It was a good year for Ukraine, pop-wise: the country got its own MTV channel, and participated in the MTV European Music Awards ceremony in Munich on 1 November. Natalia Dzenkiv, a diminutive young lady from Ivano-Frankivsk who goes by the stage name Lama, won the ‘Best Ukrainian Act’ prize.
The first thing Natalia said is that she learned a lesson early this month in Munich: there’s a huge difference between show business in the West and show business here. Everything is under control there. An artist is surrounded by technical and security personnel: there’s no panicking, no shouting or crying. Natalia also noticed that a positive attitude prevails over there. You don’t find a lot of downcast people, moping around in depression. It’s just the way it is. The most memorable people she met in Germany were Muse, the British band that recently played Kyiv’s Palace Sport, and the band Justice, from France. She also liked a Foo Fighters performance she saw in Munich before the ceremony, and was impressed how they managed to excite a sold-out house.
When talk turns to the Ukrainian music scene, Natalia says changes have to be driven by the bands themselves, and the music they put out. Production quality can get better, but in the end it all comes down to the musicians and the songs. Today a lot of good young Ukrainian bands are coming up, and Natalia has faith that the native music scene will be a rich one. Her favourite bands at the moment are Okean Elzy, Esthetic Education, and Dazzle Dreams. Natalia’s native western Ukraine has given us many arts figures of note. Ivano-Frankivsk is the capital of contemporary Ukrainian literature, one of the stars of which is Natalia’s acquaintance Irena Karpa, the writer and rock singer. In 1997 the two met in the same recording studio, where Irena was working on a project with her band Faktychno Sami and Natalia was singing in the duo Magia. Natalia likes Karpa as both a writer and singer, and they had a lot of fun when they met again this year through MTV, for which Karpa is a Ukrainian host. Natalia says her Munich experience led her to feel a lot more responsibility for her art, and that now she wants to try even harder to do her best and improve the quality of the things the does. She believes strongly in the power of her music, and realises that there are a lot of things to do in the future. Soon, for example, there will be a new video to launch, and a tour to complete.
Particularly interesting is Natalia’s view of the Ukrainian pop scene, where everything is based on public relations and marketing. She says she does her best to be minimally influenced by that sort of dirty business. Her team has its own strategy and makes its own mistakes, and Natalia says she’s immune to star fever, and that her image consists of being herself: what you see is what you get. The name Lama was Natalia’s idea, not some producer’s, and Natalia does her own styling, with the help only of one hairdresser, who colors and cuts her hair. She says that there’s a big problem in Ukraine when it comes to finding professional stylists and personal designers. Real specialists are always busy, and she doesn’t trust the young amateurs. “In Munich there were a lot of stylists, and I heard adequate recommendations for the first time in my life.” Munich also turned out to be a place where you can buy inexpensive clothes, and Natalia found shopping there to be a pleasure. Natalia moved to Kyiv from Ivano-Frankivsk seven years ago, and remembers that it was hard here at first. She was a popular singer in western Ukraine, but there was no room to grow there. In the capital, there were possibilities. “Now I feel like Kyiv is my city too,” she says. “I like to meet up with my friends at Antresol and walk in the Botanical Gardens.” Such a life might be far from the bright stages of Munich, but it suits this unpretentious star just fine.