Monday, August 23, 2010

Twenty years old and still fresh today - OPALNI PRINZ

Anyone who has taken the time to peruse the pages of my blog has probably already figured that I am an individual who can and has worn many different hats. At times I have received some positive commentary and encouragement while at others I have become engaged in heated debate. Nevertheless, I always try to share with anyone who reads these pages, something new, something they either didn't know or never thought of in a particular way before. This entry is no different even though its subject spans back to a period when there was a certain optimism in the air, that things were going to change in Ukraine, as they had been changing throughout Eastern Europe.

In the summer of 1989 I was living in Ottawa and working at the International Research Development Centre and slightly involved in the Ukrainian community, though students who I would meet late that summer at the Ukrainian Canadian Students' Union Congress being held at Carleton University would change things in my life, and I was drawn into the organization on a deeper basis and later that fall I would become a member of its executive. The following summer I would travel to Ukraine which was experiencing a renaissance in its contemporary culture and national pride. Upon my return and prior to my second trip to Ukraine in one summer I was now not only on the executive of that aforementioned organization, I was its president. During during both those trips I met other students and some pretty solid friendships had formed. Eventually I invited two of these students to visit me in Canada. By the time they arrived in Montreal in the fall of 1992 a great deal had transpired since the summer of 1989. I would even go as far as saying that a revolution had taken place. Ukraine was now independent.

When they arrived at my home, there were a few gifts and a hand full of letters they had given to me from other friends. One of the gifts was simply a cassette entitled Nova Revolutsiya, and for anyone who listened to my latest installment of Kultural Capsule on Nash Holos knows, that what I had in my hands had already become a collector's item.

I new revolution had indeed transpired since 1989, though it was nothing that anyone would recognize as a revolution. The foundations of the communist Soviet Union were not as rock solid as some had believed and the power the Soviet Union once held over the countries of the Warsaw Pact was not what it once was. This being said, all these changes had a profound effect on Ukrainians regardless of where they lived, and this was no different for two brothers from the small town of Khodoriv in L'viv Oblast in Western Ukraine. Those two brothers were Rostyslav and Yuriy Shtyn. Having gotten to know them both quite well during a period from 2005 to 2009 before I returned to Canada, I knew that they were conscientious Ukrainians. One of their grandfathers had journeyed to North America to earn some money in order purchase a substantial piece of land during the period of the Habsburgєs, though saw his dreams shattered when the Soviets moved into Western Ukraine and confiscated his dream. The brother's parents were Roman Shtyn, who hailed from the town of Ustriky Dolni in Ukraininn though now known as Ustrzyki Dolne, and Stefaniya Shtyn (née Tsybran) who was from Demydiv. Regardless of all the changes that had happened during the twentieth century, the entire family has remained quite conscientiously Ukrainian and pani Stefaniya still runs the town of Khodoriv's only Ukrainian language book store.

Both Rostyslav and Yuriy had first hand musical experience and wanted compose and play music which reflected the changes that were happening all around them, while at the same time they wanted it to be Ukrainian. Not to be simply rock'n'roll sang in Ukrainian, but to include some of deeper elements of Ukrainian culture and the ethnos of Ukrainians.

Though it took a while for the group to come together, in fact there was a three year period before it all came together. From my knowledge Opalni Prinz appeared on the scene in 1989 and to clarify what I had read about the group on the Ukrainian language Wikipedia sites which states that the group existed from 1986 I decided to go straight to the source. So I called Yuriy Shtyn and he told me that Opalni Prinz per se, as a group under that name only appeared in 1989. But the three year period prior to this was spent on a project called Strus Mozhu (Brain Concussion). Unfortunately, our Skype signal was kind of poor when we spoke yesterday, August 22, 2010, so I followed by contacting Rostyslav who set the record straight.

"Before the formation of Opalni Prinz was its predecessor, not a completely formulated project – Strus Mozku. It included myself, my brother Yuriy, Roman Brytsky. We all went on to form Opalni Prinz but there were still two others in that group. One Boris Rosenthul and a and a young actress from the Maria Zankovetska Theatre by the name of Lyudmila Razik. At the time I had just finished working with a Leningrad (St. Petersburg) based singer Albert Asadullin who was extremely popular in the USSR and had returned to L'viv and created the Holos studio as a cooperative. Yurko had just finished his studies in Rivne and he also moved to L'viv. At that time we recorded our first singles: Мандри (Mandry – Wandering [ed. VP]), Позичаєш память (Pozychayesh pamyat' — You Borrow memory [ed. VP]), Чорна Діра (Chorna Dira - Black Hole [ed. VP]), Леонід Брежнєв (Leonid Brezhnev [ed. VP]), which received airplay on Radio Liberty, and Паскуда(Paskuda – Hussy or Villianous individual [ed. VP]). Those were very socially and musically “different” singles. Roman Brytsky was also part of the group then and we tried to find other musicians to join us. In fact from 1986-89 I created my agency, put together a top studio and started the Опалний Принц (Opalni Prinz — Disgraced Prince [ed. VP]) project,” said Shtyn.

