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Cossack songs of Dnipropetrovsk region

Cossack songs of Dnipropetrovsk region

Cossack songs of the Nyzhnie Podniprovia

The Ukrainian special social phenomenon of Cossacks was formed on the territory of modern Central and Southern Ukraine at the turn of the XV-XVI century. 

Italian map of "European Tataria" of 1684

Semi-military settlements of Cossacks appeared on the border of the Velykyi Step and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. At that time there the settlement of modern Dnipropetrovsk region took place, and this area can be called the Cossack region. On the territory of Dnipropetrovsk region were located five units of Zaporizhzhya Sich.

A new genre cycle in lyrics, epic and drama began to be formed in the Cossack environment. At that time the tradition of performing Dumas appeared, as well as the institute of kobzars, the tradition of male polyphonic singing was developed. After the decline of the Cossacks as an influential social layer on the territory of the Podniprovia artistic forms that were adherent to Cossack songs were inherited by the descendants of the Cossacks.

Gradually men's manner of performance of Cossack heroic songs was taken over by women. Band male performance of Cossack songs is considered a relic phenomenon and was last recorded by researchers in the region in the early 2000s.

The song "Oh, where the way-road leads", the village of Pidhorodne of the Dnipropetrovsk region

In the Dnipropetrovsk region in oral traditions up to our times different variants of the Cossack songs are preserved. According to subject matter and style of performance they are divided into several conditional groups. In particular, Cossack songs are those songs in which the historical background of the Cossack era is covered, Cossack campaigns and battles are described, as well as the destruction of Ukraine by enemies (for example, “Oh guk, mother, guk”. There are songs in which the life of individual personalities and generals is poeticized (about the Cossack Nechai "Oh, from behind the mountain and from behind the estuary", "Song about Morozenko").

Performance at the Festival “Zhnyva”, 2014

The largest group of Cossack songs depicts Cossack life. They tell about the various details of the life of a warrior, provide reflections on the fate and difficult life choices, glorified Cossacks’ death. The Cossack's constant companion in songs is his faithful horse:

I will saddle up my horse, my night-crow horse,
Let it bring me, a young one, to the open field.
In the open field, the sawdust is rustling, spurdog is green,
In the open field I have my own will, and my heart goes numb.

There are also Cossack lyrical songs that speak about love between a Cossack and a girl ("From behind  the mountains, from behind  the mountains") and of the Cossack ballads ("A Cossack was coming from Don").

"From behind the mountains, from behind the mountains the Falcon flew", the village of Pidhorodne of the  Dnipropetrovsk region

Melodies of Cossack songs

Unknown artist, "Cossack Mamai", 1728

Cossack songs have slow melodies and extended performance. Often performers "pull" every musical phrase and even individual sounds, which makes the sound of Cossack songs especially melodic.

Traditionally, in  Cossack songs solo chants are performed in a high voice. The choral part of the song usually has a three-voice basis. They are performed, as a rule, without instrumental musical accompaniment by a group of performers ("together"), mainly by women or women and men together.

As a rule, Cossack songs have a large number of verses, making their performance  a real story - clear and detailed  in content. Often there are no choruses, which is generally a peculiarity of the  lyrical-epic style.

Researchers distinguish two performing styles of Cossack songs:

  • a song,
  • a recitation.

Now the first style is common and the second one almost entirely fell along with the tradition of solo performance works.

Research of original musical culture

The study of Cossack songs started in the region long ago. For the first time the complex of Cossack songs was published by Victor Kyrylenko, a researcher of folk art and bandura player, in the collection of songs «Oh guk, mother, guk» in 1997. Expeditions to the villages of the Dnipropetrovsk region to write down the folklore songs were carried out by the staff of the Dnipropetrovsk National University named after Oles Honchar and the laboratory of folklore and Ethnography of the Dnipropetrovsk Academy of Music named after  M. Hlinka, All-Ukrainian Association of young folklore researchers.

Continuity of traditions

Singing tradition of the Cossack region has come down to us in oral form. Transmission and memorization of texts and melodies of Cossack songs occurs, as a rule, during the performance of works.

The band "Krynitsa" from Pidhorodnie.
Researchers from Dnipropetrovsk National University record songs of the band "Krynitsa" from Pidhorodnie.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the performance of Cossack songs was recorded in many villages of the region. However, the elderly age of folklore performers and the lack of effective mechanisms of knowledge transfer between different generations caused the decline of the song tradition. However, researchers in 2014 recorded the performance of Cossack songs in the villages and towns of the Dnipropetrovsk region (Soloniansk, Pavlohrad, Nikopol, Shyrokiv, Mezhiv districts). Work on recording and research of Cossack folklore continued in the following years (2015-2017), which allowed to confirm the old and identify new centers of existence of Cossack songs.

Today performers of Cossack songs are, as a rule, folk groups, such as ensembles and bands "Krynytsia", "Pervotsvit", "Bohuslavochka" etc. In some villages, the carriers of the song tradition are individual performers or informal bands that gather from time to time on big holidays. In 2015, the element "Cossack songs of Dnipropetrovsk region" was included in the national list of elements of intangible cultural heritage, and in 2016 - in the UNESCO List of World Intangible Cultural Heritage.

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  1. Oh guk, mother, guk! Songs of Apolistivshchyna collected by bandura player  V. I. Kyrylenko. Dnipropetrovsk: publishing House "Educational book", 1997. 271 p.
  2. Ivanytskyi  I. Ukrainian musical folklore. Vinnytsia: New Book, 2004. 320 p.    
  3. Liubimova, A. Y. Cossack songs of Dnipropetrovsk region: experience, present and prospects // the cultural heritage of Ukraine: sustainable development and national security. Collection of scientific papers based on materials of International scientific-practical conference, April 20, 2017, Kyiv / Ukrainian center for cultural studies;  under the general editorship of O. A. Butsenko [et al.]; [Bosyk Z.. O.; responsible editor Teleuts V.V/]. K.: National Academy of culture and arts management personnel, 2017. T. I. p.44-49.

Certain photos on the page were taken from the Radio Liberty website. Copyright  2017 RFE / RL, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe / Radio Svoboda