The Rhythm of Diversity

How are music, race and African migration linked in the Ukrainian context? – ‘Through hip-hop culture,’ answers Adriana Helbig, Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh, ethnomusicologist and researcher of race, class, and minority rights in Eastern Europe, in her book presented at the IOM Ukraine’s office.

Adriana collected data on how hip-hop culture emerged in Ukraine, and analyzed its roots in Kharkiv city music culture and the role hip-hop played in social and political transformations of the Ukrainian society at the beginning of the 21st century. This research begat the book Hip-Hop Ukraine: Music, Race and African Migration, which was recently published in the U.S. and is expected to be translated into Ukrainian next year.

“Hip-hop is a platform for interracial encounters among African students, African immigrants, and local populations in Ukraine, for example in Kharkiv clubs. There is no such phenomenon in Russia, Georgia or Poland,” emphasized Adriana at an IOM-organized roundtable titled, “Music of Intercultural Dialogue”.

Two musicians are profiled in the book, Steven Dee from the Afro-Ukrainian band Chornobryvtsi, and Oleh Mykhailiuta, the frontman of the group Tanok Na Maydani Kongo, joined the discussion as well. “Conflicts arise where there is a lack of information,” stated Steven Dee. “In order to coexist, we have to study each other’s culture. Through preserving the culture of our own and studying other cultures, we enrich our lives. This world is beautiful because it is diverse.” He also expressed his dismay that Ukrainian artists do not tour in Africa and African artists, who sometimes even perform in China, do not hold concerts in Ukraine.

Oleh Mykhailiuta recalled his first encounters with hip-hop from abroad and Chornobryvtsi in Kharkiv (both groups originated from Ukraine’s second-largest city), and spoke highly of Adriana Helbig’s work, as her book is not just about hip-hop in Ukraine, but also sheds light on deeply-rooted insecurity and fear of the unknown, including other cultures. “It is very easy to blame ‘others’ for your own faults or misfortunes, and unfortunately there are some nasty guys trying to use this,” he stated.

IOM Ukraine’s Programme Coordinator Stephen Rogers noted that according to an IOM-commissioned survey, the majority of migrants residing in Ukraine are employed, educated and actively communicating with the local population. Half of the migrants surveyed by IOM stated their desire to obtain Ukrainian citizenship.

“To be able to say that you really know your friends, you should know what songs they sing when they are sad and what music they like when they are happy,” summarized Steven Dee.

IOM promotes migrant integration and cultural diversity in Ukraine, inter alia through coordinating a voluntary Diversity Initiative platform together with UNHCR (http://diversipedia.org.ua) and implementing interactive programmes for Ukrainian youth.

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