Mar 14, 2022 - News

Performance fate of Ukrainian band slated for SXSW in flux

The Ukrainian band Kazka in performance
The Ukrainian band Kazka performs during the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Ukrainian pop trio scheduled to perform at SXSW is missing two of its members — because they might be called to fight the invading Russian military.

The big picture: The performance fate of Kazka is tied to the conflict in Ukraine, one of the long ripple effects of the battle.

  • Only the band's female lead singer, Oleksandra Zaritska — known as Sasha — will make it to Austin, Axios has learned.
  • Kazka — Ukrainian for "fairytale" — is best known for the hit "Plakala," which was the first Ukrainian-language video to get over 200 million views on YouTube, according to Russian-language media reports.

Between the lines: Kazka had been finalizing plans for a big SXSW trip and American tour "while sheltering in a bunker," Agnes Sekowski, an assistant director of the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas, tells Axios.

  • But two of the performers, sopilka player Dmytro Mazuriak and multi-instrumentalist Mykyta Budash, were unable to leave the country because they are able-bodied men, said Sekowski, a member of an emergency reception group that is trying to make the situation as comfortable as possible for the singer.
  • Martial law bars most men aged 18 to 60 from leaving Ukraine.
  • Zaritska, who fled to Poland, had been on the fence about whether to perform, said Sekowski.
  • "How devastating to be the only one on stage while your bandmates are being bombed," she said

What they're saying: "Of course, we would like to represent our Ukrainian music there," Andriy Urenov, the band's producer, told Billboard last month, as conflict broke out. "Lizzo is the favorite of our singers, and we wanted to contact her for the concert and invite her personally for the gig. We had plans for an American tour, and now it's absolutely unclear whether this can be possible."

  • "Ukrainian women have been crying for 17 days in a row," the band posted on Instagram over the weekend. "Quietly so that no one could hear, hiding somewhere in the bathroom, behind closed doors. Because when you cry, it doesn't hurt so much."
  • "But Ukrainian women are indescribably strong. Yes, they are crying. But they are unbreakable. They sweep away shards of glass in their ruined homes and sing. They fight and hold weapons, volunteer, bandage wounds, wait for their husbands, and tell their children bedtime stories about the ‘Ghost of Kiev.’ And they believe: this spring will be yellow-blue and beautiful!" says the post.
  • The Instagram post concludes that popularity of Plakala is "proof that Ukrainian song is alive outside of space and time!"

Of note: Last month as the trio rehearsed, the members contemplated playing Dylan's "Masters of War" in Austin.

  • Now a ticket is waiting for Zaritska to Dylan's concert at the Bass Concert Hall this week.

What's next: A fast-developing showcase being put together for later this week might feature not only Zaritska, but also a Ukrainian folk act from Canada, a San Antonio-based Ukrainian opera singer and members of the band Pussy Riot, the Russian anti-authoritarian punk group, according to Michelle Daniel, an Austin musician involved in the preparations.

  • Zaritska is "angry and ready to speak,” Dean said. “She’s eager to come to Austin to represent the country on the international stage.”

The bottom line: The situation remains in flux — and at least two other Ukrainian acts appear to have had to cancel their shows.

  • "Really trying to make it all happen," Glen Dolfi, who had helped organize the visit of the Ukrainian musicians, told Axios.
  • Among other challenges: Zaritska may need backup musicians.
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