Ukrainian singer-songwriter and organizer Margaryta “Margot” Kulichova candidly questions the relevance of music-making in this time, and explains what keeps her fight for peace going.
“I just want to remind myself and everybody around us to be strong and hopeful, and act. Because if we don't do it now, it might be too late and the price might be too high to pay.”
The second season of the OneBeat Podcast begins with the powerful voices of our OneBeat Fellows who have been affected by Russia’s war on Ukraine, with the first being singer-songwriter and music organizer, Margaryta “Margot” Kulichova, who also releases under the experimental pop moniker ‘Grisly Faye’. Across two emotionally charged interviews taken six months apart (with the first taking place closer to the start of the war this February), the Lisbon-based Ukrainian shares the effect of the war as it unfolds on her family and friends back home; the ways that she as a musician is having to cope with the situation; and her dedication to assisting both incoming refugees and Ukrainians on the ground. Margot candidly questions the relevance of music-making in this time, and explains what keeps her fight for peace going.
In addition to sharing her experience, Margot has also recommended links and resources for ways listeners can support people in Ukraine, and refugees around the world:
Listen to our Youtube playlist of music by Grisly Faye in the episode and beyond, here!
Produced and Edited by Jeremy Thal
Production Assistant: Nyokabi Kariuki
Mixed by Jeremy Thal
Executive Producers: Jeremy Thal, Elena Moon Park, and Kyla-Rose Smith
Featuring: Margaryta Kulichova
List of music in this episode:
Zyma, by Grisly Faye + Pepe Gavilondo (OneBeat 2018 Mixtape)
Patacoreo, by Kike Bejerano (OneBeat Colombia Mixtape)
Snow (Onebeat Balkans Mixtape)
Антрацит. Мюзикл про шахтарів (онлайн)
Слухай ніжно (by Monotonne, feat.Grisly Faye)
A Song Of Nature (Official Soundtrack) by Margaryta Kulichova
Khvylyam, by Grisly Faye
OneBeat is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, & produced by Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation.
Music Interlude: Zyma, by Grisly Faye + Pepe Gavilondo (OneBeat 2018 Mixtape)
Margot: You know, I wish I could sense that there's a hope that somebody on that side of the border…that's, you know, that there is a tiny little string between us, but I can't sense this string. That's the problem.
Music Interlude: Patacoreo, by Kike Bejerano (OneBeat Colombia Mixtape)
Kyla-Rose Smith: Hello and welcome to Season 2 of the OneBeat Podcast. I am Kyla-Rose Smith. For those of you who have not yet been introduced to our program – OneBeat is a collaborative music residency that brings together socially engaged musicians from around the world to co-create new music, and redefine how music can positively impact society.
Elena Moon Park: Thank you, Kyla. And I am Elena Moon Park, your co-host and one of the directors of OneBeat. This year marks the 10th anniversary of OneBeat programs, and we are celebrating this wonderful achievement with an anniversary edition of our U.S.-based residency and tour, featuring a cohort of OneBeat alumni and a series of commemorative events.
To date we've had more than 400 OneBeat alumni from over 50 countries around the globe. Every single one of these artists has a different approach to music-making and social practice – different ways of creating music, different ways of working with their communities, and different ways of making the world a funkier, and more harmonious place.
Kyla-Rose Smith: This podcast tells the stories of the OneBeat community, as well as the stories of the places they come from. In season two, we’ll dive into stories about music amidst war in Ukraine; the art of noise music in China, the rich, vibrant musical scenes of Kenya, and how one American alumna is striving to make the experience of music, both as performers and audience, more accessible to people of all abilities around the world.
Music Interlude: Snow (Onebeat Balkans Mixtape)
Elena Moon Park: This first episode features two interviews with OneBeat 2018 alumna Margaryta also known as “Margot”, Kulichova, in conversation with OneBeat co-founder Jeremy Thal. Margot, who goes by the artist name “Grisly Faye,” is a composer, vocalist, sound engineer, producer, and activist from Kiev, Ukraine.
For her entire adult life she has been active in politics. She was deeply involved in the 2014 Euro-Maidan Revolution, also known as the Revolution of Dignity. With millions of other Ukranians, Margot protested against a corrupt Moscow-leaning government, and narrowly avoided a brutal government crackdown.
Kyla-Rose Smith: Margot currently lives in Lisbon, where she is getting a PhD from Lusofona University. Her dissertation explores how music functions in what she calls “Restrictive Environments.” This draws on her childhood growing up in a working-class suburb of Kiev in newly-independent post-Soviet Ukraine.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th of this year, Margot has been tirelessly working to help support Ukrainians back home and across Europe.
In these interviews, Margot talks about the ways in which her music has given hope to her friends fighting on the front lines, but also how it’s extremely difficult for her to make music now, amidst the terrors of war.
We hope you take time with this interview with Margot, a brave and deeply thoughtful musician who is endlessly dedicated to her people.
Music fades out
Margot: My name is Margarita Kulichova. I am from Kyiv, Ukraine, and I'm currently based in Lisbon.
I just need to warn you, there might be a lot of tears. I'm trying to hold it back, but like, it's hard these days.
So I was born in Kyiv in Ukraine and I grew up on this, you know, like least popular bank of the river Dnipro, which goes in the center of the Kyiv. And the area that I'm from is the area between the trash-burning factory and water-cleaning factory. And my mom was a nurse and my dad was an army guy, so I had like very typical post-Soviet childhood.
