Tag Archives: activism

Jaiksana: War Child Beating Drums Of Peace

This article, by Peter Choge, was originally published by Music In Africa on the 13th of June 2022.


He has been described as a musician and activist. His story is one of overcoming adversity and beating the odds. Instead of letting his refugee status define him, Jaiksana Soro decided to become a voice for his people, highlighting their plight through his music and empowering them through grassroots projects. Music In Africa recently had the privilege of engaging this rising hip hop artist about music, his organisation Platform Africa and his vision for a peaceful, prosperous South Sudan.

Photo by Jaiksana Soro

MUSIC IN AFRICA: Tell us about yourself as a South Sudanese, as a refugee, as a musician and as a changemaker.

JAIKSANA: I was born in a refugee camp in northern Uganda on 2 August 1996. A brutal civil conflict had displaced countless people from Southern Sudan [now South Sudan], including my parents. In the refugee camps, we were faced with the challenge of trying to make a living in the absence of opportunities, deprived of everyday living necessities. So when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2005 and we were able to return to South Sudan under the repatriation programme, we were not only relieved but also hopeful.

However, after a few years, things began to go wrong. Another conflict pitting South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar erupted between 2013 and 2016, causing us to return to the refugee camp. I was turning 20 in 2016, so I was more aware of things, and it was sad to have a home one day and then have everything taken away from you the next. That year, instead of despairing, I decided to co-found Platform Africa, a non-profit organisation dedicated to changing the narrative and empowering refugees. My music continues on that building block, telling stories and empowering others through it.

What does your music mean to you and what do you hope to achieve through it?

Writing songs and putting them out there can be really powerful. When you consider a song as a vehicle and what it can carry, music can be an important medium that helps put a mirror on society or help us find meaning in the face of difficult situations. Apart from my personal story and the issues I faced – such as conflict, being displaced to a refugee camp and dealing with my anxiety – things are really hard right now. The music project I am currently working on titled I Am Still Alive is about that: navigating my mental health and reflecting on subjects like family, displacement, dealing with loss and finding peace.

I hope that by being open about my experiences, I can create music that is rooted in real-life issues that people can relate to. When I released my song ‘Run’, which is about self-love and transcending the obstacles that hold us back in life, I received a lot of positive feedback and inspiring stories from people for whom my music played a therapeutic role in their lives and helped them overcome their struggles. When I wrote it, I didn’t know it was something that a lot of people would come to relate to. I wrote a song to heal and free myself, and for that to be meaningful to other people is very empowering. In addition, I hope that my music sets a precedent and emboldens people in the South Sudanese music space to be able to own and tell their stories no matter the shape or form of their native lens.

Why hip hop? How did you get introduced to the genre?

We didn‘t have a lot of music to listen to while growing up because my mother, like many other women in the refugee community, never owned a radio, let alone a TV. So all the music I interacted with came from video halls and bars with TVs. Video halls are like makeshift theatres because there‘s usually just one old 32-inch TV and a bunch of people, sometimes hundreds, gathered to experience music and the outside world. Since it was expensive to afford, we made sure to save and use our money for the most interesting programmes.

For me, a Sunday programme called SM, short for Special Music, was my favourite, and it was here that I got introduced to R&B and hip hop, and beyond just learning about new genres of music, I also experienced the use of words, rhythm and melodies to tell stories, and remind institutional power where true power lies.

Fast forward to the present date, I feel that hip hop has helped me find better alternatives to deal with issues in life. I dealt with anxiety, and still do wrestle with big questions around the meaning of life, and I built a relationship with music as a healing agent, using it as a crutch and a form of therapeutic relief or escape.

When I decided to work on my album, I naturally fell back on my favourite genre – hip hop. I wanted my music to be uplifting, but at the same time I wanted it to start conversations on issues that are often overlooked in our communities, like mental health or displacement, and rap is a form of expression that allows that kind of depth, and the ability to build lyrics with layered meanings that leave bread crumbs for people to follow and form their own interpretations of things.

What are the other genres you embrace?

