Our world tour takes us to Ukraine today, where we meet Eugen Manzhenko, the first Ukrainian ukulele player to upload videos to YouTube.
If you feel a bit down, Eugen‘s videos should bring a smile back on your face. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, there is an underlying feel of optimism in his songs and a real sense of fun which I really enjoy.
I was very curious to find out about ukulele playing in Ukraine and Eugen has very kindly agreed to answer my questions.
U&L : You are the only Ukrainian ukulele player I have seen on YouTube. How did you discover the ukulele ?
Eugen : I learned about Ukulele from old American movies and Internet videos. I ordered an instrument, learned to play so-so, and suddenly started writing quite differently than I used to when I played guitar. New songs bring positive vibrations. I believe it is due to the special ukulele magic!
U&L : How long have you been playing the ukulele ?
Eugen : I have been playing the instrument for almost two years. During this time, I abandoned the guitar entirely because of its size and extra 2 strings!
U&L : Can you buy ukuleles in Ukraine ? Your ukulele is very distinctive, what brand is it and where did you get it?
I bought the first musical instrument (a Stagg Frog ukulele) in Ukraine. It was in a store in our town, and the seller was very surprised when orders came in and he saw my beautiful Hawaiian Ukulele of Belgian-Chinese origin. That instrument is not very good in respect to sound quality, but I did really like it.
U&L : Do you have other ukuleles ?
I bought a second ukulele, an electro-acoustic Mahalo, which resembles a small guitar, the legendary Fender Telecaster. It was ordered from France, from where my friend, who studied in your beautiful country, brought it to me. This is the musical instrument I play in a band singing my own and my friends’ songs.
U&L : Your songs are very enthusiastic, what are you singing about ?
Eugen : I sing songs about love, robots, politics, about my hometown and the Unbearable Lightness of Being.
U&L : How do people around you perceive the ukulele ? Have you managed to convert any friends to the ukulele ?
Eugen : Ukulele is a musical instrument that causes positive emotions. The one who plays the ukulele is a positive man who likes life and likes to bring good mood to others. I hope I do a little but important thing in Ukraine and that soon there will be much more artists here who play ukulele. I am not the only ukulelist in Ukraine – people visit my performances and buy musical instruments. I think that soon we will hear them.
U&L : You are part of a band called Веселі Біоритми, what is it like to play the ukulele in a band ?
It is very convenient to play the ukulele in a band like ours – other musicians are afraid of insulting me, so they raise ukulele volume.
U&L : For me to provide a bit of linguistic information, are all your songs in Surzhyk ? (note : Surzhyk is a dialect or sociolect combining Russian words with Ukrainian grammar and pronunciation. You can read about it here)
Surzhyk is a Ukranian dialect specific to my region. People feel shy to speak it at work or sing songs in it, because this is not a literary language, but they use it in everyday life. I don’t care. I call the genre in which I perform emo-reggae-turbo-shanson. These are songs about ordinary people that live in a small town but go through great emotions. Yes, they speak such a language and their life is not as interesting as in the the capital – but they should not be ashamed of this! So I sing songs in their language.
Subscribe to Eugen‘s YouTube channel here.