And, in order for me to get, to be safe and grow up in a decent human being, my parents decided to put me in a choir when I was four years old. And this is where my music journey started.
That's why many, many, many years later, I was really surprised when my parents don't understand what I'm doing, because they didn't know what music is like, you know, why don't I do economy or law or something else? Like, they put me in a choir when I was four. So basically this, they knew the answer back then.
Jeremy: So is there any music that you learned directly from your family?
Margot: My grandma, she knew a lot of Ukrainian folklore. So, my family is entirely Russian speaking and my grandma knew many, many, many, many Ukrainian songs, so she used to make us sing all the songs when we would work in the summer house in the garden or something.
Jeremy: Did you ever learn any of the songs that your grandma would sing in the garden?
Margot: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah — I knew all of them, I still know all of them. They're all very funny because there are, some of them are like, quite romantic, like from her childhood, and some of them are about cooking. Most of them are about cooking and that, and I think her favorite song was about dumplings. It was like [singing], “oh my lover wants some dumplings.” And she would sing it all the time and make me and my cousin sing it with her. So that was very, very cute. And everybody in our street in the summer house knew that when we're singing means we are working.
Jeremy: Could you sing us that dumplings song?
Margot: Um, I think it goes like this. [Sings]... So yeah, we had to sing it in roles. There was like a male and female part and everybody had to like, you know, it was the whole small theater there.
Jeremy: So it made making dumplings as a fun activity, or even more fun…
Margot: I mean, it was fun the first 20 times. And you can imagine that the older we became, the more we were like, okay, another time, I'll sing this song, ok, ok…
Margot: But then somehow many years later that fun got back to us, especially when we stopped going to summer house. And we were like all the time in the city and my grandma would sometimes ask me and my cousin to sing for her, and then she was a big fan of gypsy kind of dance moves. She has some costumes and she would put them on and she would start dancing and singing. So some like, weird memory of my childhood that reappears.
Jeremy: And what was the neighborhood like, that you grew up in?
Margot: My neighborhood wasn't anything good. Like, it has a very high crime rate…
I was not allowed to walk to the choir myself. This is how dangerous it was.
Um, but when I was about eight years old, my parents send me to this NGO, and they were making camps for kids. And, uh, the first one I went was somewhere by the sea and I went there and I got so surprised because all of a sudden everybody's singing.
Every Sunday, I think, yeah, every Sunday, this NGO would collect the kids of like my age. And we will like go to the museum, go to different churches, go to mosque, go to sightseeing, go to libraries.
And they would tell us these fascinating stories. And then they will go singing, of course. And then we would make dumplings together and have some like, festivities. So they were taking good, very, very good care of us. And I'm still in touch with many people from that organization.
And now, currently I'm doing my PhD, I'm looking a lot into how these NGOs and how different organizations are helping communities in restrictive environment to take care of the youth and offer some different possibilities around.
Jeremy: Were there any challenges that came up for you given that Russian was the language spoken at home?
Margot: Mm, the thing is that I'm from the Russian-speaking family, but I switched to Ukrainian when I was eight.
So I was going to the kindergarten, which was already a Ukrainian-speaking kindergarten. And, uh, when I went to school, it was again, Ukrainian school. So I would speak with my parents Russian, but then everywhere else I would speak Ukrainian. And at first my parents were extremely against it. Like they couldn't understand what is going on.
And they were like, they thought that I'm a rebellious kid. Um, and then when I was a part of that NGO I started learning more and more and more about Ukrainian culture and history and where I'm from and the history of my family, because my family is Ukrainian. Um, for as long as my grand, great-parents can remember.
So like my, um, connection with like Russian culture was very small, I would say since I was a kid and as I was growing older, I was just feeling that the ideas that, you know, this ‘Great Russian dream’ is advertising are very different from the ideas of ‘great Ukrainian dream’ that is being advertised where I am.
Jeremy: So what’s the difference between the ‘Great Ukrainian’ and ‘Great Russian’ dreams?
Margot: For me as a kid, ‘Russian big dream’ was located in Moscow and it was a kind of lifestyle, a kind of presence, and, uh, everything it's like very polished, very one way, very ‘Moscow way’ and if you want to be slightly alternative, a bit of ‘Saint Petersburg way’. And, but also, anything I could judge from the TV, you know, they were always sitting there and like, in some of these contests and shows, and also celebrating second World War, that was something very odd to me.
‘Ukrainian big dream’ was somehow very diverse. It was like, you can be whoever you want and, like, people will be fine with it. They might not understand it, but it's also fine. It was somehow diverse, more accepting, more forgiving, very friendly. It's just my, my, the perceiving of my ideal childhood, you know, it's like, you know, you want to sing? Go sing. You want to dance? Go dance. You want to be a scientist? Go ahead. Maybe you will die in poverty, but you can, you can do whatever you want…
So it's much more forgiving, I would say.
Jeremy: And so your parents grew up speaking Russian because in the Soviet Union, that was just standard.
Margot: Yes. They could learn Ukrainian at school, but it was somehow not cool. Cause my grandma, she speaks Ukrainian and she sings Ukrainian, but it was always advertised as like ‘villager’s language’ and something like not good and something, you know, people wouldn't treat you equal if you would speak Ukrainian, like in the times of my grandparents in times of my parents. So it wasn't something fashionable. It's something people would want to hide.
