By winning the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest the Ukrainian singer Ruslana Lyzhychko (born 1973) became known outside the Post-Soviet music world. Her songs from that period assert a sovereign Ukraine (distancing the country from Russia) both through anchoring her creative work in Ukraine as well as in the way she builds her band image and promotes herself. By drawing on traditional music and folklore and by representing material from within what she considers her cultural territory KOLOMYIKA  provides a good example for this strategy.

I. Origin

The work on Ruslana’s 4th studio album started in December 2002 when Ruslana signed a contract with EMI’s Ukrainian licensee Comp Music (cf. N.N. 2006). The album was recorded in Ruslana and her husband Oleksandr Ksenofontov’s Luxen Studio (Ukraine) and mastered at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio (UK) – the latter probably a marketing strategy and attempt to tap into the world music market. The resulting album was named Diki Tantsi (Wild Dances – Ruslana 2003) and released on June 11th, 2003 (cf. N.N. 2006). A version of the album for the European market was released in 2004 on Pomaton EMI in Poland. KOLOMYIKA was not released as a single.

Stating that it is a “Hutsul’skyi Proekt” (Hutsul project – the Hutsul’s are an ethnic minority living in the Southern part of Ukraine) the album draws on elements from traditional music. The tracks include Ukrainian traditional instruments such as “floyara” (a flute-like woodwind instrument), “trembita” (alpine horns used by the Hutsuls), “harmoniia” (free reed button accordion), “baraban” (drum), trumpet, trombone, fiddle, “tsymbaly” (trapezoidal hammered zither), and “sopilka” (a woodwind instrument similar to a flute). According to the liner notes KOLOMYIKA (as well as the songs “Ples”, “Arkan”, “Hutsulka”, and “Oi, zagrai my, muzychen’ky”) is based on motives from Hutsul dances or melodies. The music is, however, credited to both Ruslana and Ksenofontov and they also produced the album. Ksenofontov wrote the song’s lyrics (cf. Gemba 2007: 139).
Eugen Mitrofanov directed the song’s video clip  with Slava Lazarev as the cameraman. It was shot in 2003 in the Carpathians Mountains and in the Lvov museum Shevchenkivs’kyi hai. According to Ruslana’s webpage “[a]uthentic costumes were used during the shooting of mass scenes” and “[e]ach hucul [sic] traditional costume appearing in the video is at least 100 years old.” (Ruslana n.d.)

II. Context

Ruslana places what she calls “ethnic elements” within a wider Ukrainian context and a useful concept to understand her identity is a post-colonial lens. This entails, among other things, building an identity based on perceived cultural elements from a pre-colonial era, which is considered purer (cf. Moore 2001: 118). Ruslana does this by drawing on traditional music and culture – in this case that of the Hutsuls. While the album’s CD-booklet primarily depicts Ruslana showing a lot of skin, one of the costumes seems to be based on traditional (folklore) patterns. The booklet also includes images taken from Ruslana’s clip ““Znaiu ia” with the artist standing on the top of a mountain holding a tambourine, driving through a lake in a jeep, and giving a rock concert. A group of people (Hutsuls) can also be seen chain-dancing in traditional costumes in a village. These elements play a role as markers in the identity construction that places Ruslana in Ukraine and links her closely to the Hutsuls.

One important aspect is the fact that it is not possible (or even necessary) to verify Ruslana’s claim that the music she uses is of Hutsul origin. The material functions to localize Ruslana’s music in a way consistent with the discourse of her band, thus the question whether the material is authentic is secondary in the promotion of her music. Besides signifying Ukraine, these markers also serve as style indicators for world music within the world music discourse (cf. Hill 2007). In other words, it is a form of authentication strategy.

Obviously, this kind of incorporation of style indicators associated with Ukrainian traditional music is not limited to Ruslana. Other bands promoted outside Ukraine use similar material and strategies as well (e.g. Haydamaky, Mad Heads XL, Voppli Vidopliasova, and Perkalaba). The incorporation of local sources is, however, not restricted to audio-visual and performative levels, but also touches on the manner in which Ruslana (as also other bands) portrays herself and is perceived. This focus on traditional Ukrainian music is also described on the English version of Ruslana’s web page: “For her Wild Dances Project Ruslana conducted expeditions to the Carpathian mountains discovering rhythms, dances and costumes of the ancient culture of the mountains which were on the brink to being forgotten and integrated them into a modern show, thus preserving the cultural heritage.” (Ruslana n.d.) This and other quotes stress and romanticize the influence of regional traditional Ukrainian material on the music played by Ruslana. This “culture of the mountains” specifically refers to the Hutsuls – thus framing the music within ethnic categories.

