Meet Ukraine’s new star rap­per, Aly­ona Aly­ona

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle - BY TOMA I STOMINA [email protected]

It took Aly­ona Savra­nenko, known by her stage name Aly­ona Aly­ona, half a year to go from work­ing at a nurs­ery school to be­ing un­of­fi­cially ti­tled Ukraine’s best rap­per.

The 27-year-old up-and-com­ing star caught the rap bug as a teenager and has been writ­ing songs ever since. But it was her mu­sic video “Ry­bky” (“Fish”), re­leased in Oc­to­ber 2018, that made Aly­ona Aly­ona fa­mous. That video went vi­ral and the song made it onto her first al­bum, which was re­leased on April 8.

The long play, called “Pushka” (“Gun”), is al­ready be­ing praised by Ukraine’s mu­sic-fo­cused me­dia.

“I haven't been heard,” the rap­per told the Kyiv Post. “I wanted to say ‘Guys, look, despite my dis­ad­van­tage, my fig­ure, which you don’t like, see what you can love me for,” the rap­per says, de­scrib­ing her al­bum.

The artist’s sched­ule is now packed with in­ter­views and she is about to start her first tour, but there’s hardly an ounce of ego in the teacher-turned-rap­per. She re­mains true to her roots and is keep­ing it real.

First rap song

Aly­ona Aly­ona has lived most of her life in small towns. Un­like many oth­ers in­volved in the mu­sic in­dus­try, she didn’t seek fame in the cap­i­tal. In­stead, she moved to Kyiv only af­ter pub­lic ac­claim be­came a part of her life.

The rap­per comes from Kap­i­tanivka, a small town of about 2,000 peo­ple lo­cated in Kirovohrad Oblast, some 200 kilo­me­ters south of Kyiv. She refers to her child­hood a lot in her new al­bum.

“We all choose the way for­ward, but we shouldn’t for­get our roots,” she says.

As a kid, she some­times stayed alone at home, as her par­ents couldn’t skip work and the lo­cal nurs­ery school worked ir­reg­u­larly. But the rap­per wasn’t bored, as she had mu­sic to babysit her.

“It was just me and a record player. I threw mu­sic shows,” Aly­ona Aly­ona rem­i­nisces.

She lis­tened to Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Chris Rea, and Scor­pi­ons but none of their songs ex­cited her quite as much as hip hop cul­ture. The first rap song Aly­ona Aly­ona heard was a huge 1990s hit: “Gangsta's Par­adise” by U.S. artist Coo­lio.

She says she can still re­count the plot of “Gangsta’s Par­adise” in de­tail. “I loved it so much,” she says. When Aly­ona Aly­ona was still in her pre-teen years, her fam­ily moved to Novomyrhor­od, a slightly larger town in the same oblast. There, she teamed up with other cre­ative peo­ple in her mid­dle school, oc­ca­sion­ally per­formed com­edy and pop songs and even tried out her first rap lines at the age of 12.

Her first rap song was about the pain ev­ery teenager faces: school teach­ers forc­ing chil­dren to study, while they want to have fun.

For the per­for­mance, Aly­ona Aly­ona asked her mom to get her an over­sized track suit, which was the to­tal op­po­site to the tight-fit­ting cloth­ing her peers fa­vored at the time.

“I came on stage in this suit like a real rap­per,” Aly­ona Aly­ona recalls with a laugh.

The artist’s first per­for­mance was far from flaw­less: She tripped over words and there was no beat, so the au­di­ence thought it was more

of a poem. She then came to the re­al­iza­tion that rap­ping was scarier than any­thing she had done on stage be­fore.

“It’s like get­ting naked in pub­lic,” she says.

But she kept tak­ing the chal­lenge.

10 years on

Af­ter the rap­per’s fam­ily moved again, this time to the small town Baryshivka in Kyiv Oblast, a whole new world opened up for Aly­ona Aly­ona: the cap­i­tal’s black mar­kets, packed with mu­sic CDs. She skipped snacks in or­der to save up money and get a new CD. She says she lis­tened to ev­ery­thing that fell into her hands and that’s how she got ac­quainted with rap­pers from all over the world.

“I ad­mired mu­sic and I soaked it up like a sponge,” she says.

She learned Eminem’s songs by heart, had a blog about fe­male rap­pers, hung out with the lo­cal hip hop com­mu­nity and con­tin­ued writ­ing mu­sic. Aly­ona Aly­ona em­braced this pas­sion as a hobby and never thought of re­ceiv­ing mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion.

“Some­one knits socks, paints, em­broi­ders, and I rap.”