Since I was a kid, I was bullied many times for being Ukrainian. When I decided to switch to Ukrainian, because it felt more me, culturally and everything. Like I was bullied many times and like, you know, up to like street fights and in the school and everything. And there were so many people who are telling me, “oh there's no such language. Oh, there's no such culture…”
Music interlude: “Kotylase Yasna Zorka z Neba” [A Bright Star Was Rolling Down from the Sky]
Jeremy: So when was the moment that you got more serious about music?
Margot: I was, I was always around music. Um, I started a club when I was in Ukraine. I was, uh, I had a promo agency, I was helping with a musical, music journal. Uh, but then in 2014, right when, Russia annexed Crimea and started war, I was in Poland. And, uh, I got into car accident. So when I climbed out of that car in the middle of nowhere, in Poland, feeling everything I was feeling, like my body was completely messed up. My arm was like, crooked. And as they were driving me to the hospital and getting ready for the surgery, I realized that the only thing I regret right now, if I won't survive this night, is that I never recorded or wrote down anything, any of my music or any ideas that I had in my head.
Music Interlude: Zyma, by Grisly Faye + Pepe Gavilondo (OneBeat 2018 Mixtape)
And that same year I released the first album and I went on tour with my broken arm and like all of that, like, I didn't have hair on half of my head was shaved. And like, I was looking like a complete punk rock superstar, playing somewhere in villages in Czech Republic and Poland and Germany and Ukraine. And like, and my songs are really sad.
And like before I used to say, it's sad and sexy, but now I'm like: “No excuses. It is sad and I own it.”
Music continues, fades out
Jeremy: Can you talk a little bit about the 2014 revolution – also known as the Euro-Maidan Revolution. What happened, and what was your relationship to it?
Margot: I mean, it started in 2013 in this horrible cold winter.
What happened back then is, uh, that our president at the time was supposed to sign an association with European Union, and everybody was very hopeful about it.
And he went there to sign it. And then he got a phone call from Mr. President from the East and magically, he decided to not sign any agreement and came back home, so there were student protests that started. they were like a lot of singing and walking. It was like, you know, normal, peaceful protest. And then one night, uh, police came and it beat up the students. So next morning, I think it was 500,000 people went on the streets, and the more pressure government was putting, the more resistant it would get.
So, this protest started like, growing and growing and growing. And it was very, very cold and people were like, bringing some tires and burning tires in the streets. And like, the central square of the city became this kind of protest village. And the symbol of that village was this half-built Christmas tree with slogans on it, demanding our government explain what is happening and why all of a sudden we change everything.
At some point, It started becoming more and more scary. I remember we had a horrible police brutality. We had very little freedom of speech. Journalists were being kidnapped and they were like many, many horrible things that were happening.
Unfortunately, things that unites us are usually those horrible and aggressive things. Because whenever I would go to the main square to Maidan, I would never be hungry, or lonely. There were always people who would take care of you. And sometimes you go there just because you have some work to do, you need to give some papers to somebody and you need, there was a lot of translating work that I had to do.
And then when somebody catches you by the hand says, “did you eat soup today?” And I'm like, “sorry, I need to go” like, “no, you need to get our soup, in our tent, we have the best soup” and they will go and they'll make you eat the soup.
And there was a place where I used to do live streams for one little journal that was doing live streams from the main square…
Like, it felt like a surreal, very dark festival. People are hoping to celebrate something one day and they're very supportive and very, very loving, but at the same time, it's really scary and it's really dangerous. And at any time you need to be ready to go to the street and help somebody. There were no strangers in our country at that moment. Everybody belonged.
And, um, I, at that point I had to go for one semester studying in Poland. So I thought that I will go to Poland right now. Very fast – because our president at that point already left to Russia, we felt like we're winning something. Like finally we're getting what we want and the stupid government that it was so oppressing, is out.
And as soon as I went to Poland, a couple days later, on the place where I used to work, or I used to live stream every night, they started killing people. Government started shooting people, and it was my first understanding that if I didn't have to go to university right now, I probably wouldn't be alive at this point. And I was so far, and the further you are, the harder it is to process what is happening, the more panic and chaos.
Music Interlude: Zyma, by Grisly Faye + Pepe Gavilondo (OneBeat 2018 Mixtape)
So in this panic and chaos, then this car accident that happens in a couple of days. And then I want to come back home and visit my family, but I can't because I can't really move and I don't want to scare them. And then Crimea is annexed and then Russia invades the east of our country.
And it's like the whole world collapses. And like, you feel very powerless and then like don’t know what to do.
Music continues, fades out
Jeremy: And so at that point, after the accident and the revolution and the violence in Kyiv, what did you do next?
Margot: I was learning a lot from listening to my friends and seeing how they work, so my most productive technique was, uh, to become somebody’s so-called ‘elf’. Like, you know, ‘can I come to your studio, make you some coffee, tea, give you a company, help you with something, help you work?’ So I would be this kind of person. Um, and I kept producing and writing and touring.
And in four years I realized that I, I reached like a ceiling in Ukraine. Like, you know, I learned from everybody I wanted to learn. There's not much of a scene of the things that I like doing and things that I like doing, like, people don't really accept very well, like other than like, ‘why it's so sad?’ It wasn't just working there.
And at the same time, I started working with some film. And then there was like, okay. So if my music doesn't really work on stage, it kind of works in film very well. And I started searching for programs where I can learn and study.
