Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich is the prodigy of Belarusian music. This 37-old artist managed to cross the strictly guarded line which separates pop, rock, and folk music and successfully exists on the borderlands of different music styles and traditions. Zmitser’s indefatigable creative energy helps him produce one, sometimes even two new albums every year. While other musicians stick to a guitar, saxophone, or violin, he can grab pretty much any misical instrument and immediately produce a melody. He not only plays, but also writes music himself, sings, directs his own concerts, works as radio host and plays in a musical. Critics say that Zmitser’s erotic voice helps him to conquer hearts of thousands of his female fans, although the artist also has enough exciting music for men to offer.
Zmitser was born in a small town of Biarouzauka in Western Belarus. In the early 90’s he came to Minsk to study music at the University of Culture. Zmitsier takes special pride in the fact that he is not a “minchuk” (Minsk native). “I can’t say I don’t like Minsk. A lot of things in my life are connected to this city. However, I am proud that I managed to achieve something here on my own”, he says.
Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich began his music career in 1992 with “Palac” folk-rock group, which still enjoys great popularity in the country. However, Vajtsiushkevich’s talent demanded new experiences and challenges. In 1997 he joined another folk-rock group “Kriwi”. Since 2001, Zmitser pursues a solo career. For him, singing solo doesn’t mean being alone: Zmitser has created a whole new band “WZ-Orchestra”, which accompanies him during concerts (sometimes up to 50 a year).
Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich belongs to the group of the so-called “blacklisted musicians”, who, until recently, had problems with working in Belarus because they refused to adhere to the state ideology line. A couple of months ago the “blacklist” policy has been abandoned, which brought relief to many musicians. Zmitser, however, has a rather sarcastic point of view in this regard. “Everyone chooses his own way. I believe that the authorities did a great favour to musicians by blacklisting them. This has helped musicians to grow and develop their spirit. I wouldn’t have become an artist I am today without being “blacklisted”. I am even grateful to the state TV for refusing to broadcast my video clips. I don’t need their services. I don’t see any connection between genuine popularity and video clip rotation on TV”, he says.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the music world of Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich. His first album “Tsatsachnaya Krama” (‘Toy Shop’) appeared in 2001. It came out as a surprise – nobody expected that the singer would dedicate his premiere album to the smallest listeners - children. Each song is about an animal, which tells the child its own story: for example, you can listen to a clever Crow, or industrious Horse, or a Wolf, who claims he is not angry but simply hungry.
In his next album, “Balady” (“Balads”, 2002), Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich collected folk ballads and sad songs telling of the women’s fortunes, adventures of young men and fights with dragons. “Balady” embody the experience I have accumulated”, says Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich, who collected the songs for this album during his time with “Palac” and “Kriwi”. Zmitser took part in ethnographic expeditions, during which he recorded old men and women in faraway villages singing folk songs.
The next album, “Paraviny Hodu” (‘Seasons of the Year’) was recorded in 2003. The goal of Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich and his “WZ-Orchestra” was to create elite music, that would be enjoyed by masses. He has written 12 songs to the lyrics of Ales Kamotsky, a contemporary Belarusian poet, telling about love and life, about hopes and temptations. The songs are ordered in four thematic blocks, according to the year’s four seasons.
Here is an example: “I Was Walking to You” http://music.fromby.net/mp3/wz_orkiestra_ja_iszou_da_ciabie.mp3
In 2004 Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich turned to the patriarch of the Belarusian poetry, Ryhor Baradulin, asking whether he would be interested to take part in preparation of his new album. Ryhor Baradulin was so excited about the idea and about the work of Vajtsuishkevich in general, that he has written a poem “New Year” exclusively for him. It gave start to the album “Paravoz Kahannia” (‘Steam Locomotive of Love’), with songs written to the poems of Baradulin. The poet also recorded audio epigraphs that introduce every song of the album to the listener. There are thirteen songs bringing together two creative men, who belong to different generations and different spheres of art but still exist in the same creative dimension of the Belarusian life. Vajtsiushkevich and Baradulin are looking for answers to such eternal questions as the meaning of love and life. These are questions, which, on one hand, have no answer, but on the other – too many of them. The music of Vajtsiushkevich reflects this multitude of variations, with jazzy motives unexpectedly turning slightly groovy, sometimes with a touch of reggae.
