“I’m in­ter­ested in three things in life: dogs, old black-and-white films, and ev­ery­thing about the Chornobyl catas­tro­phe,” Zhyzhchenko says.

The Chornobyl fas­ci­na­tion came from her fa­ther, who par­tic­i­pated in the cleanup of the 1986 nu­clear power plant dis­as­ter. Even her di­ploma project was ded­i­cated to the folk­lore of in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple from the ex­plo­sion.

Zhyzhchenko feels ex­tremely at­tached to Kyiv and has no plans to move.

“I’m cozy here, good and bad at the same time,” she says, adding that even if she has to move abroad once, she wants to come back to Ukraine when she’s old.

She can­celed planned shows in Rus­sia due to the Krem­lin’s war against Ukraine. She also has no plans to write songs in Rus­sian, de­spite the temp­ta­tions of the more fi­nan­cially lu­cra­tive Rus­sian mu­sic mar­ket.

At the same time she doesn’t watch much news. Go­ing to an in­ter­view with widely known TV pre­sen­ter Michael Shchur, whose real name is Ro­man Vin­toniv, she didn’t rec­og­nize him.

In April Onuka will tour sev­eral Ukrainian cities and later in the year she will per­form in Poland and the U.S.

Onuka’s front woman Nata Zhyzhchenko sits for an in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post on March 23 in a cafe in cen­tral Kyiv. Onuka was only founded just over a year ago, but has al­ready re­ceived crit­i­cal ac­claim in Ukraine and won over fans abroad. (Anas­ta­sia Vlasova)

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