Besides rap music, the other genre that I like is experimental music. My younger siblings are both rookie producers, and they sometimes make music that doesn’t use instruments in the conventional way, yet when you hear it, you go like, “Wow, this is aesthetically pleasing, in a melodic sense.” Because they’re not fluent in music theory, their creativity is not fenced in by the constraints of what professional or classical music should sound like, giving them the unique advantage of using surprise as an element of their compositional aesthetic.

I am always blown away by the creative sounds they come up with. My brother Taylor Beats once sat in a room with a musician called Franko jamming on the piano and they ended up making a record about local South Sudanese food. They talked about food in a comedic way and the song topped the charts in South Sudan. Do we call that an experimental music theme?

Another genre that I love is Afrobeats, which I prefer to describe as African sounds because I don’t want to use the word ‘Afrobeats’ as a blanket term that portrays the continent/African music as a monolith. African music is finally assuming its position on the world stage – songs like ‘Ameno’, ‘Love Nwantiti’, ‘Jerusalema’, or musicians like Diamond Platnumz and Burna Boy.

Others are enjoying record numbers of streaming, viral challenges and dance videos on short-form video platforms like TikTok, Reels and YouTube Shorts. But the standout point is that African sounds and the genres or styles evolving from the continents are fresh. Because they’re uniquely tied to our identity and cultures and it’s something that only we can bring to the table, so there’s a responsibility on the part of African creators to document our sounds and patterns.

Finally, R&B and EDM are among the other genres on my list. The album I am currently working on is a musical palette that blends many of these genres and incorporates sound samples that push the boundaries of sound design and integration of themes to strengthen both message and meaning.

Who are your greatest influences musically, and what role do your Sudanese roots play in your music? What is the role of traditional music?

Witt Lowry, Ivan B, and NF are my biggest influences but I also listened to a lot of Emmanuel Jal’s music in the past. His War Child album was ground-breaking in terms of how he presented the stories of former child soldiers like himself.

To answer your second question on the role of my South Sudanese roots in my music, I was basically raised in times of civil conflict, lived as a refugee and witnessed domestic violence. Because of that, I am constantly working to bring about change in my life and community through my activism and music, so my roots and story are like a map or guide of where I came from, where I am now and where I want to go. In a few words, it helps me become authentic and I want for my music to mean something. In terms of sound, I am also exploring our local South Sudanese sounds and incorporating some of them into my music to create something that is holistically different and unique.

Traditional music, in my view, promotes the creation of identity and community. Each community has its own collection of instruments, structures or rhythms and vocabulary, which serves as a powerful tool for people to not only celebrate who they are but also to recreate what has gone before and to establish who they want to be in the future.

In an age where technology is revolutionising how we listen to music, a focus on developing digital libraries of our traditional music is essential not only to preserve it but also to allow people to sample and improve it. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the amapiano genre from South Africa, for example, sounds just like my traditional music from the Pojulu tribe. Who knows, if we are able to create a collection of our sound and incorporate amapiano, we could be the next global fad.How can you describe your journey as a musician so far?

How can you describe your journey as a musician so far?

This is usually where we list all of our trophies and accolades and brag about our vast wealth, but for me this is a chapter that has yet to be written. However, I was nominated for the Best New and Promising Artist at the South Sudan Musician Awards in my first year as a musician, and despite not winning, that went a long way in proving we have the right foot in the door. Our message of self-positivity has quickly earned us a large following and listeners across South Sudan, Uganda the US, Germany and beyond.

What are your future goals?

Setting up a music studio in the refugee camp is one of them. I want to offer everyone in the refugee camp a voice and a platform to express themselves. We recently began a podcasting and media production programme for refugees in the Rhino Camp refugee settlement through our organisation Platform Africa. We secured a project called #ASKnet, short for Access to Skills and Knowledge network, and in parts of the workshops I was able to bring my producer DJ Poppa to record some tracks for the refugees, and the experience is still one of the best I’ve had this year.

We are currently working on a mobile lab project in partnership with Global Innovation Gathering where we took a truck and converted it into a mobile workshop and workspace to deliver workshops to remote villages in the refugee camp. So we’re hoping to set up a mini studio in the lab project to produce music as well.

In addition to that, I want to establish South Sudan’s first professional label and assist in the development of the future generation of storytellers.

Your vision for South Sudan?

