October 23, 2017
Ukrainian singer-songwriter Svitlana Nianio has always been connected with mystery. Not only aesthetically, but even when it comes to her biography information. She was a member of a Kyiv-based four-piece chamber band Cukor Bila Smert* [“Sugar, the White Death” in Ukrainian–ed.] since the late '80s . In the '90s, Cukor downsized to a duo and then disbanded. The band consisted mostly of Glière Music College students highly interested in both previously banned avant-garde and New wave/indie. They created a specific niche of their own, while playing onstage with noise-rock and chamber music originals of the decadent Kyiv Underground and Kharkiv Novaya Scena movements.
As with Cukor’s two albums, Svitlana’s solo record was also released by the cult Polish imprint Koka Records. Koka was the crucial record company that released the most interesting Ukrainian Underground bands, as well as traditional folk ensembles. In the 90s, Svitlana was touring a lot in Poland, and also in Germany while working with Cologne-based musicians and producers. With cassette imprint SHM Tapes as a link the Ukrainian Underground music found its way through to a 1993 release on the Hamburg-based label What's So Funny About. Most of the other records by Svitlana Nianio were self-released or made especially for mixtapes. One of them, a collaboration release from 1995 with composer Olexandr Yurchenko–“Знаєш як? Розкажи” [“Know how? Tell it!’ in Ukrainian–ed.] was reissued in Ukraine on cassette this year. There are also rumors of upcoming releases and reissues.
Listen also: From The Archives Podcast: 9. Ukrainian Underground Tapes
Since the beginning of the new Millennium not much has been heard about Svitlana Nianio’s activity. She gave her only interview to Russian writer and musician Dmitry Tolmatsky in the mid '90s. Surprisingly, some new music by Svitlana appeared through Soundcloud in 2015. Two years later she performed at Counterflows festival in Scotland. Later this year she took part in the showcase of Krakow's Unsound Festival in a collaborative project with her longtime colleagues, Polish avant-folk legends Księżyc and multi-instrumentalist Paweł Romańczuk (who, alongside his colleague Andrzej Załęski, recently made a collaboration album with French outsider music legend Ghèdalia Tazartès). Some associate Svitlana Nianio’s Casio or Fender Rhodes-driven baroque-like songs with so called avant-folk in its Slavic form. One may hear influences of contemporary classical, minimalist or even early music.
In September 2017 we met Svitlana Nianio in Kyiv. It was only a week after the Unsound show in Lviv, which held at the Philharmonic–her first Ukrainian performance in nearly 20 years.
*Here we use a Polish transliteration, as it can be found on the cover of their second album “Selo” [“The Village” in Ukrainian–ed.]. The proper Ukrainian transliteration should be “Tsukor”.
“What makes me curious is a mystery of the world. Something that can inspire. Something that we can see only out of the corner of our eye. Or not even see but only feel, and we can’t even tell what it was. Some kind of dark mysterious side.”