Supporting talented Ukrainian musicians: interview with Sylvia Harrison, Roundhouse International Projects Manager

July 19, 2015 • Articles • Views: 1485

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In July 2015, 30 selected young musicians (16-23yrs) from across Ukraine, gathered in the southern city of Kryviy Rih. They took part in the first Ukrainian music camp of this kind, produced by Roundhouse (London) and Ukrainian non-profit organisation ‘Shelter+‘ (Kryviy Rih).  Three UK and three Ukrainian professional musicians worked with the group to create a body of original music that was recorded in Shelter+ state of the art studio, and performed across the city in a central park, an orphanage, a hospital and an army training camp.    

In November 2015, six selected young musicians will be invited back to London to take part in Roundhouse’s On Mass with jazz star Jamie Cullum, along with young musicians from Nigeria, South Africa and across the UK.

This project was funded via the Tandem Cultural Managers Programme and the British Council.

Sylvia Harrison is telling her story of working with Ukrainian musicians.

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How did you get into TANDEM project and choose your partner Shelter+? What was your interest?

I had heard great things about the TANDEM programme, and was keen to use the opportunity to make connections with Ukraine, a country that is in the midst of change. My job is about creating exciting new collaborative opportunities for young artists across the world via Roundhouses Call to Create network and it felt that this programme could open up some unique opportunities.

I know you are just back from Ukraine (was it your second time in the country)? Can you tell me what was happening? At what stage of the project are you now?

I have been to Ukraine four times now (Lviv, Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and Kryviy Rih) meeting with young musicians, visiting music schools and learning about what is happening in Ukraine in terms of music and youth creativity. This has been an incredible journey for me, and I have found that although the country is going through a very challenging period politically, economically and socially, there is a unique energy coming from people who want to build their country and create positive change. A lot of this energy is being driven by young people and a lot of being communicated through artistic expression.

Sasha, Shelter+ Project Manager and I decided that creating a week long music camp open to young people across the country would be a great opportunity to connect young musicians and invigorate thinking around how music and community support each other and how music can be used for positive change. We invited professional musicians from the UK and Ukraine who have experience within the industry, are inspirational players, and passionate about using music and art for social development.

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From the UK we invited Kareem Dayes and Wayne Francis from the band United Vibrations and Oliver Kluczewski who is a festival producer and a music therapist. We also invited a young bass player from Roundhouse  Music Collective, Alley Lloyd (20yrs). From Ukraine we invited jazz pianist Fima Chupakhin, Andrew Kovaliov, drummer of Kiev based band Brunettes Shoots Blondes and their lead singer Roma Sobol.

‘What an incredible week in Ukraine! Such amazing and talented people. I feel really inspired by the kindness and dedication of all involved. Thank you for the experience’ Kareem Dayes

Can you share some life stories of the musicians who were part of the project?

Nazar, 20, comes from a big Roma family in Kriyviy Rih and his father has had big problems with drugs and the law. Whilst in prison his father turned a corner and now runs a centre for Roma youth in the community and Nazar helps his father with the runnings. Before the project Nazar knew and sang only Roma songs. He doesn’t have any musical education, and as he told us, the project opened for him a new world of music, introducing to completely new styles and genres.

Julia, 19, studies to be a journalist.  Almost one year ago she had to move from her home city Lugansk because of hostilities that started there. She has always been very patriotic and when all these awful events started, she and her band wrote a song “Ukraine is above all”, with the lyrics  about the unified Ukraine and Lugansk being part of Ukraine and not Russia. After this song became popular during the meetings in their city, armed separatists came to one of the band members’ home and threatened him because they played this song. So, this involuntary resettlement has been a very difficult part of her life. Now she found a new band in Kyiv and is very aware of doing quality music that contributes to building a cultured society.

‘We won’t stay the same after this project’ Yakov, Trumpet Player (23yrs)

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How did you select those Ukrainian musicians who will travel to London later this year?

We have selected six musicians who will travel to London in November. But we can’t share yet the names. Let this be a surprise for the audience and the musicians themselves.

What will the London programme be like for these young Ukrainian talents?

As part of their week-long stay in London, the Ukrainian musicians will be introduced to the London music scene by attending performances, collaborating with a mix of musicians, performing in a variety of settings. We will also make sure there is time for sightseeing, roast dinners and a swim in Hampstead ponds.

What will happen after the TANDEM project is over?

Roundhouse and Shelter+ are planning to run the camp again next year and will start fundraising from new sources in 2016. Meanwhile, TANDEM Ukraine will run again, but in a different format.

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What do you think is the most important influence of the TANDEM project? Do you think there should be more projects like this one? 

I think connection between Ukraine and the rest of Europe is incredibly important for the country’s development. My experiences in the country and within this project have showed me that there is a huge desire to travel, connect, share and collaborate with people from different countries and I am passionate about supporting the creation of these opportunities. There is minimal resource in the country to make these opportunities happen independently so making connections to places where there is more resource is vital.  On a personal level, I have found it very rewarding connecting with these kind, open, engaged and inspired artists, who are passionate about their country and what their country can become.

We will keep you posted on developments of this project. Once we know the dates of London gigs of Ukrainian musicians, we’ll post it on our website and calendar. 

Interviewed by Anna Morgan

Photos provided by Sylvia Harrison

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