My vision for South Sudan is simple. I want to see a country that can put its tumultuous past behind it and build a just, peaceful and affluent future that is led by its youth. This has to start with a political will to make it happen, meaning the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.


Exclusive Video Premiere: Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz by Free Radicals

By Profula – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Karankawa was an indigenous tribe that lived along the coast of the Gulf of México. Along with the Atakapa tribe these indigienous communities thrived for a few thousand years in the area before Spanish people, under the command of royalty and religion, invaded the land, bringing disease and terror.

Today, ancestors of these people live scattered around northern México as well as the greater Houston area. The city of Houston is the fourth most populous city in the US and now considered one of the most diverse cities in the country. According to the 2020 census Hispanic, Latino, African-American and Asian people make up around 70% of the population.

Where some people might see such diversity of ethnicity and cultures as a positive and enriching thing, others find it bothersome and prefer their life in a monotonous bubble. In the whole of the United States clashes have occurred because of race, gender and religious beliefs. In the melting pot that is Houston, one musical group in particular has been at the forefront of protests and marches against racism, against wars, for equality, against police brutality, support Palestine, et cetera. This is the musical genre soup that is Free Radicals.

The band members have throughout their 20 odd year career mostly released instrumental music and used their voices rather at before mentioned marches and protests. But throughout their career the band has collaborated with rappers, singers and spoken word artists who have lent their voices to various projects. In 2020 the band released the critically acclaimed ‘White Power Outage vol. 1’ which, in a very direct way addresses denazification in the US, or rather the lack thereof. Now, two years later, the band is back with vol. 2 and we could not be more excited to premiere one of the singles off of the new album and its corresponding music video.

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to converse with the band via email and I’m stoked to now share the Q and A with the Shouts audience.

Halldór Kristínarson: Can you tell me a bit about the new volume and in particular the song/video we are premiering, ‘Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz’?

Free Radicals: Seven years ago, Free Radicals released the instrumental version of Checkpoint on our breakdance music album Freedom of Movement.  We always knew we wanted to come back to the track and do a rap version, and now finally, the whole project has come together with four powerful and musical voices. We decided we could only do the topic justice if we included rappers from Houston, Palestine, and South Africa. Apparently, having English, Afrikaans, and Arabic lyrics on the same tune is not a normal thing to do, because when we registered the song on YouTube and on streaming services, we could choose to list only one language.

We first invited EQuality, who has been collaborating with Free Radicals since our 2004 album Aerial Bombardment with his insane spoken word piece We All Inhale. He had also joined us to take on Israeli apartheid on Every Wall on our 2012 album The Freedom Fence. He opens up  Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz for his fellow rappers with a bang. When we the got tracks from Prince Alfarra from the Gaza Strip, and Jitsvinger from South Africa, we were completely blown away. 

We knew that this song was going to be everything we had imagined for years, but the icing on the cake was the voice of one of our mentors, Lindi Yeni, a South African who taught dance in Houston for many years. Her theatrical experience kicked in and she improvised a skit between herself and a South African border checkpoint guard during apartheid. Lindi is a legendary figure in Houston, who helped arrange political asylum for South African performers during the apartheid years, and is seen here performing for Nelson Mandela.

To say that this was our dream team would be an understatement!

Exclusive Premiere:
Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz by Free Radicals

HK: Some protest musicians are subtle and poetic, hiding a bit their messages while others tackle issues very openly in their lyrics. What can you tell me about the evolution of your style of protest music, did you consciously reach this point or was it all a natural happening?

FR: Recently, on social media, someone commented about the album cover for White Power Outage Volume 2, saying “What is this? Some kind of subtle attempt to imply that businessmen, judges, police, and politicians are all white supremacists?” We responded, “We weren’t trying to be subtle!” 

We live in a country that has had no reckoning with our history of apartheid and genocide. In Germany, there are zero statues of Nazis that are still standing, they teach the Holocaust, racism, and genocide in school. The United States has only barely ever started the process of denazification. Here, in the South, every attempt to teach real US history in schools is attacked, statues of slave owners and Indian killers abound. There’s no subtlety, and we’re certainly not trying to be subtle when responding to it.

