We’ve spoken with Ukrainian rapper Alyona Alyona, one of the eight winners of the EU’s Music Moves Europe Talent Awards. She tells us about why her songs address so many vital social issues and who inspires her.
The Music Moves Europe Talent Awards are the new European Union Prize for contemporary music. Every year, eight outstanding artists receive a Music Moves Europe Talent Award in recognition of their international success. The awards have been set up by the European Commission and the Creative Europe programme to support the development of the European music sector. Alyona Alyona received the most votes of all the nominees and won the Public Choice Award 2021. Congratulations! How did it happen?
Alyona Alyona: Thank you very much! As you probably know, there are eight winners among 16 nominees – a one-in-two chance. And I hoped that I would win something. But winning the Public Choice Award is really wow!
People from all over Europe, and not only from Ukraine, took part in the voting! When I was announced as the first winner, without nomination, I logged in to Instagram and started sending messages on the hot news and a video. And while I was making a video, I won the Public Choice Award.
I entered our team’s chat and saw a lot of messages from our team members: “You won the Public Choice Award!” I replied: “What?” This was the greatest shock. I thought: wow, Europeans voted for the Ukrainian song, although they didn’t know the Ukrainian language. They heard the song and believed it. And I felt pride in our language! Really, Ukrainians do listen to international music, starting from Japanese and Arabic and ending up with English, Italian, and Spanish. We listen to everything. Why couldn’t our music in our language be popular abroad?
Such awards discover new talents. I had come to know all the participants and thought that Mero would win the award. He is a European rapper who has a lot of followers on Instagram. His target audience is represented by young women and secondary school students.
I would be incredibly happy to collaborate with RIMON, whom I have known for a long time. She has showcased her performance on the YouTube channel Colors, which I monitor closely. This channel inspires me for new music.
I have discovered a few more good artists and presented them on my Instagram and Facebook pages. Listen to them and expand your horizons because this is interesting music. Maybe, it would inspire you to create your own story.
It’s so cool that Ukrainian hip hop music rocks the European audience. The website of the Music Moves Europe Talent Awards states the following: “This former teacher raps in Ukrainian and hits the bull's eye with her lyrics. Her debut album Ribki (or Fischlein, a synonym for young women) is about women like Alyona who are not accepted by society. It became a viral hit in Ukraine where 'Salischaju swij dim' ('I leave my house') has become an unofficial anthem for the many who want to move away from their traditional life to a better future.”
Many of your songs – for example, “Buling” (“Bullying”), “Sumno” (“It is sad”), “Zabyrai” (“Take back”), and “Pushka” (“Bomb”) - sound like social manifestos and convey strong messages that strike a chord with everybody. Why are vital social topics at the heart of most of your tracks? It is clear that hip hop music refers to socially sensitive issues. But rather often such music is about love or a beloved woman, while your songs focus on serious themes.
Alyona Alyona: Now, probably, the time has come when I should do some soul-searching. A new album will be released soon and right now, I need to think about producing the next one. When my works were on the upswing and I became famous, I understood that I became an influencer, and all my words could influence somebody. And I cranked out everything that I wanted to share or discuss just for the past two years. I think I spoke about everything that was painful for me – about all my jobs, experiences, and a load on my mind. I understand that maybe it’s wrong because my tracks are more like books. I’m like a real teacher: don’t leave waste, don't beat women, or don’t bully children. These are serious messages. Maybe, I have lost some simplicity. And the lockdown revealed this. I registered on TikTok and recollected that I am cheerful, interesting, and can just entertain. The track “Rybky” (“Little fish”) is in fact about this – it is serious but positive and cool. I believe that I have a lot of such features. But it just happened that I started to work very hard and lost one of my properties. I think that we will release this album and the next one may be more cheerful and vibrant.
As you can see, although all this has been revealed, it has borne fruit. There are so many personal stories. Moreover, you tell as many words as a teacher does in a 45-minute lesson. Which of your tracks tells your personal story best of all?
Alyona Alyona: The track “Velyka i smishna” (“Big and funny”) characterises me the best. It is just about me – an observer in this world, I whirl along somewhere in my life and constantly adapt to different situations like water. A rut spins me around and I am just walking, big and funny. It is really about me.
In your interview for Ukrainian Vogue, you said that you had recorded your first track “Zhinochyi udar po stereotypakh” (“Women’s crackdown on stereotypes”) when you were nineteen. It was your personal response to imposing particular social roles on women and to statements that women should cook borsch but not rap. And after your such confident debut, maybe nobody would think of classifying rap as either men’s and women’s. Because you are the queen of Ukrainian rap and men have a long way to go before they reach your level. What gender stereotypes should be tackled in society?
Alyona Alyona: I believe there are millions of such stereotypes. At first glance, it seems that everything is ok. However, there are areas in which people usually... For example, in cooking: when people find out that a chef is a woman, they feel upset…I agree that it is more comfortable for us to see men as chefs, since they are gourmets. But there are women who are great at cooking. And this stereotype should be rooted out. This doesn’t mean that all women have to occupy all kitchens massively. No, I speak just about a stereotype... Such prejudices exist and flicker. The same is true with women directors. There are millions of examples when the situation has improved: Lviv, Kharkiv, or Kyiv – a super cool city. But when you go to Baryshivka, you can see a completely different picture. This paradigm has failed. How come? Why?
Are there any popular or not so popular women you admire and why? In music or in politics?
Alyona Alyona: American singer Lizzo really appeals to me. Because she is also about the highest possible self-acceptance. And it seems to me that she is like me – she is cheerful, positive, and likes joking. She gets her kicks from her activity. Her concerts are mind-blowing. I can’t recall any political actor because I keep an eye more on artists.
In Ukraine, I met a woman using a wheelchair. We met accidently at the theatre. She was there with my friend. And we decided to go to a café to drink coffee. I offered to call a taxi, but she proposed to give us a lift. She drives a car designed for people with disabilities. And one of my paradigms failed. I think it is cool! The woman lives a full-fledged life and is married. It’s great!
In Lviv, I met a young woman Miriam Shypa. She is a blogger. Miriam has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and uses a wheelchair. However, she is married and has a child. The woman with disabilities has given birth to a child and is a mother. For sure, her husband will help her a lot, but he loves her. He has chosen such a life. I met her personally. I admire these women. They can achieve goals, and we complain about different things. We have arms and legs, but we complain that something is not satisfying. You can’t say so.
You can listen to the full interview in the podcast.