She stud­ied psy­chol­ogy and ped­a­gogy, held nu­mer­ous jobs and ended up work­ing as a nurs­ery school teacher in Baryshivka.

But mu­sic al­ways had a place in the rap­per’s heart.

She re­leased her first track 10 years ago, but it didn’t make it be­yond the lo­cal hip hop com­mu­nity. She later pub­lished more songs on so­cial me­dia but never reached out to any la­bels, as she didn’t want to im­pose her­self on oth­ers.

“I’m a mod­est per­son,” the rap­per says.

But af­ter years of play­ing with rhymes, Aly­ona Aly­ona de­cided to give it another try.

“Ten years in the game — it’s a sin to keep quiet,” she says in one of her songs.

New wave

The re­lease of the mu­sic video for “Ry­bky” in Oc­to­ber 2018 was a long-an­tic­i­pated turn in Aly­ona Aly­ona’s ca­reer. Sev­eral fac­tors helped her conquer the lo­cal mu­sic scene: there are few good rap­pers in Ukraine, fewer of them rap in Ukrainian and even fewer are fe­male. And the artist’s full-fig­ured ap­pear­ance likely made her more in­trigu­ing in Ukraine, where model-look­ing singers still dom­i­nate the mu­sic in­dus­try.

But, more than that, it was Ay­ona Aly­ona’s con­fi­dence and flow that made her song go vi­ral, which she didn't expect.

“I was shocked,” she says. Catch­ing the pop­u­lar­ity wave, the rap­per wrote and dropped new mu­sic, care­fully test­ing the wa­ters. As her songs at­tracted more and more at­ten­tion, Aly­ona Aly­ona made a de­ci­sion to quit her job, move to Kyiv and fo­cus on her al­bum. She also re­leased a deeply sym­bolic hit, “Leav­ing My Home.”

The al­bum “Pushka” came out as the rap­per’s in­tro­duc­tion, ex­press­ing her per­sonal story. She says she chose to rap about her own life be­cause she “wanted to be heard.”

In its main song — also called “Pushka” — the mu­si­cian says that she is no trendy rap­per with a face tat­too. In­stead, she calls her­self “chubby,” but also “an un­read book.”

Although she raps about her­self, Aly­ona Aly­ona's songs are hardly ego­tis­ti­cal. In fact, there is a lot of self-di­rected irony in her lyrics — a rar­ity in a genre known for its boast­ful pre­sen­ta­tion. “Big and funny,” she de­scribes her­self in a song of the same name.

“I’m all for nat­u­ral­ness,” she says. “Laugh­ing at myself another time - well, it's a buzz.”

As for dol­lar bills, gold chains, and fancy cars, the rap­per says they can only ap­pear in her videos to poke fun at main­stream hip-hop cul­ture.

Stay­ing real

In recog­ni­tion of Aly­ona Aly­ona’s break­through, the lo­cal Yuna mu­sic awards nom­i­nated her sin­gle “Ry­bky” for the best hip hop hit of 2018. The awards, which took place on March 22, are a fancy event with a red car­pet and guests dressed to the nines.

“I walked the car­pet — red or blue, it doesn’t mat­ter,” the rap­per says. “All this cock­tail buzz is not re­ally my thing.”

How­ever, she says she was hum­bled by the nomination and the in­vi­ta­tion to per­form.

Although another artist, Alina Pash, took the award, Aly­ona Aly­ona per­formed at the cer­e­mony. It was her first per­for­mance for such a large au­di­ence. And suc­cess­ful mu­si­cians were danc­ing and rap­ping along from their seats in the au­di­ence.

“That’s so cool that it grooves them,” she says.

She will start her first al­bum tour in May, per­form­ing mostly in Ukraine, but also in Germany, Ice­land, Slo­vakia, Poland, and Be­larus.

As we talk on one of Kyiv’s cen­tral streets, a cou­ple of peo­ple rec­og­nize Aly­ona Aly­ona and stop to thank her for her mu­sic.

“It hap­pens reg­u­larly but not often,” she says. “It’s just that kind of a street. If we head to Obolon (a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood in north­ern Kyiv), no­body will rec­og­nize me.”

But heads keep turn­ing and passers-by con­tinue to spot Ukraine’s newest and most mod­est rap­per.

Ukrainian emerg­ing rap­per Aly­ona Aly­ona poses for a photograph dur­ing the in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post on April 10, 2019, in Kyiv. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Ukrainian up-and-com­ing rap­per Aly­ona Aly­ona per­forms dur­ing the Yuna mu­sic awards in Ukraine Palace in Kyiv on March 22, 2019. The artist’s break­through hit “Ry­bky” was nom­i­nated for best hip hop song. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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