Our political messaging comes from the street protests that we perform at. Our marching band, the Free Rads Street Band, has marched with Palestinians protesting Israeli oppression, Muslims and other groups fighting against Muslim ban laws in India, janitors demanding a living wage, anti-war protests, anti-corporate greed protests, students demanding gun control, people for women’s rights, etc. 

Sometimes, journalists have mentioned that we were talking about border walls in 2012, years before Trump, and oil wars in 1998, years before the 2003 Iraq War, as if that was somehow prophetic. But there was nothing prophetic about it at all. There were protests against border walls in Texas and Palestine all the way back to the 90s, and of course, there were protests against the earlier Iraq war in 1990. Protests in the streets have been shouting about these issues for decades, and we just try to amplify those messages.

HK: How important is it for you to be able to use your art as a vessel for political activism?

FR: Our albums have always had political themes. Our first release, The Rising Tide Sinks all in 1998 was the beginning of a long collaboration between our musicians, social movements, and visual artist John Kitses. However, 99% of the shows that we’ve played have been just instrumental music, and we don’t make political speeches from the bandstand. We play at parties and clubs, weddings and funerals, street protests and break dance competitions. So, we’re used to just focusing on instrumental music most of the time, with politics only really coming in at the street protests, and when we release an album.

HK: How is the scene in Houston, when it comes to socially conscious music and art? Are there many artists who use their talents to raise awareness or promote a positive message of change?

FR: With the most diverse neighborhoods in the entire world, the Greater Houston area has all kinds of pockets of resistance and art. There are incredible LatinX, Black, Asian, indigenous, African, Muslim, and white musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, dancers, and comedians who wouldn’t even be capable of leaving off political themes from their arts, it’s too much a part of them.

Just to mention some of the Houston artists who have participated in the White Power Outage albums with us…  Swatara Olushola fought to expose the scandal of the Sugar Land 95. Obidike Kamau was the long time host of Self Determination on KPFT, and is an activist for reparations. Marlon ‘Marley’ Lizama teaches writing to incarcerated youth. Jason Jackson teaches music to refugees and kids in shelters with Nameless Sound. Zack Hamburg blogs about cars and climate change. Henry ‘Hennessy’ Alvarez is part of the local chapter of the Brown BeretsKarina NistalMichele ThibeauxEQuality, 200 Texas Poet Laureate Lupe MendezDeniz ‘deecolonize’ Lopez, and Nosaprise all make music about social justice. Brian Is Ze has an intersectional take on gender and health care issues. Akua Holt is the host of Pan African Journal on KPFT.

We didn’t just invite rappers, singers, comedians, and spoken word artists who we like listening to, we focused on connecting with artists who are also activists!

HK: What do you hope to achieve with your latest album?

FR: We hope that the album will be the soundtrack for dismantling white supremacy, corporate capitalism, the military industrial complex, and environmental destruction! Or, if we fail, we hope the album can be an elegy for the dream of a sustainable and equitable world.

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

FR: White Power Outage vol. 2 features 66+ voices of all ages, and right now, we are especially looking forward to our June 7 concert with living legend Harry Sheppard, our 94 year old mentor, band member, and friend.

HK: Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

FR: On the two volumes of White Power Outage you will hear the beautful voices of the kids from Peace Camp Houston chanting these:

Down Down with Deportation!
Up Up with Liberation!
No Hate! No Fear!
Immigrants Are Welcome Here!
¡Racista, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!
Freedom for All! No Cages, No Walls!


“The Heart Is Supposed To Beat. And It Will Beat:” A Wartime Conversation With Ukrainian Rocker, Artem Dudko, From Straytones

Band photo retrieved from Straytones’ Bandcamp page

At the time of this article’s publication, the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces has been going on for well over a month. In an unprecedentedly short time frame, millions of Ukrainians have fled the country as refugees, and millions more have been displaced internally. The names Mariupol and Kharkhiv now bring to mind the terrors that citizens have endured for weeks throughout this constant onslaught of cruelty and indiscriminate violence—weeks without electricity, heat, and water, with supplies running out and humanitarian corridors thwarted time and time again.