Here is an example: “Spring Day” http://music.fromby.net/mp3/vajciuszkievicz_viasnovy_dzien.mp3
In 2005 Vajtsiushkevich carried out another music experiment – he wrote songs to the poems of Vladimir Mayakovsky, prominent Russian futurist poet from the first half of the 20th century. Working with the Russian-language lyrics was an experiment per se. “I wanted to see for myself what it means to sing in Russian”, says Zmitser, who usually speaks and sings in Belarusian. Another challenge for Vajtsiushkevich was to disсover Mayakovsky in his music, and to discover himself in Mayakovsky’s poetry.
2005 was a fruitful year for Vajtsiushkevich. He recorded another album “Mesiats i Sontsa” (‘Moon and Sun’). The singer tried to find parallels in Belarusian and Japanese cultures by uniting classical Japanese poetry and contemporary Belarusian music. “In this album two new worlds were created. Which one is Belarusian, and which one is Japanese, — it is difficult to tell. Our Belarusian poetry usually sets off good against evil, white against black, love against hatred. The Japanese do something different in their songs – they observe life as it is. This contrast between two worldviews makes the album so exciting”, believes Zmitsier. Just a week ago, on February 23, 2008, Vajtsiushkevich presented his album in Japan.
In his 2006 album “Tanga z Ruzhaj” (‘Tango with a Rose’), Vajtsiushkevich poses as a chansonnier singing “urban romances” with his main characters: poets, prostitutes and drunkards. The lyrics belong to Uladzimer Niakliajeu, another contemporary Belarusian poet.
“The Road” http://music.fromby.net/mp3/vajciuszkievicz_daroha.mp3
“The 9th Cry” http://music.fromby.net/mp3/vajciuszkievicz_placz.mp3
In 2007 Vajtsiushkevich prepared one more gift for children by recording the UNICEF-sponsored album “Kalyhanki” (‘Lullabies’). His most recent project is the album “Liryka” (‘Lyrics’), which brings together songs written to the poems of Henadz Buraukin.
As one can see, Vajtsiushkevich is as an active popularizer of the contemporary Belarusian poetry. Most of the poets he promotes are not favored by the state ideology. They are not allowed to give lectures in schools or universities, their poems are excluded from schoolbooks. But apart from that, the most serious challenge to poets is changing reading habits of Belarusians. People barely read poems today. Vajtsiushckevich brings the poetry to those who are more likely to appreciate it listening to their iPods rather than reading books.
“I never liked crowded spaces, in music as well”, says Zmitsier Vajtsiushkevich. “Now I have found my “space” where I can feel myself free as a bird. Every time I write music, I turn into a real egoist. I do only what I feel like doing. I don’t pay attention to any scandals in the music scene. I would never agree to “bath in dirt” in order to create a name for myself. Music is sacred for me. It is due to music I have become someone. I am a happy person because I decide for myself how to live and what to do”.
You can download some other Vajtsiushkevich’s songs for free from the main Belarusian independent music web-resource Tuzin Hitou (‘dozen hits’):
“Like Wind” http://music.fromby.net/mp3/vajciuszkievicz_jak_viecier.mp3
“Village Holiday” http://music.fromby.net/mp3/vajciuszkievicz_sviata_uvioscy.mp3
“My Ramanya” http://music.fromby.net/mp3/vajciuszkievicz_romagna_mia.mp3
“Venus Star” http://music.fromby.net/mp3/todar_zorka_venera.mp3
Official web-site of Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich: http://www.todar.net/
By Ales Kudrytsky for the ODB
Photos by todar.net
Zmitser Vajtsiushkevich performing at a concert