Nina Matvienko is one of those singers whose voice is heart stopping, no exaggeration. Winner of the People’s Artist Award of Ukraine, the Shevchenko National Prize, and Ukrainian Hero, Nina Matvienko has been a symbol of the Ukrainian folk song for many years. Her performances have been applauded in Mexico, United States, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Finland, Korea, France, and other countries around the world.
Her daughter Tonia (Antonina) Matvienko followed her mother’s path and also became a singer. She gained national recognition and public adoration thanks to her participation in Season 1 (2011) of the Ukrainian talent show, “The Voice of the Country.” After this show, Tonia dedicated her life to art and the stage.
Nina and Tonia Matvienko know how to convey their love for Ukrainian song, specifically to live this feeling and feel bright energy with every word. Charming and talented Ukrainians, they have authentic voices that complement one another. In their interviews, the singers discussed their latest projects, shared some Matvienko family values, and offered tips on how to recognize and preserve one’s own happiness.
Nina, Tonia, let’s begin our discussion with your creative accomplishments. Which projects were the most memorable for you?
N.М.: Everyone knows that music is healing. Today, it’s time when we need to stay strong and manifest bright future. In November of 2015, there was a Ukrainian Baroque music charity tour in seven cities called, “The Soul of Ukraine,” accompanied by Konstiantyn Chechenia – Old Music Ensemble. I was struck by the purity of poetry from this era, which is very dear to the people, with deep feelings of innocence, which seems lacking today.
T.M.: I’m satisfied with the fact that I completed work on the project ANTONINA, which will be presented this year. A colossal, creative idea and work for folk songs, which I’m very proud of and I can’t wait to share them with the public. I was able to recover records from the 1980s, in which I could hear my grandmother sing. She was a cappella, accompanied by very experimental electronic music.
Now let’s talk about Ukrainian song with Ukrainian soul, what would you personally add to this concept?
T.M.: A Ukrainian song expresses and shares what’s inside one’s soul: happiness or sadness. That’s why our songs embrace and touch human heart.
N.M.: You know, not all the songs can be attributed to people. The heart should choose a song, and instinctively it should be yours. Somehow, we live through certain songs, certain impressions, and we get to understand each other, exploring these feelings through lyrics, be it some turmoil in life, lyrics of love, or a tragic ballad.
When one hears the name Matvienko, there’s an immediate recognition associated with Ukrainian folk song. Tonia, you have often stated your intention to introduce folk song into modern context, tell us about this new development.
T.M.: One thing I can say is that I’m satisfied with the results of my work, and that association continues to exist, serving as an incentive. I create modern songs, but never forget about folk, incorporating the concept of folk into my concerts. At the same time, I separate the two, and I don’t like when modern songs are arranged to sound like folk songs. That’s why I’m skeptical regarding certain things.
Due to the current events in Ukraine, our country has become drawn the world’s attention, to a certain extent. The relevance of national motives began to grow every day, and the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian song developed new significance. Do you have the feeling that Ukrainian culture is about to experience a renaissance, and how do you feel Ukrainians continue being Ukrainian?
N.M.: Every force of life, like falling meteorites, is stressful for our planet. Unfortunately, our country is constantly in troubled state, but we are looking for a way out. Our youth is wonderful, and it feels like the fresh wind gives them a positive charge. Do you know how we surprised the world? Volunteerism. Because that’s the essence of Ukrainian people, sincerity and kindness!
T.M.: Certainly, I feel the change with regard to the language, songs and culture! People appreciate more, learn more about Ukrainian groups and respect their own language significantly. The main word is “savior.” There are many Ukrainians that simply live in their own land. And then, there are those people making a difference and contributing to their own land. We should never stop, we must continue to contribute to our country, and, I’m certain that’s the only way our Ukrainian traditions will be preserved.
You often performed on tour in the United States, participating in Ukrainian music festivals. Nina, your skills are often applauded across the ocean. Tonia, in the summer of 2015 you performed at a festival in Chicago, and collected funds dedicated to support Ukrainian troops and their families. What stands out most from this trip and how were you greeted by the Ukrainian diaspora?
N.M.: It happens that when I got to the U.S., I arrived in the winter, during the Christmas holiday. I visited Chicago, and Brooklyn, N.Y. The concert halls were filled with spectators. I expressed everything that is always in my heart. We were always in a hurry to get from one place to another. We talked with a lot of people. I would like to note that these Ukrainians, in this day and age, because of a series of circumstances, live abroad. They do not love their country any less than we do. It often happens that what we can’t do in our native land, many will do for Ukraine from abroad.
T.M.: Truthfully, these kinds of trips are always memorable! In this case, music and song united us when meeting our fellow countrymen. Personally, for me, these are brilliant moments. Not only that I performed, but also met with Ukrainians who left Ukraine due to various events in their lives. These are strong people who seek better lives, and support their family and loved ones. Today, this also means supporting our military. An effective slogan would be: “United we stand together.” Our power and supporters are with us! This is an incredible feeling, unity of one big family standing together.
You teach singing to talented youth, and you have judged many music competitions. How do you envision Ukraine’s creative future?
N.M.: Ukraine is a generous country, full of talent. So many talented people that, I believe, we have somehow stopped appreciating them. They are somewhere, like a piece of metal waiting to be shaped, molded. I feel blessed because I do what I love with my life. After all, knowing and wanting are two different things, they are both necessary to fulfill our wishes. Every motivation should be justified. You can’t get motivated and just find your true calling if you procrastinate. When the right time comes, you get active and move, like a train, very fast. Jesus said: “Those who come to me last in church, will be the first.”
What do you expect from 2016, please share your plans with us.
T.M.: I definitely know that I will continue working on the ANTONINA project.
N.M.: There are lots of plans, which are sewn into the world with a thin needle, but they need to find the thread. Despite the years, and despite everything, it can work. I take an example from the famous Ukrainian actress, Ada Rohovtseva. She does everything right, despite the terrible tragedy that she had to endure in her life. But time heals and changes our disposition. For example, earlier in my life, I always was in a rush, even in romance, but than, with time, I just wanted to be alone with myself. I would write something, then sit down and reread it. The heart writes, and the mind reads. This is my personality, if the heart prevails, then this aspect is drawn to my life, but if my mind wins over my heart, then it’s not tied to my heart, and that means that nothing will happen.
What does InLove mean to you?
N.M.: (Laughs) For now, I observe the relationship my daughter Tonia has with Arsen (Arsen Mirzoian, a Ukrainian performer and Tonia’s husband.) I even see in them things that I couldn’t do! Tonia knows how to love, and knows how to fight for her happiness. I’m glad that she’s got that strength in her. I can’t point out or criticize her in this sense, and maybe that’s good, not to stop this fury of love. It’s very charming, because when it fades, and when you have nothing to say, only memories remain, and then it’s the end.
T.M.: In fact, when I’m in love, I radiate light and joy. My smile gives me away. I feel happy and I want to sing all the time.
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