The name Bucha brings to mind images of streets lined with murdered civilians whose hands were tied behind their backs before they were shot in the head. The world looks on as the casualties and war crimes mount, as news (real news) of Ukrainian resistance inspires the support of billions of people around the globe, and as Russia scrambles to quell domestic dissent and widening rifts in the Kremlin in order to maintain a grip on its state-sponsored disinformation rhetoric.

While attacking smaller sovereign neighbor nations is an old trick in the book of autocratic tyranny, the scales of both the global disruption and global resolve in response to Putin’s ludicrous invasion are stark and chilling, and remind us how divorced from reality the actions and behaviors of tyrants are.

Whether in times of peace or war, art serves at the very least as the granular voices of a larger identity over time, and at most, as an utterly necessary spiritual and humanistic survival mechanism. At Shouts, we have been making a concerted effort to connect with Ukrainian musicians and artists to share their work and help promote them in a time of crisis and conflict. I have recently had the pleasure and privilege of connecting with Artem Dudko—guitarist and vocalist of the Kyiv-based psych fuzz band, Straytones, who was also a guitarist and lead vocalist of the hardcore band, Backchat.

From his family’s apartment in a Kyiv suburb, Artem and I had a Zoom call that spanned a gracious two hours and covered a wide range of topics including the war and its pretexts, the many forms of Ukrainian courage, humor, and endurance, and all manner of musical musings related to his projects. You can stream and purchase Straytone’s most recent release, Magic Green River Swimmin’ & Stunning Tarzanka Experience, here, where you will find that the summery sound of Straytones reflects precisely what the cover art portrays: an intricate riot of color, texture, melody, and psychedelic fun. 

Please consider doing the band the service of buying their work, and please share and promote their Bandcamp page as widely as you can! It is my utter pleasure to share our conversation with the Shouts community.

Nathaniel Youmans: The Straytones Bandcamp page describes your style as “Kyiv Psych Fuzz.” Tell me more about this scene.

Artem Dudko: “Kyiv Psych Fuzz,” obviously, is not a real genre. We decided to use this term because we thought it’s not as beaten as garage/psychedelic rock. There are really no other bands that would rely on the name Kyiv Psych Fuzz as a genre, so we tend to think that this should remain our own wheezing self-determination! Straytones’ music is quite unique for Ukraine. There are, however, quite a few bands that are more or less close to what we play, though most of them lay into the stoner/psychedelic/doom realm. Here’s a list of bands that we like: Somali Yacht Club, Stoned Jesus, Esquizet, Milktuth, La Horsa Bianca, Risin’ Sabotage, Shiva the Destructor, Sherpa the Tiger, Me`Leron, VOVK, Kasu Weri, The Tea Ship, Night on Fire, KAT, Small Depo, Ritual Service, Stars & Mellow, and Pree Tone, to name a few… 

Much of the psychedelic scene in Ukraine started somewhere around 2007-2008 (with bands like Slow Ride Home based in Kyiv), around the music-enthusiast forum neformat.com.ua., which was sort of an educational platform for those seeking new music in the dial-up internet era. This website and forum really helped a lot of Ukrainian musicians and listeners in pre-social media times. A whole community was built around that website and forum, and a scene started growing and evolving. Bands like Stoned Jesus and Somali Yacht Club also appeared because of Neformat, and then the rest became simple: more bands, bigger scene, better music, better festivals.

NY: What is the origin story of Straytones? How did the band come to be, and what’s your status right now?

AD: Straytones started in 2012, but in the first few years it was not really a serious project. My friend Denis, who also had a post-metal band called Uprising Fomalhaut, once showed me a live show of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and a few songs from the Black Keys, and we decided that we wanted to play something like that. So we started searching for a drummer, and found a girl named Marina on the same Neformat forum, who was looking for a garage rock band. Marina knew more than both of us regarding the real 1960s garage rock. We had one rehearsal, then went to the nearest bar, got some tequila, and Straytones were born.

