For the past three years, the largest national holiday in Ukraine – Independence Day – has combined with concerts by Okean Elzy. Kharkiv, Odesa, and Lviv marked the occasion with the Ukrainian super-group in previous years. This year, it was Kyiv’s turn. Okean Elzy has previously appeared at the biggest stadium in Kyiv twice: the first time it was to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the band, featuring former members of the group as a special treat. The second time was in 2016, to launch the album Bez Mezh.
This time round there wasn’t too much new material to present – only three songs since their last album: Bez Tebe, V Nebo Zhene, and Skilky Nas. However, the people have missed their favorite musicians (this is the only concert the band has scheduled for 2018) and the stadium filled again.
Okean Elzy likes to showcase Ukrainian music and talent and featured two guests to open: DJ Katro Zauber with a set of Ukrainian songs and Dakha Brakha, who experiments with ethnic music and have sold out shows across the US and Europe.
At 21.00 the stadium fell silent except for the sound of a solo Ukrainian trembita. The show then transitioned into Vstavai, a powerful song with social insight, and then a block of time-tested hits, Mayzhe Vesna, Ty Sobi Sama, and more.
Okean Elzy has their universal a set-list of chartbusters, however they also have a skill in their ability to perform an original version of each song. Taking the performance past the core five musicians, a section of wind instruments and a mini-choir of backing vocalists featured also. In the middle of the performance there was an acoustic set, where the whole band gathered at the edge of the stage and played hits Nezalezhnist, Ne Pytai and the folk song, Oy, Chui Tam Kin Stoit.
Okean Elzy’s concerts never fail when it comes to featuring a social context. Frontman Syvatoslav Vakarchuk called to free Oleg Sentsov and other political prisoners and even dedicated a song to them. There was also a patriotic flash mob where volunteers hoisted a massive national flag іn the fan-zone. Whether they want it or not, Okean Elzy has become synonymous with patriotism and love for Ukraine. People flock to their concerts with flags and in national clothing, with even the national anthem ringing out on this evening.
It is perhaps with this in mind that talk of Vakarchuk possibly running for president is so common, with many anticipating he’ll throw his hat in the ring. Yes, with his education in top US universities and previous experience of being a deputy in 2008, he has the chops to foot it in the political sphere. However, he isn’t a politician, he’s rock-star. A rock-star who wields his influence to effect change in his homeland without needing formal power. In 2017, Vakarchuk said he had no political ambitions. Even the slogan of this concert was “Nothing but Music”. And without a formal announcement from the man himself, his reentry into the political arena is nothing but speculation at this point.
Regardless, politics was far from the agenda on 24 August, where four hours of show, 37 songs and an impressive three encores kept the crowd of up to 100 000 people at Olympiyskiy in a shear frenzy.
No one else in the country has that ability.