As mentioned, Opalani Prinz recorded all of their material at their own studio and during the early period released one album entitled Mandry, that album like its follow up quickly became a collector's item. It included the aforementioned singles and Mandry has somehow found its way out on to YouTube. Later on they released a few more singles. Шантрапа (Shantrapa -Riff-raff), Танкова Атака (Tankova ataka -Tank Attack- in Russian), Гей Україно! (Hey Ukraino! -Hey Ukraine!) and Комбі у Львові (Kombi u L'vovi - Kombi in L'viv -1988).

These early works to more or less an extent were not simply music but statements. Hey Ukraino! is uplifting and reflects the feeling of the time, particularly in L'viv, which was not the capital of Ukraine, but the still Soviet nation's heart and soul. Those who listen to my segment on Nash Holos may recognize it as it is the musical backdrop to my monologue. While I had realized it earlier, a number of their works were a chronicling of events. For example Kombi u L'vovi is about the furor which was created when the Polish band Kombi from Gdansk was to perform in L'viv at the Spartak Stadium in 1989, according to Yurok. The refrain of that song is as follows:

Комбі у Львові на Спартаку з ними, наше rendez-vous.
Kombi in L'viv at Spartak with them, our rendez-vous.

While that work is quite lighthearted and was even purposefully done to mimic Kombi's musical style in the use of electronics, according to Yurok. Whereas Tankova Ataka was much more a political statement on the Soviets in Afghanistan. Rostyslav Shtyn told me how and why they wrote the song. “We found that poem in some youth magazine. It demonstrated its strength of person against metal (a tank) and then a lot of people were openly talking about the war in Afghanistan and its senselessness. We then decided to do that piece in Russian, in order that it made its way to a Soviet audience. Yurko developed the theme, OP did the arrangement and we created something that made its way onto the Soviet Union's TV channels at once, up until the point that one of the censors saw that the clip contained scenes with destroyed Soviet tanks in Afghanistan, then it was quickly removed.”

Opaleni Prinz was primarily a studio group though they did perform live a number of times. As Rostyslav Shtyn explains, “We really were more of a studio group, because we spent a lot of time in our own studio (my own, though I always referred to it for official purposes as the OP Studio). We did this, to first of all experiment with sound, new instruments and technologies. We recorded different singles and prepared for the recording of our first full album. This part of our activity is pretty accurately portrayed in Wikipedia (the Ukrainian language version [ed. VP])”.

Prior to the release of their second album, the one I was so lucky to get back in 1992, the group had a few live concerts with the most notable being in November of 1989 Rostyslav Shtyn explains, “Before the recording of Nova Revolutsiya” we gave a big live concert – a concert in L'viv (Velotrack) together with the Russian rock band Oreol. From the Nova Revolutsiya album one could hear Hey Ukraino! in its first version (more electronics, without guitar). We at that time performed as a trio. Yurko, Roman and myself. I think that was in November of 1989. The program comprised of our singles (mentioned above). Saxophonist Zenon Kovpak joined us on and Tankova Attaka. During the concert there were a number of pieces in which we were accompanied by models from one of the fashion theaters. We had about three thousand people at the concert.”

I recall sitting with Rostyslav in his Kyiv apartment a number of years ago and going through old videos. One of them was the concert he mentioned at the Velotrack and when I saw it, the only thing that dated it was low quality VHS recording, otherwise, the mix of fashion with music seemed only normal.

After the release of Nova Revolutsiya the band had a few more concerts and even added some new unrecorded material and even made additions to their line up as explained by Rostyslav Shtyn: “In Ukraine we also had three days of live concerts as part of the program of German Cultural Days in Ukraine together with the Berlin-based group Die Haut. Besides the material from Nova Revolutsiya we played a few new things from our next album Він прийшов з Афганістану – Vin priyshov p Afhanistanu – He returned from Afghanistan, Луні – Luni - Looney.That was '91, it was also autumn. At that time Toomas Vanem was already playing with us, on bass was Ihor Zakus and the ex-drummer from Dialog. And still us three. By this time we didn't have and direct problems with the authorities, except for that story with the Nova Revolutsiya cassettes and censorship on Soviet TV. But by this time we were not alone in facing such difficulties. A lot of real Russian rock groups, and those from the Baltics were also facing scrutiny – and they tried to block them in some manner, if the texts were uncomfortable.”