It was a sort of back pocket project for me, though, because I was concentrating on the hardcore/metal band I was playing in, Backchat. With Backchat, we originally recorded the album in 2014, and released it five years later in 2019. From 2014 on, Straytones became the more relevant project for me, not only in terms of general activity but also because I started listening to older non-metal music. I was deeply interested by the 60s, by psychedelic, country, and jazz music—any kind of music that was not metal. I had been a metal guy since age 13 when I got my first Rammstein record, which was a gift from a classmate. In my 20s I started listening to softer, more sophisticated music—music with a lot of color. This is why, beginning in 2014, Straytones became the more serious band. We started to think about more serious concerts, and then we had some opportunities. In that time, some things changed—for instance, our bass player moved to Sweden with his wife. We became a trio in 2017—Marina, Vlad (who was a guitarist in Backchat), and me—and this is the real beginning of Straytones as a band that tours, plays, and records. 2017 is probably like the second birthday of Straytones.
We became much better as a trio, and in 2018 went on tour with Somali Yacht Club. Those guys live in Lviv, but that tour really bonded us together. We are still really good friends. In early 2019 we released an EP called “Beware Dark Lord, Here Comes Bell-Man!” and went on a small tour in Poland with Stoned Jesus, who are also friends and really good guys. Then in fall of 2019 went on our first headlining tour. This was the longest tour Straytones had done, more than 10,000 km; we drove to Spain and back, and there were plenty of funny and not so funny stories. Then, at the end of that period we played at Space Fest in Gdansk, Poland, in December 2019. 

After that, Marina said that she wanted to change her life, and she decided to quit the band and move to some place to live by the coast. She’s a good surfer; even Australians admire her! She succeeded; she’s in Panama now. During this war, she is on the informational front. She sends a lot of information, and tries to help in the way she can using the internet. After her, we found a replacement, Eugenia, who played with us up until November 2021. Now we have another person on drums but haven’t officially announced it yet.

Artem Dudko (photo retrieved from the band’s Facebook page)

NY: Are you and the other band members safe?

AD: Vova (bassist) and his family were able to move from a suburb of Kyiv that was under attack. Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel—as you know, what has been happening there has been fucking insane. He and his family managed to evacuate Irpin and send their son to Kamianets-Podilskyi, which is an old Ukrainian city with a medieval fortress. He and his wife and their dogs and cats are in the car headed somewhere. The last I heard from them was about 30 minutes ago on Facebook, and I know they are fine.

As for me, I’m still here. To be honest, I still think Kyiv is the safest place we can find. We’re somewhere between the central city and the outskirts. There are no strategical points nearby, which might be a good sign. We have enough products for a month. Pretty much everyone knows we don’t have to surrender Kyiv. This is the most crucial thing. This is the heart, and the heart is supposed to beat, and it will beat.
That’s why they keep bombing, because we haven’t surrendered. Russians were like “Okay bitches, you don’t want to surrender? Now we’ve got something to eat, now eat shit.” Right before we had this conversation I read the news that the convoy in Irpin, where our bass player lives, was bombed completely, which is also good news for us. So, Kyiv is holding on. I think now it will be a positioning war.

I am really proud of how well our army has been doing. The spirit that they have—this is the main weapon, and this is why Ukraine is still Ukraine and not a part of Russia, because we have this collective spirit. We’ve never been so bonded together as we are now. This keeps the ship afloat. This is why we will win. I want to believe that.

NY: What can you tell me about the general attitude toward Zelensky in Ukraine?

AD: When he was elected two years ago, he won with about 73% of the votes. That was probably the most democratic election we’ve ever had here in Ukraine. (Former President) Petro Poroshenko, who was elected right after the Maidan Revolution, lost the vote significantly. He was very much corrupt, and people understood this and so they wanted to vote for someone else. People voted for Zelensky even though he didn’t have a real political program. He was a comedian, as you know. But people voted for him because there was nobody on his list that they had seen before. His team was all new faces, and the people wanted this. They were tired of the same faces changing around. Then all of a sudden Zelensky started continuing in the direction of what Poroshenko was doing, and everybody was like “WTF? You were saying you were going to imprison him! Everything is going down the drain. What the fuck are you doing?” So that 73% shrank pretty much to 20%. He lost a lot of voters, then the war started.

I would say though, how he has acted has really brought back some respect to him from all over the nation—the world, really. The fact that he has stayed in the country, what he’s saying from the screen, what he’s doing out in the streets, what he’s saying to other leaders—he is acting quite nice, honestly. When I’m standing in the long queue for bread, I’m listening to what people are saying on the street, and many of them talk about how Zelensky has proven himself. Personally I was never really into him but what he is doing in this war is pretty good leadership. He actually acts like a leader, and I like listening to what he is saying. It calms me down and brings more confidence to the situation.