And in 2018, I won a jackpot ‘cause I was accepted to two programs. I got to OneBeat and I got to my master's programs where I was doing sound design and composing for film. So went to OneBeat. I was, I got so charged and I went back to do my master's program and I was like, check, check, check, soundtrack for you and soundtrack for you. And now this for you.
Jeremy: Why do you think that OneBeat had the effect of charging you up like it did?
Margot: I think it was one of the first times in my life when I felt like I do fit somewhere, that I'm not an alien. I'm not strange. I'm not weird. I'm not alone. Like, you know, there are like-minded people around me and here they are.
So yeah I think yeah, it was my first feeling as an artist that I belong somewhere that I have like-minded people around me, which was super liberating, because all of a sudden I felt like I don't need to give excuses to anybody when I'm doing something.
And also, like, it's the community that is supporting me and that I'm supporting. It feels like anywhere I go in the world, I will not be alone because now it's like, kind of everywhere.
Jeremy: Can you talk about a project you’re particularly proud of that you’ve worked on since OneBeat?
Margot: Last year I managed to go back home for two months and premiered an amazing musical about coal miners.
The plot of the story is that there's the coal miner that starts traveling in time. So he gets to see different points of the Soviet Union and meet different people.
I also invited my mom on tour. She was my tour manager in Odessa. And at that point she told me, “okay, I understand now what is your job, And it's no good, no fun.”
Jeremy: So you tried to get her to be your elf?
Margot: Yeah. I mean, it was unfortunately our only chance to spend some time together. And then because then I was working in the musical premiere and it was an intense experience because there were many, many actors, huge crew.
And I remember one day before the premiere, I came back home and it was like 3:00 AM or something. And my mom met me in the kitchen. She's like, “how are you doing?” I'm like, “I really want it to be Sunday. I want this to end. I don't know if I can handle this.”
And I was sitting in the kitchen and crying and then my mom was like, “but it's fine. You're almost there. Tomorrow, I'll be on the premiere”. And she went on the premiere and it was so cute.
Jeremy: So that was the last time you spent with your, with your mom?
Margot: Yeah, and I had no chance to see my father because we were planning to meet every week…Something would come up, something would come up, something would come up. And then on the day when we scheduled, he got COVID.
And, I received a couple of message messages from the actors from the musical who are now defending Ukraine that at night, when they're just sitting and they need to stay awake, they keep singing the songs from the musical. And we have the same song that goes in our head because it's very like somehow very hopeful and it keeps us up.
Jeremy: Can you sing that song, or a few lines from that song?
Margot: It's like [sings]
Music Interlude: Антрацит. Мюзикл про шахтарів (онлайн)
Jeremy: And so fast-forwarding to this year, 2022 – when did you first hear that the war had begun?
Margot: The way this war started in my reality was super weird because I was working all day and then I had a film shoot in the north of the country. So we got in a car, we got there and it was like, I don't know, 1:00 AM or something, Portuguese time. I was sitting in the hotel and I couldn't fall asleep. And my friend messaged me saying, “Yo, you have this song called ‘Fight’? And I wrote the song when I was super, super young in one of the protests.
He's like, “I wish you could release it because it would like lift my spirit up.” And I didn't reply to my friend. And I was just like sitting there listening to the song. But at that point, there were already donation links for army, for humanitarian funds, because things were like tense, but not there yet. And I published those things and I went to bed.
And very, very soon my phone started vibrating and looked at his message and it said, “Well, that didn't age well.” [Woah]. And I'm like, what does that mean? And I opened my messenger and I see the message from the director of the musical that I just did in Ukraine saying the war has started. [Wow.]
And I was so I, I like, I couldn't understand what's going on, but I was screaming and crying so much that the receptionist came and I was trying to reach my parents and they wouldn't pick up. And like, you know, it was like this whole nightmare thing.
And even now every time I talk to my parents, because they are not leaving Kyiv, and every time they're like, we're going to defend our house, we're going to defend our home. And they're going through like a horrible, horrible, horrible time. And every night, the only thing I want is to talk to them, but I can't, so I just need to check if they're awake or if they're asleep and I'm seeing this, you know, like online status for how long they were sleeping.
And I'm like, okay, so my mom was sleeping this night, three times in 40-minute kind of slots. Well, that's better than yesterday. And obviously like, this is, like, I am afraid to fall asleep because it feels like every time I fall asleep, something bad will happen. And yeah. And every time, you know, every evening my friend says that I wish some good news will come up tomorrow.
And I'm like, I am losing hope, but I, I can't show this to my family and my friends. So like every time when I talk to them, I need to like toughen up and knowing that I need to be strong for them. And like, I don't know what will happen five minutes after we finish this call. And I don't know what is happening right now.
And today was a really horrible day. Like the amount of loss and ruin in my home is so huge that I feel like very soon I will have no home. Like everything is being so barbarically destroyed. And so many people are being so violently killed. And at some point I was talking to my dad saying that, like, they're sending new troops to Ukraine who are like, known for being extremely violent.
And my dad's told me that, “you know what, they are violent only when they feel that other people are afraid of them. But over here they will be surprised because we have no fear. We are ready to fight. That's why they are powerless here.” And when my dad said that, I'm like, okay, that kind of calms me down for 15 minutes.
Jeremy: What is life like at this point for your friends and family who are still in Ukraine?
