When Tvorchi duo performs, films music videos or shows up for an interview, it’s hard to tell if they’re million-dollar stars straight from the Grammys or an up-and-coming Ukrainian band based in the western city of Ternopil. They are, of course, the latter.

But it’s easy to guess wrong.

The two-piece group, made up of Nigerian Jeffrey Augustus Kenny, 22, and Ukrainian Andriy Hutsuliak, 23, means well in everything they do. It shows in how consciously they speak about music and the confidence with which they cherish big dreams, in their craving for creative development and the sophisticated style they bring to every look, song or visual.

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And their philosophy, an endless search for improvement and bold embrace of experimentation, is front and center in their work.

“That’s how artists become trendsetters — they make waves and other people start copying them,” Hutsuliak told the Kyiv Post. “We are the wave.”

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The band, whose records mostly mix electronic beats and soulful vocals, made a breakthrough with its “Believe” single in 2019. The song rose high on local charts and the music video reached nearly one million views.

Today the duo is preparing to compete for the right to represent Ukraine at the Eurovision song contest with their latest hit “Bonfire.” They will perform on Feb. 15.

Ukraine’s Tvorchi duo poses for a photograph, as they film a music video for one of their hit songs from the latest album “Disco Lights” in November 2019 in Kyiv. (Courtesy)

Momentous meeting

There was everything and nothing accidental about the meeting of two students, Kenny and Hutsuliak, in 2017. Both were pharmacy students at the same university in Ternopil, the city of 220,000 people located 420 kilometers west of Kyiv. However, they never encountered each other before a random conversation on the street.

For a while, the two hung out with no idea that there was something very strong connecting them — an immense passion for music. One night, the friends were sharing a late-night pasta dinner when Hutsuliak started to play some beats he had made. Unexpectedly, Kenny started composing lyrics. Within hours, he was singing what would later become Tvorchi’s first single, “Slow.”

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He wrote about what they were doing. “It’s past midnight. Looking at words, making it work, thinking it out,” the song goes.

By the time the two met, Hutsuliak, who comes from a village in Ternopil Oblast, had been creating music for years. Since he mastered beat-making software as a teenager, he had made dozens of trap and EDM (electronic dance music) tracks and remixes and performed gigs as a DJ. “I was working day and night trying to improve my skills,” he says.

Like Hutsuliak, Kenny discovered his love for music in school. He also didn’t take any music classes but explored the world of sound by himself, singing and writing lyrics. “People said my voice was good, and I should try doing something bigger,” Kenny says.

The members of the electronic duo Tvorchi, Nigerian Jeffrey Augustus Kenny (L) and Ukrainian Andriy Hutsuliak, talk to the Kyiv Post on Jan. 29, 2020, at Takava Coffee Buffet in Kyiv. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Kenny’s choice to come to Ukraine was random. When he arrived in 2013, he focused on learning Ukrainian. But music found its way into his new life, so he continued to write lyrics, learned how to play the guitar and performed on the streets of Ternopil.

Hutsuliak and Kenny also share parents who never supported their artistic aspirations and “reasoned” them into acquiring a pharmaceutical education.

“My parents still ask me if I found a job,” Hutsuliak says, and they both laugh.

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Despite growing up 6,000 kilometers apart, these shared experiences created a special chemistry between the two.

Synergy

Since Hutsuliak had a collection of electronic tracks to work with, Kenny dived into composing lyrics. The duo recorded their first several singles and released them through the U.S. label Artist Intelligence Agency. Unhappy with the label’s lack of support and feedback, the duo ended their cooperation with the agency.

At first, they perceived music as just a hobby. “We didn’t do it as seriously as we should have made it,” Kenny said.

But that only lasted until they played their first gig for about 70 people in a local restaurant in the fall of 2017. They say that the audience received them warmly, so the duo decided to take it to a new level. It was also about time they picked a name. They chose the simple but catchy “Tvorchi,” which means “creative” in Ukrainian.

“Tvorchi is who we are,” Hutsuliak said.

“It describes us perfectly,” Kenny added.

Just a few months later, in February 2018, the duo released their first album, “The Parts,” recorded at a local studio in Ternopil. The record, which combines mostly English and several Ukrainian-language songs, features deeply intimate lyrics wrapped up in Kenny’s mesmerizing vocals, along with some playful tracks with catchy beats.

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The album largely mirrored the duo’s lives at the time: students who enjoyed their untroubled youth, partied and explored the emotional depths of romantic attraction.

“This whole album is about parts of us that we want to show to people,” Kenny said.

Their work is well-divided. Hutsuliak listens to all kinds of music to get a sense of what’s fresh and trendy and tries to create something even more original. As he puts together melodies, he imagines how Kenny’s voice will blend with them. Kenny, meanwhile, conveys his own emotions through lyrics, often imagining himself in relatable situations.

They often think along the same lines. That was the case with “Earthquake,” one of the tracks from their first album. After Hutsuliak played the beat to Kenny, the vocalist wrote the lyrics. But before he even shared them, his partner already knew what he had in mind.

“We’re on the same wave, we feel each other,” Hutsuliak said.

All ears

The duo’s debut album didn’t get wide attention in Ukraine, but that didn’t discourage Tvorchi. Their second album “Disco Lights,” released in February 2019, was a bigger success. It received critical acclaim and was included in various lists of top releases of the year.

That was the result of countless experiments with sound and tone. Kenny explains that artists, especially in Ukraine, rarely leave their niche in fear of losing fans. But that’s not the case for them. For their upcoming third album, due in spring, the duo promises to include sounds that merge funk, pop, R&B and rap.

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The album “Disco Lights” paved Tvorchi’s way to broader exposure. In 2019, they performed at some of the biggest festivals in the country, gave their first solo show in Kyiv and held their first mini-tour.

Electronic duo Tvorchi performs at Ukraine’s biggest music festival Atlas Weekend on July 14, 2019, in Kyiv. (Courtesy)

The duo says that they have been approached by a number of labels and producers, but none have captured their attention. For now, they most value their freedom and room for creative development.

“We want to make the best version of what we think we can make before we start accepting offers like that,” Kenny said.

“We are our own producers,” Hutsuliak added.

Today the duo is focused on the national selection for Eurovision. The selection, which is broadcast live, has become a launch site for local talent. So Tvorchi decided to take a chance to introduce their music to the whole country.

“If we are selected, it will be the cherry on the cake,” Hutsuliak said.

But no matter what, the duo is dedicated to making the most of it.

“Success happens step by step,” Kenny said. “Our main goal is to have all ears.”

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