Volodymyr Zelensky presidential inauguration‎, 20th May 2019. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

NY: What is your life like outside of Straytones?

AD: I was and am the brand manager in the guitar department in the biggest distribution company that distributes musical instruments in Ukraine. I’ve been working with brands like Fender, Gibson, Marshall, Moog, whatever. So, that was my job. I really liked it and I still like it. I had a lot of accommodations abroad; I’ve been to the United States quite a few times, and pretty much all over the Europe. It was and still is very interesting, but I don’t know what’s going to happen to this business after this war will end. I’m pretty sure the company is going to shrink, but the question is will it disappear completely or no. This is what I was doing for a living.

I was also finishing repairs on my own apartment. I started changing everything myself, beginning from electricity to pipes to painting, making walls, whatever—it took some time. I was on the finishing line—I was waiting for the furniture for the kitchen. It was supposed to be the 12th of March (laughs).

I don’t know what to expect and I don’t even want to think about it yet. I want to cherish what I have, you know? Right now when I’m going to bed, I’m really saying thank you to the universe, to God, that I can still be in my own bed, man, and I’m wishing to wake up in it. So this is it. This is the lesson that I think every Ukrainian is now learning and going through: really cherish what you have, and live the day that you have; try to live in the moment, because it may be the last day of your life, literally. It’s not a joke.

Today, by the way, I’m feeling pretty much relaxed. I think my body and my brain were very tired from the emotional pendulum that I have been in from all the stress. And today, I’m feeling pretty good actually. Even now I’m talking to you and I’m smiling, which is pretty rare these days, honestly (laughs). Seriously. So, thank you for this opportunity to talk about something else besides the war news and just talking about music. It brings me back to feeling normal.

NY: At the very least, we know the world supports Ukraine, even if leaders are not necessarily meeting Zelensky’s requests for a no-fly zone and other big asks. The long-term future of Russia, though, is becoming very bleak in a very different sort of way. What are your thoughts on this, the future of Russia after the war?

AD: The aftermath for Russia after this war will be like pulling back not to the USSR period but even further. At least in the USSR, people had money, they just didn’t have enough products to spend on. There were no imports. People had money, they had education, they had free medicine, they had jobs. There were not many homeless people starving in the USSR either. So these were all pretty good things about the USSR, but at the same time, there was no free speech, only one political party—nothing much you could ever change. You just lived your life and that’s it. And there were no imported goods. Which is what Russia is becoming again now. Right now, we are of course seeing lots of sanctions on Russia. Russia will not have these imports going forward, and they also don’t have this support system that used to be the USSR. There will now be many Russian people without any jobs.

I think this will be a mix of the USSR and a mix of the Russia from the 90s right after it—a lot of gangsters, a lot of weapons, a lot of…bad shit. The 90s were a crazy time for both Ukraine and for Russia. To be honest, for those I hear about and those few people I know in some other cities in Russia, I am not feeling so good about their future. Maybe they will move out of Russia if they have the chance. Nothing good is going to happen for Russia for the next ten years at least. They will just be pulling back. And one thing that is different now is that in the post-Soviet 90s, nobody really hated Russia like they do now. Now it is very different. Now they have to rebuild the system inside the country while the whole world hates them for what they are doing to Ukraine.

NY: Other thoughts on the war, the future, and your part in all this?

AD: Most of the people I know, the musicians, were always against any kind of war, but in this regard some of them are willing to join the militia. Mostly they are into the volunteer movement. They know they don’t have any military experience. Some of them went to the military office asking, “Do you know if I can help in any way?” They exchanged phone numbers and the military basically said, “When it’s time, we’ll call you. Right now get back to your home and do whatever you can to support yourself.” This is the situation. Only a few guys I know joined the army, and not the militia.

I saw a video from a city close to Energodar and the atomic station, Zaporizhzha, the legendary home of the Cossacks. A huge square, full of men—everybody wanted to be given weapons even without military experience. I know people from Zaporizhzha and, trust me, it is like the Pittsburgh of Ukraine. It is a city of Steelers. Imagine a Steeler who wants to get a gun in his hands. They are tough. They will fight for sure. This is part of the Cossack spirit that they have. Really, it is. We remember this.