Margot: Uh, first of all, I am extremely proud of all of my friends and family. And when I was asking my mom and my grandma to leave and to come here to Portugal maybe or something or somewhere else, my mom said, “I'm sorry, I can't leave because our cat is really fat.”
So that was the official reason why my parents are not leaving home. And, um, they are, uh, keeping their rituals. Um, so I had the birthday on the 1st of March and my aunt and uncle came to visit my mom and my grandma, and they had a dinner. At that point, I received the message saying that everybody in Kyiv should go to the shelters because there's another shelling, another bombing.
And I messaged my mom's saying, ‘could you guys please be safe? And maybe my aunt and uncle shouldn't leave right now’. Wait till this message is like, till the alert has gone on which my mom replied, “nobody's leaving, we just finished drinking wine. We didn't even start with our coffee.” So like this, the calmness of this woman.
And it's like, it's, it's crazy beautiful. So my mom and my grandma and the area where they are, it was a heavily bombed in the first days of war in Kyiv. Uh, but things got there fine and their house is fine. And like the whole neighborhood is more or less holding it well together.
And my grandma, she, she survived famine when she was a kid. So she knows how to cook crazy amount of dishes from almost nothing. So every day she's like telling me about her new recipes, it's more like with a light heart.
And, um, my father, he has two young kids of five year old. Uh, they had to stay in a shelter for almost a week. And they were in this area that was surrounded with Russian troops. And, as soon as they left that city, the airport of the city got bombed, which is like across the street from the place where they were staying.
So they were like, extremely lucky to navigate around all of that. He brought his family to the safe place, and now he's going back to Kyiv to join the territorial defense force.
And I didn't, I didn't get a chance to talk to him because he was driving most of the time and he's very busy. So I'm just like, ‘are you okay?’ He's like, “I'm okay. Going to sleep. Everything is going to be Ukraine.” I'm like, okay.
So like, they are definitely much stronger than I am. They have no fear and so I shouldn't be afraid either.
Jeremy: And how do you feel as a musician? How do you feel about your own music — is this, is there something you want to contribute? Um, or is this a time to stay silent and listen?
Margot: For the first week, I couldn't listen to any music or sing. And then I had like a breakthrough that I started singing to myself and then I felt way easier and way lighter. Because for me, singing is a huge therapy, and singing in a choir is probably the best therapy of all times.
So what I'm doing right now is that tomorrow I'm playing a fundraising show in Lisbon. It's my first show in Lisbon, since I'm here, which is a long, long, long time. Unfortunately that's the occasion. And, um, I don't know if I'll be able to sing without crying, but then also I know that I don't need to explain or feel bad about feeling what I feel, and singing.
Uh, so I'm really looking forward. Also, now, when I know that all my songs they're very appropriate to what is happening, the song “Fight” that my friend was mentioning, that I didn't release. And I was promising him for years and years and years now, it has a completely different meaning to me.
Jeremy: Can you sing us a little bit of that song?
Margot: [singing] I felt pain in your lungs. When I heard firing guns, I wish I could just sleep tonight, does not feel right. It isn’t right. So I’ll fight…
Jeremy: This is a hard question, but what are you hopeful about? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Not that you necessarily sleep through the night, but, um, what, what, what keeps you hopeful at this point?
Margot: I think, I don’t know. To be very honest, and it's really hard to acknowledge that I don't think I have much hope, but the thing that gets me out of bed is definitely knowing that my family's safe, and, as much as they can be.
And knowing that I have another chance to talk to them – that's the thing that gets me out of bed.
And, it just strikes me every time that any other moment it can stop, and there is a chance that I might not see them again. And I look at the pictures of the streets and that I was just there a couple of months ago, and they, I want to hug every single building, you know, like an idiot. And, and I, and I'm trying to forbid myself thinking about all of this, but today you caught me in a moment where I just can't.
So I have one day of, like full of hope. And one day of it's all going to be fine. But then I have another day where I just can't, where I'm helpless. I want to talk to my parents, but every time before calling them, I need to like inhale 700 times and exhale 800 times and be like, ‘hi, mommy, how are you doing? So did you eat something nice today? How is cat? Is he still fat?’
Jeremy: [Laughs] Is there anything else you'd want to share, that you'd want people to know?
Margot: I know that we will win this war, but I hope we can win it with as many people alive as possible, and as many houses saved as possible. And I, I hope I don't, I don't have to protest for freedom anymore, because it seems like such a basic right.
And, yeah, I just hope it all ends soon. And, and I'll be able to hug my family as well as all other people around the world will be able to hug their family. And I want to have my friends from OneBeat visiting Kyiv because I told many times that Kyiv is so amazing and it is amazing. And my father told me that Russians will never get Kyiv, and I trust my father. So welcome to Kyiv guys very, very soon I hope, for another big festival.
Music Interlude: Zyma, by Grisly Faye + Pepe Gavilondo (OneBeat 2018 Mixtape)
Jeremy: This conversation was recorded very late at night for Margot – a couple of weeks after the war began. Margot asked to do a second interview, because she had felt sad and powerless that first time we talked. So about 6 weeks later, we recorded a follow-up, which you’re about to hear. You’ll notice a marked difference in her voice, in the way that her thinking changed during those 6 weeks.
This second part of the interview focuses on her volunteer work with refugees around Europe, and the many ways she as a musician is coping with the situation, and fighting for peace.
