‘I feel like we’re all Ukrainians now’: Minnesota musicians gather for Ukraine with a series of benefit concerts

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, people from all over the world have launched countless benefits, fundraisers and information campaigns. In music-loving Minnesota, the crisis is being met by musicians of every genre – from the Replacements / Golden Smog drummer Chris Mars’ paintings and T-shirts to Hibbing-based songwriter and author Paul Metsa’s Duluth Advantage and many others – and the case is getting underway this weekend and next week.

First out is Saturday “Collection for Ukraine” at the Ukrainian American Center in Minneapolis, where the serious festivities will feature music and local beers and food, including gig sponsor Kramarczuk Deli’s Ukrainian lads.

“In its raw form, we’re a party band,” said John Bryn of the Minneapolis-based Ukrainian village band, who perform on Saturday and whose concert program has increased significantly over the past two months. “Having fun playing music and dancing is a big part of Ukrainian culture. After being shocked by the invasion, we all could not even think clearly. We were just about to get out of the latest COVID outbreak and were looking forward to our rescheduled concerts when [the war broke out and] the whole mood of the band sank. There was a solemn feeling among us. I mean, how can we play party music when everyone’s family in Ukraine is being blown apart? We took a break from playing completely and concentrated our efforts on helping with logistics and benefits. “

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Now they are running again, like many others. Sunday at Christ Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, that is “A cabaret concert collection for Ukraine” with singer / pianist (and first-generation Ukrainian American) Natalia Peterson and pianist Jayson Engquist; also on April 24 it is “Benefit for Ukraine” at Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis with Jimmi & the Band of Souls.

Monday at the 331 Club in Minneapolis, that is “Duets for Ukraine” with Lev & Olga, Soul Trouvere and Natalie Nowytski and Scott Keever. The event is part of KFAI radio’s monthly magazine “Womenfolk Radio Presents” concert series whose host Ellen Stanley remarked: “I had wanted to celebrate and honor Ukraine in some way, as we have done in the radio program and knew I had to contact Natalie Nowytski – a longtime favorite on ‘Womenfolk’, one of the most talented singers in the city, and one of the most connected with our local Ukrainian community.I reached out to her to see if she would perform or do any kind of benefit and that is what she found on – the starting shot for a brand new series she’s making. “

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My parents are both Ukrainian refugees“said Nowytski, who launches her “Musicians for Ukraine” series this month. “Many of us here in society, on this side of the ocean, have just felt that no matter what we do, no matter how we help, we just do not do enough. I have certainly felt that, even though I have done what I can , and raised money and participated in rallies and supported in other ways. But my wheelhouse is in music and there were several opportunities that fell into my lap. When the invasion happened, several venues and presenters contacted me within a few weeks and said, ‘Hey, if there’s anything we can do, we just really want to help, let us know.’

“The whole idea of ​​the series is that it is intended for English-speaking audiences and not necessarily people connected with the Ukrainian society, but it is an opportunity for the Ukrainian diaspora and our allies. It is a chance for musicians and storytellers from the diaspora and our allies to bring some Ukrainian music and a kind of humanity to what’s going on right now.

Natalie Nowytski launches her


Natalie Nowytski launches her “Musicians For Ukraine” series on Monday at 331 Club.

“I am going to share some translated poems from poets in Ukraine at the moment and I want there to be so many different music genres attached to this. So I ask artists, whatever your style, whatever your genre is, to do your thing and make your set, but at least incorporate a few Ukrainian songs. They can be folk songs, they can be covers of rock melodies from Ukraine, it can be hip hop, it can be electronics, it can be classical, it can be a choir – everything written by a Ukrainian composer, whether they are still in Ukraine, or whether they are part of the diaspora. It’s just a very broad opportunity to reach out to people with a variety of Ukrainian music, and I want to share poetry from a radio station in Ukraine called Gala.

“They are a 100 percent Ukrainian station that focuses only on Ukrainian content. Since the invasion, all the things they have played have been a lot of these very morally-reinforcing kinds of lyrics and messages from the popular culture and songs that people wanted. know, but they specifically curate a playlist that is really meant to keep people’s moods up.

