July 17, 2022

The concert request from Munich reached me on my first evening in Kyiv – my band RotFront was invited to perform at a big festival in the Muffathalle. It wouldn’t have been the first time – however, our concerts have always taken place in the smaller room, so moving to the big hall would have felt great.

I came to the Ukrainian capital to write music for Anastasiia Kosodii’s new play. I met Anastasiia in 2017 at the premiere of my hip hop opera “Bandera”. A year later I was allowed to contribute music for the scenic reading of her play “Time traveller’s Guide To Donbass”.

I really liked the text and the plot – in 2036 a time machine is invented in Ukraine. A journey into the not so distant past is planned to find out what was the real reason for the war in Donbass. Now we are working on a new piece entitled “What is Jewish Music?”. It should be about the difficult topic of Ukrainian-Jewish relations.

At the airport in Kyiv, and also later in the city, I kept seeing people with mouth and nose masks, while the news reported daily about the spread of the new virus. As soon as I returned to Berlin, the cancellations and postponements started. Our premiere in Kyiv was also postponed several times and then cancelled.

When Anastasiia and I met in spring 2020, we could not have guessed that we would not be playing “What is Jewish Music?” until December 2021, and not in Kyiv or Berlin, but in the Munich Kammerspiele.

As part of the Distant Neighbors festival, several events with Kiev theaters and authors took place there. It felt a bit unreal to be in the heart of Munich, just off the chic shopping streets, singing about Babyn Yar or watching “Bad Roads”, Natalia Vorozhbyt’s brutal film about the Russo-Ukrainian war.

This weekend I’ll be back in Munich. In summer 2021 it was still too early for big events, so we are only now playing the concert in the Muffathalle that was planned two years ago. My fellow musicians and I are really looking forward to seeing you again, the atmosphere was euphoric during rehearsals, but I have a lot of questions about our repertoire.

Even though it’s my mother tongue, it’s hard for me to sing in Russian. Some songs come across as too happy for me, I can hardly imagine performing them right now… And if I had to make an announcement about the current situation in my home country, what should I say? Should I ask the dancing audience about it at all? Or say nothing at all? No, you can’t.

Before the concert, in the courtyard in front of the Muffathalle, I meet Boris Yurievich, my music teacher from Kharkiv, who moved here in the early 2000s. I cautiously ask him if his old house is still standing in Saltivka, the prefabricated housing area in the north-east of Kharkiv – the area has been bombed almost every day since the end of February.

Then I see Felix, invite him to sit with us. I’ve known Felix for years, he’s originally from Zhitomir. His 85-year-old mother, who refused to leave the country, lived there until recently, but then her street was shelled. Now she is in Munich, says Felix.

Everything works on stage. Sometimes I almost think I’m at a concert in 2020. But then I see Boris Yurievich and Felix, I think of Saltivka and Zhitomir. And I address the audience, thank everyone who supports Ukrainian refugees in Bavaria and ask them not to stop and not to forget the war in Ukraine. The room suddenly becomes quiet – in all the years we’ve been playing, we’ve never experienced such silence in our performances.

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