Ruslana cites cultural heritage as an important motivation in her creative work. Combined with the reference to ethnic musics, this is part of the authentication strategy aimed at the world music market outside the Ukraine. Here Ruslana focuses on one area (Hutsuls/Carpathian Mountains) with her “drive-ethno-dance” (Ruslana n.d.). Together with singing in Ukrainian (which clearly stakes her position in the Ukrainian language debate) she touches on the discourses around Ukrainian national identity. Through this lens Ruslana appropriates what she perceives as authentic sources, which are found in the traditional music influences.

This brings us to the Orange Revolution of 2004, which Ruslana (as well as the groups Haydamaky, Okean El’zy, and Voppli Vidopliasova) supported. Language politics were an important issue of the revolution. The Orange block and the groups performing distinguished themselves by using Ukrainian (this kind of appropriation of the Ukrainian language within Ukrainian popular music goes back to the Soviet Period – cf. Bahry 1994: 251f).
In addition to using Ukrainian as a singing language and supporting the Orange Revolution Ruslana erects boundaries as a Ukrainian by labeling her material “ethnic” and placing it within certain regions (thus drawing on perceived Ukrainian traditions and internal Others like the Hutsuls). Ruslana’s album Diki Tantsi with the song KOLOMYIKA are thus part of a larger movement striving to determine a nation-state anchored in a Ukrainian language and traditions which the following analysis will focus on (cf. also Wickström 2008; Wickström 2014).
As recent events in Ukraine have shown this debate is not only an academic ideological debate of the country’s elite but presents a bloody battleground for geopolitical influence.

III. Analysis

The video to Ruslana’s KOLOMYIKA is a good example of her use of traditional material. It describes how an urban casting crew comes to a remote Hutsul village. The villagers dressed in traditional clothes promote themselves and their local traditions in a slightly country bumpkinish manner before finally resisting the casting crew.

On the textual level the song’s lyrics are placed firmly within a (West) Ukrainian context through the use of Ukrainian as the language and the title KOLOMYIKA that is a dance, instrumental, and a vocal music genre from the Carpathian Mountains (Hrytsa n.d., Olha Kolomyyets, pers. comm., 24.09.2007). The verse follows the metric structure of a “Kolomyika” being (4+4+6)+(4+4+6) where two lines are one unit (Shumady and Vasylenko 1969: 423, Olha Kolomyyets, pers. comm., 24.09.2007):

“Oi, ku-va-la | zo-zu-le-chka | tai ka-za-la ku-ku.
Ne py-tai me- | ne da-re-mno | a be-ry za ru-ku.”
(“Oi, the little cuckoo cried and said ku-ku. / Don’t ask me in vain, but take [me] by the hand”. My translation).

This is also reflected in the rhythm sung which can be either 12 eight notes and two quarter notes or 13 eight notes and one dotted quarter note (Shumady and Vasylenko 1969: 423).
The lyrics are about unfulfilled or lost love and do not relate directly to the clip. Despite this discrepancy, the narration’s form is used in the dramaturgy: While Ruslana sings the verse and refrain, the following interjection (which comes twice) is sung by some village men (in a call-and-response pattern with trumpets answering):

“Oi, kuvala zozulechka
Oi, kuvala ta i spivala
Zbudyla moie serdechko”

(“Oi, the cuckoo cried / Oi, it cried and sung / It excited my heart”. My translation)

Thus the narrative works on two levels: the content of the lyrics (which can only be understood by listeners who speak Ukrainian) and the unrelated story of the video clip (which can be understood without the lyrics) using the lyrics as a dramaturgical effect.

On the level of images, the clip is anchored through the depiction of different instruments linked to traditional music (“harmoniia”, “baraban”, trumpet, trombone, fiddle, “tsymbaly”, “sopilka” – the “harmoniia” and “baraban” are, however, not heard), the clothes worn (e.g. “vyshivanka”), tapestries, the food, and the rural setting. Since Kolomyikas are also a dance genre, the dancing in the clip could be a form of anchoring. The dancing is, however, not in the center of the clip and while the clip draws on elements, which could derive from traditional dances (incorporating chain dances, couples, and individual dancers), the style looks too choreographed.