Margot: I don't remember when exactly we spoke and I don't remember what exactly I said. I just remember the feeling of this conversation and I remember that I was feeling extremely sad. So it was the very beginning of the war.
Margot: And, uh, and I was still in this very lost and this very nostalgic kind of mood and sad kind of mood, I think I told back then that I have sad days, and like, energetic days. So that was my sad day for sure. Today, I made sure that I'll come with my energetic day, you know, um, because it's, yeah, I think the time kind of stopped on the 24th of February. And since then, it's one long endless day.
And, I think it was important for me to have this follow-up because I felt like first of all, it's very big responsibility to speak. And I know that words are very strong. And in the past two months, I know that one person can change and influence so much. Like we were making fundraising concerts here in Lisbon. We bought boxes of walkie talkies, bulletproof vests. So many people are showing up and paying with their attention, also paying with their money, but like their attention is such an expensive currency, nowadays.
I said it back then that I already feel that I'm changing. Now. I feel how I'm changed, and I keep changing. I became less forgiving in a way. It's probably the worst thing in the world not to be able to forgive, but I think I can, as for now, I will not consider this forgiving thing until the army is out of my land; until Russian army leaves my country. Before that I don't see a chance for, um, for the dialogue, I guess.
I have family in Russia, and I have friends in Russia, and I had colleagues in Russia, not a single person reached out to me asking, ‘hey, how can I help?’ or like, ‘hey, let's do something. I see that it's wrong.’ The only narrative that I was hearing was like, “oh, we are struggling as well.” “Oh we have this and we have that.” And at that point, that was like, “really?” And I don't feel like I can support this kind of dialogue at this point.
Jeremy: You’re saying there’s a time for forgiveness, but it's not now.
Margot: Yeah, but the world is kind of demanding it from me every day. This is what I feel, you know, since I live abroad. And, um, I work in the cultural industry that still can’t decide in many ways what to do with a culture: is culture political, or is it not, are artists and directors, and I don't know whoever are, are they a part of like political system or not?
And I know that they are. I know that I am, I'm also an artist, but as many others I had to choose my weapon. My weapon is music. In many cases, my weapon is film. My weapon is speaking.
Jeremy: What are you asking of Russians who say, ‘I'm an anti-war’ — whether they're living in Russia or living outside of Russia, what would you like to see them do?
Margot: The bare minimum that I would ask for Russians who are not supporting war is to fight this war with us, in any way they can. Ask if you don't know how; ask, we know we know a million ways how you can.
So yes, fight this war with us. Pick your side and be vocal about it. Otherwise we all will drown in all of this.
Jeremy: So even if that means they have to go to jail?
Margot: Yes, I, because, you know, I was remembering the 2014, the 2004 revolution in Ukraine, like, we were killed on the streets. 100 people died in Kyiv, in the capital of my city for, I mean, technically for like, the European Union qualities, for the fact that we didn't want to be with Russia because we went on the streets because of our pro-Russian president and our friends were killed.
So sometimes I think, what would I do if the situation would be reversed? If my country would be doing such horrible things, I think I will be right there in front of my embassy, demanding them to stop. Because what kind of life is it, to live in fear?
You know, going to jail is not the worst thing. And I'm pretty sure there are many things that they can do without going to jail.
Jeremy: The date of our last interview was March 9th, about 6 weeks ago. What has happened in Ukraine since then?
Margot: Hm. I think my mom and my dad, they got back to work, which is a huge improvement. Um, since March nine, the municipality of my city, Kyiv, got back under to Ukrainian control and we had to witness the worst things I saw in my life, the results of murders and rapes and tortures of civilians that I will never be able to forget or forgive.
We got back Chernobyl, which I think is very important. I lost some friends. I gained some friends outside, as well. Um, Ukraine became much stronger since March 9th.
It's a very complicated question, what has happened. Now, I know a lot about kids because since March 9th, I had to spend a lot of time with five-year-old twins and a little bit time with one and a half year old twins... I had to learn a lot about dinosaurs and unicorns and so many things I didn't imagine in my life I would have to at this point in my life. And it's terrifying and magical.
And I think seeing these kids here made me reconsider many things in my life and understanding that my migration was my choice. They had no choice and it's a different kind of stress.
So, I think I became a parent to many, many, many, many, many kids. And I became a sibling to many, many, many, many, many grownups.
Jeremy: These Ukrainians that have relocated to Lisbon?
Margot: Yeah. Because since the beginning of the war in the very beginning, I was mostly dealing with translation from Ukrainian to Polish, Polish to Ukrainian. And I was helping with transportation from Ukrainian border onwards to Poland and Germany.
And the second one is helping the refugees who were already refugees in Ukraine before. So those who came from other countries who fled other wars to Ukraine and now had to do it again.
In Portugal I started volunteering for the migration office, and I was, uh, translating and doing the registry for the migration office. And then people started more and more, people coming. And now people that I know personally from before, like my half siblings, for example, or my friends with kids, they happen to be around Portugal and I'm helping them here.
I'm trying to dedicate each day off that I have to a different family and sometimes just kidnap a mom of kids, without kids, to the ocean, like spend some time by the sea and talk about anything, then bring her back to the family and then next time, take another mom because it just so important.
Like parents have to be with their kids 24-7. And they probably didn't have that before because kids were going to kindergartens or they were sharing it with their husbands or something. Now it's a different story.
