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You're reading: Like mother, like daughter: How a folk singer tries to capture the pop stage

If you keep your eyes closed and hear these two women sing, you’d think they are twins. Ageless, pure and incredibly harmonious, Nina and Tonya Matviyenko’s voices touch the audience with melodious folk songs that everyone remembers from childhood.

Nina turned 64 on Oct. 10 and has a collection of awards for her vocal talent, among which is the Hero of Ukraine. Tonya, her daughter, is 30, and has her mother’s unmistakable three octaves. But what has been a mother’s blessing turned out a challenge for the daughter who wants to popularize her folk voice beyond the refined conservatory stages.

A former lead singer in famous Veryovka National Academic Choir and now of Kyivska Kamerata folk band, Nina maintains a low profile in modern show business. She wears little to no makeup at all on most days, travels by metro and doesn’t have an agent. Matviyenko junior, however, is braving the bright lights of TV shows and pop stages.

Unwilling to trade on her mother’s name, earlier this year Tonya signed up with Voice of the Country talent show, where judges sit backwards to the stage and choose best contestants only for their voice. Looks, names, dancing – nothing is supposed to influence their judgment.

When Tonya graced the stage wearing simple blue jeans and a bright red scarf and sang one of her mother’s folk songs about love, the judges voted her out of the competition.

“I liked your voice very much, it’s heavenly,” said singer Oleksandr Ponomaryov. “But I didn’t choose you because I would risk a lot having to work with you in different genres other than folk.”

When she got kicked out, Tonya revealed whose daughter she was. The audience booed the judges, among whom was Ruslana, the 2004 Eurovision song contest winner. She admitted they made a mistake, apologized and said that Tonya “has to continue her mother’s singing tradition because Matviyenko’s voice is rare – one in 1,000 years.”

Nina Matviyenko says she is proud of her daughter
When the daughter stepped off the stage and gave parting interviews, she couldn’t hide tears. Her mother Nina was there to console. “Why did you choose to sing my song? I told you to sing your own,” she rebuked her gently.

As seen in numerous concerts, both women can sing in other genres including pop, jazz and chamber songs.

“It’s impossible to decide which genre she belongs to,” said Matviyenko about her daughter. She recorded songs with popular rockers Okean Elzy and hip-hoppers TNMK.

Tonya wasn’t put off by the show. A couple of weeks later, she was invited back on the same program and finished second. Tonya sang Barbara Streisand’s “Woman in Love” and Oleh Skrypka’s “Vesna” to prove she could do more than a folk song.

She also took part in another 1+1 TV show “10 Steps to Love,” during which she had to choose a potential boyfriend to travel to Paris together. The show will be aired on Oct. 16.

Nina and Tonya Matviyenko perform in the musical play "Scythian Stones" in New York
Her mother doesn’t mind Tonya’s escapades in the pop world as long as she works on her goal, which is “to give Ukraine a real song, not to become a star.” To keep up what her mother has started, Tonya also sings in Kyivska Kamerata.

“These women are the role models of how one should take care of their talent and art,” said chief conductor Valeriy Matyukhin. “To keep that layer of Ukrainian music that Nina Matviyenko revived with her work is very important.”

The third woman in the family, 12-year-old Ulyana may present an even more curious case to this singing dynasty in some five years. Tonya’s daughter, she knows her grandmother’s songs by heart and loves singing folk ballads. “People say that my granddaughter will beat both me and Tonya,” said Nina Matviyenko lighting up with a broad smile.

Kyiv Post staff writer Alyona Zhuk can be reached at

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