On the aural level, melodic and rhythmic fragments in Ruslana’s song seem to be based on traditional music and draw on elements from Kolomyikas (the liner notes state that the music is composed by using motives from Hutsul Kolomyikas). As already discussed regarding the lyrics, the metric system (4+4+6) and the rhythm sung in the verse is a trait of the genre. The trumpet / trombone / tsymbaly / sopilka riffs as well as the vocals are based on a scale with a lowered third and an augmented fourth. According to Hrytsa (n.d.), this together with a sharpened seventh (missing here) is a characteristic mode of Hutsul music and Noll (2000: 809) points out that the augmented fourth is commonly heard in traditional music from the Carpathians. The instruments appear primarily as a response. While the trumpet and trombone are usually heard without vocals, the “sopilka” parallels the vocals (mainly in the verse and refrain). The “soplika” and “tsymbaly” also appear without vocals together as a response to the trumpet and trombone (but not in the end of the last refrain).

Furthermore, the timbre of the instruments (brassy trumpets, “tsymbaly”, “sopilka”, “baraban”), which are featured through the song, evokes, in contrast to the electric guitar and bass, a traditional association.
Finally, while Ruslana’s vocal timbre fits into a popular – not traditional – music idiom, her singing style draws heavily on ornaments – both mordents and portamentos – that places the style not necessarily within a Hutsul, but a South-East European / Turkish / Orientalist idiom. This is especially audible in the first four bars, where she sings rhythmically freely in half time (the melodic skeleton is the same as in the verse).

Ruslana’s appropriation and representation of the Hutsuls is done by recycling national stereotypes, which reaffirm that the Hutsuls are backward and still adhere to their “ancient” traditions – thus being “pure” or “unspoiled” by modernity. She does this on her website by distancing the Hutsuls from a contemporary urban setting, and by placing them back in time and relocating them in space – exoticising them:

Here, high in the mountains, where the people live in different time and dimension, has [sic] Ruslana found the source of inspiration for her new ‘Hutsulian project’. That’s where you find true Ukrainian exotics!”
(Ruslana n.d.).

This can also be seen in the portrayal of the Hutsuls in the clip mentioned earlier. They wear their traditional costumes and perform songs in a country bumpkinish way at the end of the music video. On a sign in the video advertising the casting the word “kasting” is replaced with “vybori” also belittling the Hutsuls by implying that they do not understand Anglo-American borrowings / modern Ukrainian (“kasting”) and instead need a Ukrainian synonym (“vybori”).

IV. Reception

Almost four months after its release, the album went Platinum on October 3rd, 2003, having sold 100 000 copies in Ukraine (cf. N.N. 2006). On May 15th, 2004 Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest in Istanbul with Ruslana performing the song “Wild Dances”. Due to her winning of the contest an eponymous album was released in 2004 for the European market not only including the winning song “Wild Dances” (sung in English) but also repurposing songs from the previous album Dyki Tantsi including the song KOLOMYIKA. The same year Ruslana was awarded “World’s Best-Selling Artist / Ukraine” as part of the World Music Awards 2004’s Regional Awards.

While Ruslana gained critical success with the album Dyki Tantsi and by bringing the Eurovision Song Contest to Kiev in 2005 her representation of the Other leaves out the reality that the Hutsuls are equally a part of the 21th century. Their resentment of Ruslana’s portrayal led them to lobby the regional parliament of the Ivano-Frankivs’ka oblast’ against being labeled savage (“diki” – cf. Sonevytsky 2006; Gemba 2007).



Vocals: Ruslana
Guitar: Mykola Efremov
Bass: Ihor Botserovs’kyi
Drums: Andrii Nadol’s’kyi
Percussion: Ruslana
Sopilka: Oles’ Zhuravchak
Trumpet: Andrii Nakonechnyi
Music/ Writer/ Songwriting: Ruslana and Oleksandr Ksenofontov
Lyrics: Oleksandr Ksenofontov
Producer: Ruslana and Oleksandr Ksenofontov
Label: Comp Music Ltd
Mixing engineer: Marco Migliari
Recorded: Luxen Studio (Ukraine)
Mastering: Real World Studio (UK)
Published: 2003
Length: 4:06


  • Ruslana. “Kolomyika”, Dyki Tantsi, 2003, Comp Music Ltd, 591098 2, Ukraine (CD).
  • Ruslana. “Kolomyika”, Wild Dances, 2004, Pomaton EMI, 7243 473915 2 1, Poland (CD).


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About the Author

Prof. Dr. David-Emil Wickström teaches Popular Music Studies and Ethnomusicology at the Popakademie Baden-Württemberg – University of Popular Music and Music Business.
All contributions by David-Emil Wickström


David-Emil Wickström: “Kolomyika (Ruslana)”. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/kolomyika, 08/2015 [revised 01/2016].