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8 Jan

Elena Romanato (Italy)
Millecanali, 16.4.2014

The many faces of Kosice: Zmicier Wajciuszkiewicz

There are only a few weeks left until the twentieth edition of Kosice’s International Festival of Local TV, and a series of interviews with characters from the Festival has restarted. Among them is the Belarusian singer Zmicier Wajciuszkiewicz, also known as Todar.

Zmicier is part of the group of artists (actors, directors, singers) that are difficult to see or hear on TV or Belarusian State Radio. Amongst others, he is part of a "list"of artists considered enemies of the country (although this is unofficial and never declared by the Government but made known by some media - recently even Al Jazeera mentioned it!).  Like many of his colleagues, in fact Zmicier is very active with shows abroad, especially in Poland and Lithuania, where his co-nationals go to see him perform.

The "list" was founded in 2006, when some artists held a concert in support of the opposition; after a period of regained freedom between 2008 and 2010, a new version of the blacklist appeared in 2011 which also included Zmicier. In fact many bands use music as a form of battle and although the protest songs are not the classical repertoire of Zmicier, he often had problems performing in Belarus.

The artist also pays the price of being a great friend and setting to music poems by Vladimir Neklajev, former presidential candidate in the last election. Many will remember the images of Neklaev with his red jacket, wounded to the ground, because he was beaten by police while he manifested with thousands of other Belarusian citizens against the 2010 elections, which Lukashenko won with 79.7% of the vote but with a strong suspicion of irregularities (even by OSCE).

However, we have interviewed Zmicier.

Zmicier, when did you start your career?

I am a singer and composer, and I had little experience in the early nineties, but I started in 2001 as a soloist.

What is your kind of music and what do your songs talk about?

There are several ’strands’. Lyrics from Belarus and neighbouring countries, Polish poetry, Russian (Majakosvkij) poetry. Perhaps in the future I will even consider Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Swedish or Japanese poetry, but the main thing is the poetry is set to music. Now I have a group called WZ Orkestra, East-West Orchestra in essence, but the theme song is also true for my name, Wajciuszkiewicz Zmicier. The idea of the name refers to the east-west concept, in an attempt to raise awareness of our countries, our places, through a cultural crossroads, perhaps even political, but especially through poetry, with which we also try to understand ourselves .

How is the music scene in Belarus?

I think it is as difficult as any other country, because if you’re a young musician or a producer you have to have the right product or very good ideas; I think our players have good ideas but the same cannot be said for those who produce. For example, I am in the black list in Belarus, for the second time in ten years. Young people look at what I do and think about what to do or not to do, what to sing and what kind of music to devote themselves to.

Your songs are freely downloadable online; in Italy music files can be downloaded, legally, simply by paying for them; how is the music market in Belarus?

It is a very strange market. I, personally, am happy because even though I am in the blacklist I have my audience, I do concerts, I try to sell my CDs at concerts, even if I cannot go into radio or on TV either with my songs or to promote my music as happens in other countries. This is my experience. Sometimes I compose soundtracks for short films or plays and all this gives me the opportunity to maintain myself through music. But not everyone has this ability ...

But your songs were not political ...before.

Before what?

At first I did not talk about politics but they were songs that catered to people to make them aware of something. Singing in Belarusian and the Belarussian language you use is very important. Then if you have certain positions, if you go on your way, all this is not dangerous in itself, but is automatically understood as ’political fact’. If for example you have a poet friend and that friend becomes a candidate for president (Vladimir Neklajev, founder of the "Tell the Truth"; N. d. R.), you are also a politician and make policies. If you sing in the streets, you are involved in politics. If you have friends at the embassy of Sweden, you are involved in politics, and in my case they think then that I take money from the embassy of Sweden. It’s all meant as politics. But the most important thing is that if you are a person, that is if you have your own personality, you make people scared, because they don’t need individuals but "people."

You have had lots of  publicity even outside Belarus, especially in the neighbouring countries ...

Yes and I have been in different countries, in America, in Japan in Russia - Moscow Yrtkusk. But I am an artist who sings most of his songs in Belarus and this is a problem; if I sung in Russian, I would have had more success. Moreover, using the Belarusian language, and promoting the culture of Belarus, like most people, is a process in which you have to invest, because it is very important.

What are you working on now?

On a song that tells the story of a Belarusian person who is in a bad situation; it is not directly a political song but speaks of a person who has difficulties in life, after following a bad path. It’s a song which is at times ironic and funny, sometimes very sad. With this song we try to give answers to certain questions, because then Belarus looks like a big prison.

When did you realize you were on the blacklist?

For the first time in 2004. This blacklist is not an official document but a ’recommendation’ but it’s on the Internet. After this blacklist we had organized a concert: the tickets were all sold but at the last minute some ’official arrived, saying they had to do the repairs, that there was something wrong. But now they say openly: Zmitier Wajciuszkiewicz no. Sometimes I realize I am afraid, because we are not strong enough to do certain battles. Mine is a battle that uses culture, irony, humour, sometimes entering the deep problems of the country and talking about it. Here the “normal” dialogues which speak of day to day things are scary.For example, in Belarus on the Radio or TV you never see talk shows, where people talk about politics or everyday life, the contents are mainly entertainment.

I understand that you it would not be easy to call you to represent Belarus in Eurosong ...

(smiles) I think we have to have more humour. If you are blacklisted and don’t normally have the opportunity to talk to your audience, you start to get a little ’crazy, because you think, "I’m a Belarusian artist, not an American or English one,  and I am not given the opportunity to communicate with my audience. "

Originally published: http://www.millecanali.it/i-volti-di-kosice-zmicier-wajciuszkiewicz/