Traditional bandura plays more than folk melodies

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Oct. 17, 2011, 3:27 p.m. | About Kyiv — by Oksana Faryna

Georgiy Matviyiv gives a performance in a master class on Oct. 5.
© Courtesy

Oksana Faryna

Kyiv Post Staff Writer

Gone are the days when a traditional Ukrainian instrument, bandura, was associated with blind minstrels. In the hands of 25-year-old Georgiy Matviyiv this bulky string lute can sound like a double bass, a guitar, a harp, a percussion instrument and even a vinyl disk played by a deejay. He’s one of the few musicians in Ukraine on a mission to break from the bandura’s epic history, which was preempted by kobza, a favorite instrument of Ukrainian Cossacks and blind musicians, or kobzari. Lyrical and heroic, their songs painted great historical moments and the hard life of the peasantry, similar to the poems by Ukraine’s greatest bard Taras Shevchenko, who is now also known as the Great Kobzar.

Shevchenko’s barely noticeable portrait at the bottom of Matviyiv’s instrument is perhaps the only link between the bandura’s rich legacy and its jazzy present. Dressed in plain jeans and a T-shirt instead of traditional vyshyvanka during his concerts, Matviyiv does have some folk songs in his repertoire but even they sound differently, sometimes like Spanish flamenco.

“Only recently people began to understand that with bandura it is possible to play a variety of genres,” says Matviyiv sitting in a cafe in downtown Kyiv. The young musician from Odesa claims that he invented 16 new ways of playing bandura and can play new age style, jazz and blues. Television talent shows helped him to popularize his skills.

Wild West Jazz by Georgiy Matviyiv

Matviyiv’s competitor, Yaroslav Dzhus, also got his head start during a TV casting. The 23-year-old Kyivan impressed the jury on the same talent show by playing Beatles, Metallica and Queen on his bandura. Dzhus has also made a cover on Lady Gaga’s song “Paparazzi,” which quickly became popular on YouTube. He didn’t win the show but signed up for another one, this time as the producer of the bandura sextet Shpylyasti Kobzari.

While this sextet gives folk songs a rocky twist, Matviyiv, who is half Georgian and half Russian, has no deep relationship with Ukrainian national traditions.
“When I started playing the bandura no one in my family knew this instrument exists. They did not know what this word even meant,” said Matviyiv. “My family wanted me to become a banker and sent me to a math class at school.”
When I started playing bandura no one in my family knew this instrument exists. They did not know what this word even meant,” said Matviyiv.
Ironically, his parents’ calculated decision led their son to music anyways. Matviyiv’s teachers decided to reward the best students in mathematics with a bandura class, since they believed that people talented in math could be talented in music as well. Matviyiv, who was 12 at the time, was one of those allowed to attend the unusual class.

It was fate, recalls Matviyiv now. He went on to attend a music school, then college and finally entered Odessa State Music Academy.

Soon, he learned that tapping the body of the instrument makes it sound like percussions; and striking and rubbing the strings with his palm edge conjures a sensation of a DJ spinning a vinyl. He was so thrilled to discover all these new elements of play that he is going to write a thesis on this topic, Matviyiv said.

After winning several musical contests including the 2009 All-Ukrainian Bandura Art, he says there are still plenty of musicians who outperform him in academic techniques.

Among his heroes, Matviyiv names Dmytro Hubyak, a recognized 29-old bandurist from Terebovlya, Ternopil Oblast, who plays classics by Vivaldi, Bah and Beethoven and jazz by Duke Ellington and Ennio Morricone, apart from composing his own music for the bandura.

As jazz critic Oleksiy Kogan summed it up: “When a young man goes on stage with a bandura he prolongs the life of this instrument.”

To hear Matviyiv's music, look for his two CDs “On the Edge” and “Exit” at

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Faryna can be reached at
The Kyiv Post is hosting comments to foster lively debate. Criticism is fine, but stick to the issues. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks will be removed from the site. If you think that a posted comment violates these standards, please flag it and alert us. We will take steps to block violators.
Anonymous Oct. 17, 2011, 6:57 p.m.    

It is very nice, but it is not jazz ;)

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Anonymous Oct. 18, 2011, 12:59 p.m.    

The young musician from Odesa claims that he invented 16 new ways of playing bandura, including new age style, jazz and blues.

Read more:

I'm sure that Hrynkiv, Lazurkevych and the most accomplished Dmytro Hubjak would seriously question this claim. They don't need to &quot;claim&quot; anything but are rightfully showered with &quot;Acclaim&quot; for their unquestionable talent,musical sincerity and innovation - years before Matviyiv pretended on the scene.

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Anonymous Oct. 18, 2011, 3:24 p.m.    

What exactly is &quot;jazz&quot;?

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Anonymous Oct. 18, 2011, 3:27 p.m.    

This young musician should be applauded for adding traditional instruments to a more modern music. Maybe more people will know about the Bandura.

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Anonymous Oct. 18, 2011, 3:46 p.m.    

Nobody is criticising Georgiy Matviyiv for trying to &quot;modernise&quot; the bandura. this was done by the band Kobza(from Ukraine) in the 1960's, and by Daniel(from England) in the 70-80's. The bandurists mentioned by guest mazepa also introduced new wave/jazz music to their repertoire a long time before other bandurists attempted to do the same.

The point of &quot;inventing 16 new ways of playing bandura&quot; doesn't hold water and is in itself misleading and possibly insulting to those who should be credited with being the first initiators and not copiers.

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Anonymous Oct. 24, 2011, 8:35 p.m.    

It's great that ukrainian bandura lives the second life. In fact, only modernizing its musical stuff traditional intruments can survive in modern world full of hip-hop, rap, jazz and minimal techno.

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