So you are probably thinking to yourselves, what story with the Nova Revolutsiya cassettes. Well it goes something like this. When Nova Revolutsiya was released in 1991 the production run was one of 30,000 copies of the album on cassette. At this time and place this it was practically unheard of. When this happened Rostyslav Shtyn was contacted by the local Melodiya branch with a request to purchase the entire run. Not long after the deal was signed and paid for the whole run had been turned over to Melodia for distribution, Shtyn said, “I received a phone call from some people who had said they had tried to find a copy of the cassette at the Melodiya store, and the sales person said they didn't have such a cassette. I received a few more of these calls and wondered where all the copies had disappeared to.” While the author of the Wikipedia article in Ukrainian about the band doesn't say it he does allude to some scandal which made the group inaccessible. Could this episode mentioned to me by Shtyn be what he the author of the Wikipedia article be alluding to.

It was not long before the members went their separate ways but it is important to remember, that even when listening to Opaleni Prinz today, that new revolutionary sound they were producing over twenty years ago is still fresh. They did some ground breaking work in regards to using Ukrainian folk elements in contemporary music, but more particularly elements of Hutsul music. As mentioned in the Ukrainian language Wikipedia entry on the group, an approach which continues in more contemporary Ukrainian musicians, Ruslana and Skryabin.

In 2006 Atlantic Records in Kyiv re-released Nova Revolutsiya as a CD, as a part of their Legends of Ukrainian Rock series. If there is anything that differentiates the group from contemporaries will be from some material below written by a good acquaintance of mine, contemporary Ukrainian music critic Oleksandr Yevtushenko. The text below is from the liner notes of the re-released album and I believe that it is worth my time to provide readers with a translation Sashko's take on the band, even though you will hear some of the same things echoed by him, we both came to very similar conclusions living in two different countries, two different continents and coming from two very different musical cultures.

"I first heard the group OPALNI PRINZ on the broadcasts of the Ukrainian service of Radio Liberty. The songs Hey Ukraino!, Nash Prapor were played every day. That was at the end of the 1980s. But to find out anything about the group was only possible after the release of their first album Mandry. And after that as music of the “secretive inhabitants of L'viv” Ukrainian Radio started to play them and the became radio-hits. Rostyslav Shtyn and company came out into the information field. But they did not try to conquer it, because first and foremost they were concerned with the creation of a European level of musical infrastructure with their own agency, recording studio. What we are talking about here is a well equipped national factory of stars. The idea didn't leave Rostyslav alone. Thank God, that he gathered his organizational skills and musical talent. First of all there was his musical education – Rostyslav's education is as a violinist. There was the persistent work with stars of multifarious stages. At the end of the 1980s the main matter became his group OPALNI PRINZ. It was created by: Yuri Shtyn (his younger brother), who plays keyboards, sings, and writes the music and lyrics, Toomas Vanem – lead guitar and still one other keyboardist Roman Brytsky and singer and guitarist Rostyslav Shtyn. The path of OPALNI PRINZ cardinally is different from generally accepted schemes. Because for they had the idea of technical and financial independence and perfect quality of how they sounded. The group signed a contract with one German producers centre and received the possibility of publishing its materials on both sides of the Iron Curtain. At the end of 1990 OPALNI PRINZ realizes its next project – the album Nova Revolutsiya. Indisputably, all the tracks of the album are woven with the tectonic changes in the life of Ukrainian society. It's impregnated with movement towards freedom, the feeling of change. Concurrently it is beautifully recorded. And the video clip to the song Nash Prapor was shown on Ukrainian television all the way through to the year 2000. Some people confirm, that this clip was shown on MTV in honor of Ukraine's declaration of independence. Nova Revolutsiya – these are very strong and unique compositions Khlib po vodi [Bread upon the water], >Rozmyti dorohy [Washed out roads], Ty na viyni[You are at war], 17 veresnya [17 of September],Braty po zbrojii [Brothers in Arms]. These are songs that one does not forget. Regardless of their primarily studio plane of existence, OPALNI PRINZ had a considerable influence on the formation of Ukrainian rock-music, certain models of sounding. In particular, we are talking about the synthesis of ethnic music with rock. It is possible that they were the first that did it delicately and convincingly. Its incredible, but OPALNI PRINZ even today sounds fresh and real."