Of course, I don’t want to go to the front. Because I don’t think there will be use of me as a warrior. I’m not a military person. I can be a cook, I can do some medical things, I can help in any other way, but I’m not sure that I could shoot. But if fortune will give the weapons to my hand then I will have no other choice and I will become a soldier.

You cannot be ready for any of this until it’s already happening. Time will show. If it’s going to happen, if I’ll be in the training camp, if I will need to fight, I will do my best in order to fight best, to be effective in this, and to survive. This is all I can think about. If this is going to be the situation—that I’m already wearing the uniform and have the Kalashnikov, man… Not much to do, just learn how to use it more efficiently and stay alive. This is all you can do. I really hope it’s not going to happen.

Photo copyrights to Raquel Sousa. Retrieved from this page.

NY: What are your thoughts on the ability of art and humor to raise morale during a situation like this?

AD: Right now the art is to make a meme about the war, and Ukrainians are doing pretty fine with that. From day one, there have been so many memes about the war, and they’re still ongoing. This is something that also brings the spirit up because if you don’t laugh at the situation then you will be upset all of the time. You need the reflection—about the guy who stole the tank, or about the witch who was saying “your dick will never stand up if you do not get out from this city,” or from the guy who was taking the bomb with a cigarette in his mouth—all that stuff is in the memes now. And of course the Russian Military Go Fuck Yourselves, all those things, are also depicted in memes. There are plenty of them, and it is a really helpful form of art right now.

But after that, I am pretty sure there will be big exhibitions, there will be some movies about the war, of course. A lot of poems, some memoirs. A lot of songs, really a lot of songs. Regardless of genre, hip hop, pop music, rock music, whatever. The aftermath, culturally, will be very rich. I am pretty sure about that. Really, we cannot live without art.

NY: I want to try to leave on an uplifting note—how do you see Ukrainian music evolving in the aftermath of this war?

AD: Speaking of music specifically, I think many bands will start to write songs in Ukrainian. I was actually just thinking about how the Ukrainian language is very melodic. It’s like the second most melodic after Italian, you know? It’s not as harsh as Russian, even though we are from the same root of languages. Ukrainian songs are rare and the traditional songs are super nice. So I’m thinking about making a Ukrainian album, and I’m pretty sure that we are going to do that. I know that many bands that have been singing either in Russian or maybe in English—they will also try to go into the direction of singing in their native language.

The band KAT from Kharkiv has already started releasing singles in Ukrainian. They are a post-hardcore band, mostly. More into that area. The lyrics are sad, actually. Pretty pessimistic, but this is how they do it. This is their way, and they are pretty nice guys, really. They are fun, they are cool, but this is the kind of music that they want to put the depression inside of, the tensions you have inside of yourself, too. You’re supposed to listen to that music. You can find it on Bandcamp, too. I can send you the link. They are nice guys.

I can speak from Straytones specifically because I think we can make a postwar album that’s not going to be sad, in terms of music. You know, some of the country songs that have very sad lyrics, they usually are put in the pretty major scale of music, so I’m looking forward to moving that way, some sort of a garage-y 60s thing, but with more positive information—this could be about war or about courage or about some hardships or maybe about nothing related to the war anyway. I mean, this will still be a Straytones record; we will not play something like post metal anyway, you know, like something you listen to and just want to die in the bath with your veins slit and blood all over. It’s not going to be that. We are unique to the Ukrainian scene because a lot of bands, even not metal, but more of the psychedelic thing, the stoner music—they dance around the pentatonic thing, which is not a major scale at all. I was always trying to put it in a major way, in a more uplifting mood, you know? I think we did it very well with “Magic Green River…”

NY: Artem, this has been an honor. Thanks so much for taking the time to hang to chat! I wish peace and safety and wellness to you and all Ukrainians.

AD: Thanks a lot for this—how many…two hours of talking? This was like therapy for me. Thanks a lot man! Peace!


Here are some links to visit if you want to donate and support the Ukrainian military, its hospitals and other humanitarian organisations: