It was several months after the Minsk II agreement was signed by Russian, Ukrainian, separatist, and OSCE representatives, stipulating a ceasefire. In this uneasy state, lead singer and trombonist Ruslan Trochynskyi and his bandmates brought their fiery mélange of Estonian and Ukrainian culture to the Toronto Ukrainian Festival, to VEMU at Tartu College, local Ukrainian schools, and Toronto Eesti Selts Täienduskool pupils at the former Broadview Estonian House.
A lot has happened since then. Two more albums came out. Ruslan connected with and won the hearts of countless Estonian viewers as a contestant on Tantsud Tähtedega—Estonia's version of Dancing with the Stars. Many concerts have been played, including “more than 40 concerts in support of Ukraine in five countries.” And at this point, it has been almost nine years since the war in Ukraine, Trochynskyi's homeland, began with Russia's annexation of Crimea.
With the ongoing war and destruction, there is an even deeper resolve to their sound. To keep supporting the people of Ukraine, and to not give up on peace and respect. Terje Trochynskyi, the band's manager and Ruslan's wife, states that the most important thing the band can do is “to show through music that we live in the same world, that peace and mutual respect are important.”
If you've never had the chance to listen to their self-described “Viking Cossack folk rock”, start by putting on their 2020 album Maailm sa muutud (“World You Are Changing”). Once you are hooked in, though, you'll want to see them perform live. Fortunately, after eight years, this is now possible once again, as the band is due to embark on a 10-day Canadian tour this February.
After touching down in Toronto, their tour commences with a smaller trio configuration, consisting of Ruslan, Juhan Suits (bagpipes, jaw harp, wooden horn, vocals, and more), and singer Rute Trochynskyi, Ruslan and Terje's daughter. Ruslan notes that “it's special for us that this time Rute… who has been singing with the band since she was five years old and is now 17, is now a full member of the band.” She will bring young ideas and feelings to the band.
On February 3rd, this trio will first play on the University of Guelph campus. From February 6th to 8th, the trio will perform at Estonian and Ukrainian schools around Toronto. Terje and Ruslan express how “We certainly hope to see both Estonians and Ukrainians at the Canadian concerts… We know from history that Estonians understand Ukrainians very well due to a similar history: seeking refuge in the West during World War II and, unfortunately, also 50 years of Soviet occupation… But we always consider it important to introduce the culture and music of both countries.”
On February 8th, the live experience will become more interactive, with a casual (no experience necessary) dance workshop at The Cotton Factory in Hamilton. Then, on February 10th, the remaining three members of Svjata Vatra, their rhythm section, will join in and will all travel to Montréal, where they will perform at Petit Campus in the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood, sharing a bill with the boppy dub-punk band Dumai Dunai.
Saturday February 11th will see Svjata Vatra back in T.O. along with Polky, DJ McHi, and the super-charged “Guerrilla-Folk-Party-Punk” Lemon Bucket Orkestra for a show at The Opera House in Riverdale. This concert is a collaboration with VEMU's project Estonian Music Week and BLOK music festival. Closing their tour will be an appearance, on February 12th, at the historic Jewish food meets laid back concert venue Free Times Cafe, on College Street. Because each show of Svjata Vatra's will offer something different in atmosphere and the bands they are connecting with, you may even want to attend several of their shows.
Moreover, the themes of Svjata Vatra's songs are enduring. Freedom, for instance. You can hear it in the song „Jihav kozak za Dunai“ („Kappas kasakas Doonau poole“, “The Cossack Galloped Towards the Danube”), which is “a 300-year-old Ukrainian folk song about Ukraine's struggle for freedom against Russia.” The recent video for this song was made “together with the Ukrainian war refugees who came to Estonia in the spring and the Estonian Military Orchestra.”
And although the band's music is in Ukrainian and Estonian, they have noticed while travelling the world that “if our performance is honest and from the heart, the message will be understood by everyone, regardless of the language.” Svjata Vatra really do show with their performances that music is a universal language, and it can shape the world for good.