As a close to this blog entry I want to share with those who are linguistically challenged in the Ukrainian language though are interested in both my segment on Nash Holos and Ukrainian cultural matters in general, and others who peruse these pages, the three songs which I had selected for Pawlina's program for Sunday August 22, 2010. I have provided the lyrics for them here together with the original lyrics. Prior to each piece I have added a few commentaries which may help readers put the songs into their historical context and moment at which they were written.

After Ronald Reagan's speech at the Brandenburg Gates where he requested Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the wall, a great number of things transpired in Eastern Europe.

Нова революція

New revolution

Бродить по Європі привид комунізму
Roving around Europe is the ghost of communism
Чаушеску мертвий Румунія вперед!
Ceausecu's dead Romania ahead!
Мої вівці нині в нас на Полоніні
My sheep today are out in our pasture
Рокін-рол і коломийка є-є-є!
Rock'n roll and kolomeyka ye-ye-ye!

Пр.- Ref.

Нова революція, Нова революція
New revolution, New revolution
Східна Європа мусе бути вільна
Eastern Europe must be free
Нова революція, Нова революція
New revolution, New revolution
Україна є і буде
Ukraine is and will be

З постаменту сходить пятикутний Ленін
From the pedestal descents the five-cornered Lenin
Зрушена в Берліні Флойдова Стіна
Displaced in Berlin is Floyd's Wall
Мої вівці нині в нас на полонині
My sheep today are out in our pasture
Рокін-рол і коломийка є-є-є!
Rock'n roll and kolomeyka ye-ye-ye!

Пр.- Ref.

Політична зірка Єльцина в Росії
Political star Yeltsin in Russia
Чорний Віл притягне волю Україні
A Black Ox will pull freedom to Ukraine
Мої вівці в нас на полонині
My sheep today are out in our pasture
Рокін-рол і коломийка є-є-є!
Rock'n roll and kolomeyka ye-ye-ye!

Пр.- Ref.


On September 17, 1939 as per the Molotov-Ribentrop Pact the Soviet Army crossed what was then Poland's eastern border and occupying what was western Ukraine. On that date fifty years later Ukrainians en mass gathered on the streets of L'viv to remember what came on that day and as a show of solidarity, holding candle light vigils throughout the city. Estimates by foreign correspondents at the time estimate that as many as a quarter of million people participated in the that day's event.

17 Вересня
17th of September

Ми взялись за руки горіли свічки
We held each others hands
17 вересня Я і Ти
September 17 I and You
Ми вийшли на вулиці в пам'ять про тих
We went out on the street in the memory of those
хто нам заповів Свободу
who left for us Freedom

Ту втрачену віру ми повернем
That lost belief we will return
землі посивілій від горя
the land that became gray from suffering
17 вересня в чорних стрічках
September 17 in black ribbons
схиляєм знамена єдині в думках
We dip the flag and are one in thought


Молитву складаємo в наші церкви
We put forth our prayers in our churches
виносимо з них хоругви
Exit from them with christian banners
17 вересня просимо Ми
September 17 We request
Боже Великий Україну спаси
God Almighty redeem Ukraine.

Ukraine has had a tumultuous history and fought long for its independence, its flag outlawed by the Soviets only to return to fly on flag posts and to be carried by individuals at the end of the 1980s and to be raised in front of Kyiv's city all on July 19, 1990.

Наш прапор.
Our Flag

Вернувся знов наш прапор в двох кольорах України
Once again our flag has returned in both colours of Ukraine
Вернувся знов наш прапор живий ланцюг тої довіри
Once again our flag has returned the live chain of your trust
Вернувся знов наш прапор Тато Твій був на Сибіри
Once again our flag has returned Your Father was in Siberia
Вернувся знов наш прапор не затоптали Нашої Віри
Once again our flag has returned they didn't trodden Our Faith

Вернувся знов наш прапор сльози і кров України
Once again our flag has returned the tears and blood of Ukraine
Вернувся знов наш прапор в квітах героїв тії могили
Once again our flag has returned in the flowers of heroes of this grave
Вернувся знов наш прапор скроні життя посивіли
Once again our flag has returned the temples of life have become gray
В Твоїх руках Наш Прапор свобода для України
In Your hands is Our Flag freedom for Ukraine


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