Jeremy: So a lot of their husbands are back in Ukraine.
Margot: All of their husbands are still back in Ukraine.
Jeremy: And what about music? What role does it play in your life now?
Margot: I was struggling to start listening to music or watching film. Uh, but, uh, with one producer from Dnipro, uh, from the city, which is surviving very, very bad things right now. He released an album, actually an EP, and there's one song that we did together.
And I recorded, we did it like last year or something. He sent me the music and I was in the kitchen making dinner and I just took the mic and I recorded some, like some lyrics in Ukrainian. And, um, and then he said, okay, I want to release it like this. I'm like, ‘wait, but I changed the lyrics, I can record it properly.’
He's like, ‘we don't have time for that.’ And then, when he released it, I'm like, ‘damn, he's so right.’ Because just this kind of casual kitchen singing or some like slightly jibberish, it makes so much sense. And the song is called, translated from Ukrainian, “listen softly” or “listen gently” or “listen to me in a gentle way,” I dunno.
And I think it's so nice when I heard it for the first time, I'm like, ‘wow.’
Music Interlude: Слухай ніжно (by Monotonne, feat.Grisly Faye)
And I'm thinking like, you know, I'm thinking now here, wow we're listening to what he mixed and produced. And he had to do this under like shelling and with an air raid alarm. It was hard for him, but it sounds amazing that he keeps producing.
Music continues, fades out
Then I have a couple of theater musicals that I'm working on, and a couple of films. We are releasing a feature film about Ukrainian painter, a documentary film, who traveled to Greece for the first time in his life. And I did the soundtracks for this film.
I think at some point I started treating music as work. And so it's like, you do it, it hurts. And, and that's probably the right way.
Jeremy: So you don't necessarily see music as one of your weapons of fighting this war?
Margot: I mean, I played charity concerts where I collected money with my music. It's just way too painful. Like it's so painful to sing. It hurts so much that I don't think I...like, I, I it's too much for me. Like I'm singing the songs that I wrote with some people back from home who are in such a trouble right now.
And I, and I'm talking about them and explaining to the audience that right now I'm singing the song that I made with this producer, who can't be here with us, but we need to send him lots of love so he can feel it all the way there.
So music is the weapon for sure. But it, not that it's not the only weapon. Sometimes music is my weapon. Sometimes money is my weapon. Sometimes attention is my weapon.
And it's also another thing that surprises me because my PhD is about arts in restrictive environment, community arts in restrictive environments and war and forced migration is one of those restrictive environments. And before all of this happened, I had a different, very different approach to my PhD because I was like, oh, music helps you. Music makes you, makes people understand your community, but I'm like, oh my God, music definitely doesn't help me now. Like it definitely helps other people to understand Ukrainian community through the art that Ukraine produces right now, [right], but to me as an artist to produce art, it's like super painful.
Jeremy: I talked to 2014 OneBeat Fellow Roman Garkavenko about this – he and his family are still in Kyiv. He said he can't bring himself to listen to music right now, not to mention play it or perform it.
Margot: Yeah, but I think it's also quite understandable. I mean, I understand him. I feel it. I have the same thing. Like when I had to play the shows, I hated it so much. Like it was hard then it was a bit of acting, a lot of acting to be honest. And then like, you know, a lot of time for getting back in peace with myself, it's just, it's something —
Music has this power of getting all the flavors of life with the symbols. So when you play or when you listen to you, imagine this place, you imagine the smell, you know, the colors of the light, you know, you have your own feeling of it. And suddenly when you, when you're not in your regular life situation, when you're in the state of war, when you're in danger, your body, your, your mind is not allowing you, it's not safe to travel that far.
And also doesn't feel right, because it actually doesn't matter anymore. There are so many things that don't matter anymore. And if I had a choice to listen to nothing, I probably would, because also knowing that in Kyiv, like my mom is listening to the air raid alarms all the time and it's terrifying and what makes it even more terrifying is that we're getting used to it.
And you just, your body's like if I have a chance to be peaceful and quiet and find some rest, emotional rest, because also music gives you emotional drive. Like if I can numb my senses for just a little bit, I would rather do that...Let my senses relax and chill rather than excite in a good or bad way.
Jeremy: So do you think this will change your, the thesis of your PhD?
Margot: Oh for sure! For sure. It was very bad that I thought that singing and music can solve many things because for me, singing is a therapy. I'm talking to myself all the time, I'm singing, but even now I find myself in situations where I don't want to, and it's a conscious choice and it's also a kind of music.
So being quiet and not singing and not socializing in a musical way is also musical therapy. I don't want to write about war. I don't want to make my PhD about war as the main restrictive environment, but it will be a part of it.
And very often when I listen to like, this kind of very pop war kind of music that is being produced right now, I'm like, ‘aw, that's so cringy.’ Like I just, I can't, it's funny. Or it's like, it's sad or it's like, you know, there are many songs that are being written right now in Ukraine, by Ukrainian artists, or even here in Portugal, there's some Portuguese composer who wrote a song, like an anthem to Ukraine to Ukrainians. And I read the lyrics and I'm like, I can't, I really can't. I can't take this seriously. I can't sing about this because definitely when I'm singing, I'm not thinking with the words of like, “oh, I saw the death, oh, I saw the cry…”
It's something different. I saw this for sure. Oh my God. I have seen it. I have seen a lot of it, more than I would want to, but if I translate it into music, it will be something very different. It will be more symbolic. It will be the accents of how it affects my daily life. Probably this is what the music will be. This is what my community ‘restrictive environment’ music will be.