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“One of the segments they’ve made is that they’re inviting ordinary citizens to send a poem, a favorite, about what’s going through their heads during this war. And there’s obviously a lot of grief and hard stuff, but also an incredible spirit that happens there. So what I want with the series is to bring some of that content to the English-speaking audience. “

Wednesday it’s at the Granada Theater in Minneapolis Concert for Kyiv ” with The Good the Bad and the Funky, Drums of Navarone and Batucada Do Norte. That night at the Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis, it’s “Ukrainian Village Band Benefit for Ukraine,” which also features violinist duo Soul Trouvere.

“Our group has been encouraged to play or asked to inform non-Ukrainians about our feelings and the state of affairs,” said Bryn, from the Ukrainian Village Band. “I used to get upset about having to answer the same questions or correct people who had opinions but absolutely no idea about the situation or anything that led to the war. Now it’s simply a matter of trying to be some kind of ambassador , try to put the puzzles together briefly.

“There have been so many people struggling to wrap their heads around this. As much as necessary cash will get into the hands of approved non-profit organizations, a day of bonding together can provide an oasis for people to shake an inexplicably ugly feeling. of themselves that this war has triggered, at least for a few hours.This applies not only to musicians, but the audience and all participants.Everyone needs to get rid of the bad feeling, and maybe a gathering of this kind is what will help emotionally for some. “

On May 6, Bryn and UVB take on the Dakota Jazz Club with Orchestra Bez Ime and SlovCzech “Musicians for Ukraine,” followed by the largest Minnesota-based Ukraine musical advantage to date – “Band aid to Ukraine” at the Minnesota Music Café in St. Paul on May 8th.

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“Like JFK once said, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’, I feel like we’re all Ukrainians now,” said Nate Dungan, who will be performing at MMC with her band Trailer Trash and who will be joining Ukraine . solidarity with people like Curtiss A, Davina (by Davina & the Vagabonds), Hypstrz and the Ukrainian village band. “This is an attack on all freedom-loving democratic people everywhere. Democracy is under attack all over the world. The global economy is tied to geopolitics and social movements, and personally I feel we have a debt to repay to [Ukraine president Volodymyr] Zelenskyy after the way our last president moved around on him. And if we do not intervene, Vlad the Invader will go after Poland and the Baltic states. We need to understand that the world is changing fast. We need to stand together and start pulling for the Ukrainians with everything we have. ”

“Many musicians I’ve talked to who are willing to play this benefit have the same understanding because they’ve been through similar [hard] times, ”Bryn said. “People right now do not know how to react to such barbarism in this time. Maybe it’s because the arbitrary bombing and destruction, torture, rape and sadistic treatment are so heinous that there are no words to express that horror, that is going on.

“When the Ukraine Village Band played our first advantage, I rolled my eyes. It had not happened since the first news of the attacks. There was no reason. It simply happened. I joined [with the music and its history] and can relate now. In the last few weeks, I have for the first time referred to myself as a musician. I now know what that feeling is to be one.

I was born in the United States during the Cold War. Ukrainian is my native language. Like most first-generation Americans, I did not speak English until I went to kindergarten. When I was growing up, I was taught to be proud of my Ukrainian heritage, but at the same time I was called ‘Russkie’, ‘Commie’, ‘Red’ and other similar delicacies.

“I have visited what is left of my famous family in Ukraine many times. I developed a bond with them and still have almost daily contact. They need it. Our family here needs it. You can feel their stiffness in the conversation. Ukrainians are strong-willed and simply want their own autonomy. The West does not understand them. I do not quite either, as I did not grow up in Soviet society, but I feel the connection. It’s a little inexplicable. I mean, I’ve stayed in the nicest hotels and resorts, but there’s something about pumping water from a well, hanging clothes to dry in the wind, digging up soil to plant vegetables, preserving those vegetables for the winter in the outside underground cellar. , to use an outbuilding without running water and take a shower in water from a tub filled with rainwater, which brings me to Ukraine and its culture. “

“I think music is the big connection, honestly,” Nowytski said. “Just the right melody or harmonic structure can just pull at your heartstrings and you can not put your finger on why, but it is something that moves you on a truly human level. I’m best known for Eastern European village music, most of the things I do are not in English, and many of the performances I’ve done are with these really striking traditional vocal styles, and I’ve got people to me and say : ‘I have no idea what you said in that song. But I felt a connection to my ancestors. I felt a connection to the earth. I felt something deep in my soul that I do not understand, but you brought it forth in that music in you. ‘ So it really has this amazing, almost subliminal, very basic aspect to it that just I think it has the potential to bring humanity forward in us and get our own humanity touched, whether or not we acknowledge that it is, it happens.”

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