This project may rightly be called the most ambitious bicycle-born ethnographic expedition ever seen. It was carried out under the auspices of the Association of Ukrainian Philanthropists All-Ukrainian Charity. The “Two-wheeled Chronicles,” active since 2010, aim to study, collect and reproduce rare and little-known folk songs, as well as to promote bicycle touring in this country. The country that the project’s participants call the Treasure Country is the land on both sides of the Dnipro, which is inhabited by people who are rich in cultural heritage and beautiful songs. Three bicycle-born musicians, members of the ethnic music band Folknery, went in search of folklore throughout the nation, aiming to find among these songs the rarest gems of folk music that are remembered by very few and long forgotten by everybody else.
“I have been travelling with Ira Havrylets for quite some time, mostly on bicycles,” Volodymyr Muliar says. “But at some point, we started to think that travelling just for the sake of recreation and contemplation of landscape was not enough. So we decided to do it with some purpose, that is, to study, explore, achieve something... And since we are musicians, we resolved to combine our two favorites – cycling and music.” Apropos, the band’s first expedition was called “The Marble Ring.” Folknery then, a year ago, went on 3,300 kilometer-long bicycle tour from Ukraine via Romania and Bulgaria to Turkey. The expedition resulted in the film Two-wheeled Chronicles: The Marble Ring that was presented in many cities of Ukraine, with Folknery performing at the presentations.
“Two-wheeled Chronicles: The Treasure Country” started in Uzhhorod this August and ended in Luhansk last week, with the three musicians from Kyiv, members of Folknery band, having covered 2,011 kilometers in 44 days. Muliar, Havrylets and Yulia Sovershennaia rode through 12 regions and a lot of villages, meeting authentic folk song tradition keepers. According to ukraine3000.org.ua, the musicians have collected more than 200 songs in total.
“On the one hand, we are pleased with the result of the expedition, having recorded about 40 hours of raw sound data, including a lot of really rare songs, but on the other hand, we are sad that the journey is over,” tells Muliar, the project’s organizer and participant. Havrylets echoes his thoughts: “We have worked successfully in the expedition, and collected a lot of songs from various regions. Truth be said, we were told sometimes: ‘Oh, had you come earlier, you would see and hear much more, because the people who knew ancient songs and customs have already died.’” According to Muliar, the band was lucky to meet many hospitable people during its wanderings who were ready to help when need arose, to feed travelers or invite the musicians to spend a night under their roof, “but we were pelted with empty beer cans, too, sometimes. Yes, we passed through our homeland and saw it when it is beautiful and inspiring, as well as in its moments of unhappiness and misery…”
“Our land is beautiful and its people are spiritually rich and sing beautiful songs,” says Havrylets, “and we saw this from inside, although my heart was breaking sometimes when we passed through villages that once teemed with life, but are slowly going extinct now, transforming into desolate zones that are populated only with the elderly who are at the end of their lives.”
Some amusing incidents happened to travelers, too. Sovershennaia tells: “We arrived at the village of Novoselytsia in the Transcarpathia and met the local master of wedding ceremonies, by the name of Volodymyr, at a store. Having learned about our expedition’s aims, he invited us to his home and summoned local choir members, mostly elderly women, there. They sang to us for a long time and taught us local dances. Then, according to their traditions, all had to drink some high alcoholic content beverages three times, in rotation, so as not to offend the master of the house. After the drinking session, this merry house became even merrier. You see, it was noon, 35 degrees Celsius and we still had 50 km to ride in that day!”
So, the first phase of the project, an ethnographic expedition, was successfully completed. Next phase will be processing of the collected data. Now the project’s participants are starting to work on a film about their journey. In addition to the motion picture, they, in cooperation with the rest of Folknery band, will prepare a new concert program, which will include the songs they have collected, and present this creative project in many cities of Ukraine.
The Day’s FACT FILE
Ethnic music band Folknery was founded in 2009 by Muliar and Havrylets. Today this team includes five musicians: Muliar (percussion instruments, hurdy gurdy and harmonica), Havrylets (singer, lyre), Sovershennaia (singer, drum), Roman Sharkevych (percussion), and Ostap Danyliv (accordion, keyboard instruments). Folknery are an itinerant band. The basic concept of their music is free treatment of authentic Ukrainian and foreign songs that gives these songs a new and original sound in order to prolong their life, or, so to speak, to reincarnate them. The band gives regular concerts and participated in many renowned festivals, such as ArtPole and the Trypillian Circle.