Ukrainian-American live music is coming to the island
As his country prepared for Independence Day, Ukraine’s president warned his citizens of the possibility that Russian forces could attempt “something particularly ugly”.
A continent and an ocean to the west, a Jamestown nonprofit will honor this Ukrainian freedom with an event to raise funds for the war-torn nation.
The Jamestown Ukraine Relief Project, founded after the Russian invasion in February, will host a Family Sunflower Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the grounds adjacent to Lawn School on Watson Avenue. Although admission is free, donations are encouraged. John Andrews, president of the local relief project, said there was a buzz around the festival in Rhode Island’s Ukrainian-American community.
“We would expect this to provide an opportunity for these people to come together and feel welcome in Jamestown, and to feel supported by the community of Jamestown,” he said.
In addition to arts and crafts, which will have kids drawing with sidewalk chalk and building pinwheels while having their hair braided and face painted, music by Ukrainian-American artists Teryn Kuzma and Korinya will highlight the event. Teryn’s sister, Alina, is the singer of Korinya.
The musicians’ inclusion came from Andrews’ friendship with Alex Kuzma, whose daughters will be performing. Teryn Kuzma said they immediately agreed to play when Andrews asked them.
“John Andrews is a very close friend of our family,” she said. “We were so touched and truly honored that he created this organization just as war broke out for Ukraine. He’s just a wonderful person.
Korinya performs contemporary folk music influenced by traditional Ukrainian music. Besides Alina Kuzma, the group includes violinist Sana Shepko, accordionist Zoya Shepko and bassist Nick Hladio.
The band have released two albums since their inception in 2005 and performed with former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne at a fundraiser in New York in June.
Teryn Kuzma is a soprano singer who plays a 55-string Ukrainian instrument called a bandura, which resembles harps, lutes, zithers, and dulcimers. She is currently working on her Masters in Vocal Performance at Bard College in New York.
“The bandura is truly a multifaceted instrument and it suits many different genres of music, which I like to incorporate into my repertoire,” she said. “I just think it’s one of the most beautiful instruments.”
Kuzma grew up in Connecticut and currently lives in Red Hook, NY. She said Ukrainian culture and music was highly valued by her family as she grew up, and they spent a year in Kyiv. She is a fourth generation bandura player who has been playing the instrument since she was 7 years old. She has incorporated the bandura into her vocal recitals at some 20 benefit concerts for Ukraine since the start of the war. At the Jamestown event, she plans to incorporate English songs into her Ukrainian repertoire.
“I think you can connect a lot more with people outside of the Ukrainian community with such a beautiful instrument,” she said.
The third group to take the stage is more familiar with the local scene. The South County Rounders, led by Jamestown resident Matt Bolles, will perform. As an active member of Central Baptist Church, where Andrews’ organization was born, Bolles was involved in the logistics of the festival. As a result, his bluegrass and acoustic band became part of the billing.
The music will begin at 10 a.m. with a two-number performance by the St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church Choir of Woonsocket. The plan is for Bolles to perform after the choir, followed by the Kuzmas for the rest of the four-hour festival. “Keanes’ particular generosity is quite remarkable,” Andrews said.
Since the local relief project was incorporated in March, approximately $48,000 has been raised through a presentation by US Jack Reed and a cafe concert at Central Baptist, a community dinner at St. Mark’s, a recital classical at St. Matthew’s, a poetry reading at Curiosity & Co, an online auction and an open house at the Shady Lea Mill in North Kingstown.
“We raised quite a bit of money,” Andrews said.
The relief project originally planned to hold a sunflower growing contest with a festival to culminate this effort. The sunflower, however, apart from being Ukraine’s national flower, is a tempting food for deer and rabbits, so the organization scrapped this plan as it might have been an exercise in futility.
“The original impetus for the festival was this contest, but it grew and evolved into something much bigger and more diverse,” Andrews said. “Coincidentally, it falls three days after Ukraine’s Independence Day.”
In addition to music and crafts, food and refreshments from Keanes Wood Fired Catering in Cranston were donated. There will also be folk dances, demonstrations on creating Ukrainian Easter eggs and a foam pit sponsored by local volunteer firefighters.
Local printmaker Josy Wright has created a banner for the children of Jamestown to bring their handprints to, and this banner will be sent to the Polish town of Ustron where 1,500 Ukrainian refugees are housed. Jamestown resident Ewa Wright, who grew up in Ustron, visited the facility during the war, which led to this show of unity.
“We are helping meet the needs of these refugee children, and the banner will be given to them,” Andrews said.
Proceeds from the festival will benefit the Ukrainian Catholic University Foundation, World Central Kitchen, Doctors Without Borders, Americares, Save the Children and Direct Relief. Razom for Ukraine will also benefit from the event, which Andrews says is their top priority. Founded in 2014 by Ukrainian-American volunteers to support the country after the Dignity Revolution, the association focuses specifically on Ukraine.
“They already have a strong footprint in Ukraine, where some of the international organizations really didn’t have one,” Andrews said. “They align well with our goal, which is not just short-term humanitarian relief, but long-term reconstruction efforts once the shooting stops.”