Music Interlude: A Song Of Nature (Official Soundtrack) by Margaryta Kulichova
Jeremy: I've always thought a lot about this connection between aesthetics and resistance, you know, um, I may have told you this, but I was obsessed with Dimitri Shastakovich when I was a teenager and read all these, you know, his autobiography and all these books about him. And he came up in the era of Stalin and became one of Russia's most popular composers at that time. But, his friends right and left for getting sent to the Gulag, were killed or went into exile, committed suicide. And he had to write music that was like pro Stalin on the surface, but he hid all these messages in the music that were essentially anti-Stalin. And if you know that and you listen to the music, you can kind of hear these messages, but it wasn't anything that he was able to say explicitly.
And now it's, it's strange because I think about, you know, if you are a Russian musician now who continues to make music, that's like heard in Russia on a large scale, you might be in a similar situation as he was.
Margot: Yeah, probably. but I wish I could hear that. Yeah. You know, I wish I could sense that there's a hope that somebody on that side of the border that, you know; that there is a tiny little string between us, but I can't sense this string. That's the problem.
Jeremy: Which Ukrainian musicians are inspiring you the most right now?
There's a lot of music that is being released right now that is not directly connected to war, but like my friend, the producer, who said, we'd have no time to record clean vocals for the song that we're doing it now, because tomorrow we might be gone and I'm like, that makes all sense. And you can feel it in the song in a different way.
And there are musicians who are recording their albums now in shelters, like in…yeah, in different, in different unbelievable circumstances. And they're not talking explicitly, they're not using words like no war, blood, loss, I don't know, whatever Ukraine, Russia, or something — they're talking about, whatever they would be telling without this war, but now with the prism of this war, I would say. You know, you can hear it that it's probably, for example, under-produced, it’s not, it doesn't sound super fancy and you can hear some people talking in the background, but this is so precious because this is capturing — this is real, you know, it's not fake. It's real. We have no time to pretend. We have no time to clean up. We have no time. We just need to be raw and real.
Jeremy: Could you give some examples of that?
Margot: Uh, there's an amazing musician called Oleh Shpudeiko who played the concert in a shelter.
And it's very generally, it's very interesting music that he's making. And it's a beautiful event that they held. I know that there is music label in city Dnipro in Ukraine, called ‘Dnipropop’, which is working. And, um, there's Badminton Studio in Kyiv that is working, and yeah, people keep producing and writing and, and sometimes even being hopeful and cheerful and sending pictures of flowers from the streets.
Jeremy: Is there anything else that you would like to share or talk about? Or that you'd like people to know about?
Margot: I just want to remind myself and everybody around us to be strong and hopeful and act. Because if we don't do it now, it might be too late and the price might be too high to pay.
I mean, there are many things that I will be talking, right now but it will be like another one hour long conversation, but like, yeah, be present. Be. That's a very, that's a very big gift that we have in our life that we get to experience life. So once we got a chance to experience life, let's use it. Let's use it well, and yeah. But at the end of the day, I'm listening to myself and I'm like, it's all pointless. Like anything I say is pointless. Last time I was so sad after our conversation, because I was like, I'm just sad. I just want to cry.
Today I'm not sad. And I don't want to cry. I'm ready to kick somebody's ass, but I need to go to sleep because there's nobody's ass to kick on the ninth floor at 3:00 AM in the morning in Lisbon.
And, I don't know, like my loved ones keep reminding me to act from the place of love, which sounds impossible sometimes. And it's very unrealistic, considering the beginning of our conversation about the fact that I don't want to forgive right now. So knowing that I have this place of love to act from and knowing that I can access it at some point in my love — in my life — probably would be a good, a huge achievement for a future Margot.
Jeremy: So you’re fighting with love, but you’re still kicking ass.
Margot: Yes. I love it. Actually. I think this is my new favorite idea fighting with love...not against love, but like, you know, with love. Yeah. It's beautiful. I love it. I'll be fighting with love.
Music Interlude: Khvylyam, by Grisly Faye
Kyla-Rose Smith: Thank you for tuning in to The OneBeat Podcast. This episode was produced and edited by Jeremy Thal with help from Nyokabi Kariuki, Elena Moon Park and me, Kyla-Rose Smith.
One of the questions we asked Margot was what can we do to support people in Ukraine. And as the reality on the ground continues to change and develop, the answer to that question keeps changing – we’ll provide links in the show notes with her recommendations for ways to support folks in Ukraine, and refugees around the world.
Tune in next month, for a discussion with Ukrainian bass player and OneBeat alumna Roman Garkavenko, our other Ukrainian OneBeat alum. Roman shares his story from Kiev, as he has experienced the war from within Ukraine. He talks about the origins of his band Pyat Vymir, which translates as “5th Dimension,” and his difficulties accessing his love for music in these traumatic times.
Please follow our work, and the work of this incredible community of OneBeat artists - visit www.1beat.org for more information (that’s the number 1…beat.org), and for updates on our 10- Year Anniversary programs.
The views and opinions expressed by our guests on this podcast are their own and not those of the ECA, Bang On A Can, Found Sound Nation, or any of its employees.
OneBeat is an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in collaboration with Bang On A Can’s Found Sound Nation.