The phenomenon of Ukrainian vocal and instrumental ensembles or Mustache Funk
The end of the 1960s in the USSR was characterized by a relative weakening of the totalitarian regime, which subsequently brought about a revival of an active cultural scene.
Progressive youth wanted progressive culture, which the Soviet establishment could not boast about. At the same time, listening to foreign bourgeois hits, according to the regime, was dangerous for a Soviet citizen, so an alternative was needed. In addition, the party pursued a policy of Ukrainization, the purpose of which was to actually build a caricature image of everything Ukrainian, so that it looked like an exhibition piece, and not a part of everyday life.
In the 1970s, such a concept as vocal instrumental ensembles (abbreviated VIA) appeared in the USSR. In essence, these were musical groups that appeared in response to the fascination of Soviet youth with popular trends in Western music. Ukrainian artists were supposed to perform in folk costumes and sing folk songs, but the government did not consider that this could be done classy. Therefore, the idea of the state authorities to create a loyal alternative to Western musicians failed, but a distinctive modern scene was born in Ukraine.
VIAs usually had up to 10 members with professional musical education. As for the musical instruments used, just like in Western bands, the set included electric guitars, drums, synthesizers, and sound reinforcement equipment, with the occasional inclusion of folk instruments in the mix.
Today, this music is referred to in Ukraine as mustache funk. This is due to the release of a documentary of the same name, whose creator sought to unravel the uniqueness of the musical style of the musicians of the time.
Some of the most popular VIAs in Ukraine were:
- VIA “Vodograi” — an ensemble originally from Dnipropetrovs’k region consisting of jazz musicians.
- VIA Kobza, the first group in the USSR to visit the American continent. It was one of the most popular and one of the few that used folk musical instruments.
- VIA “Smerichka”, created in 1966. Two singers, who were later recognized as heroes of Ukraine for their contribution to the development of musical culture, Vasyl Zinkevych and Nazariy Yaremchuk, were its members.
- VIA Berkut, who performed Hutsul folk songs
- VIA Opryshky, who were one of the most popular and whose repertoire consisted of folk songs in big beat arrangement
This phenomenon of Ukrainian musical culture existed for more than 20 years. VIAs were extremely popular, especially among young people. The most famous ensembles gave several concerts a day throughout the year, their songs were constantly broadcast on radio and television, numerous albums were released and sold. However, in the 1980s, such music began to rapidly lose popularity. This is due to the fact that rock music was no longer censored and official releases were allowed, and mechanisms regulating the activities of pop performers and restrictions on the repertoire and strict criteria for the professional selection of musicians were abolished. To top it all off, the emergence of cheap musical instruments made music accessible to all. Ultimately, it was also a consequence of the government’s policy.
“The Ukrainian scene ended at a certain point. There are natural and artificial reasons for this. Natural – every trend ends. People’s tastes change, and music gets boring. Artificial — if we look at the history of Ukraine, the central government oppressed everything Ukrainian, if it was modern and urban.” — screenwriter of the Mustache Funk (2020) documentary film Vitaliy Bardetsky.
With time, songs of the vocal and instrumental ensembles aka mustache funk were replaced by the rock genre. However, although a long time has passed and musical trends have changed significantly, mustache funk is loved and listened to by many Ukrainians to this day.
We have prepared a mustache funk playlist, available on Youtube music so that you can experience the unique energy of mustache funk first-hand.
The Ukrainians. Vitaly Bardetskyi: “This music undermined the foundations of Soviet man from the inside”
Prepared by: Olha Lazor
Designed by: Anastasiia Chervinska