Eurovision '04 winner Ruslana discusses her paths as singer, spokesmodel, stateswoman and source of inspiration

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Eurovision 2004 winner Ruslana on her involvement in the Orange Revolution: "I realized that in our country, if you want to do something for your Motherland – you should do it by yourself, not hoping that one day somebody will hear or help you..."

Monday, March 30, 2009

First becoming famous in her native Ukraine in the 1990s, long-haired self-described "Amazon" Ruslana gained international recognition for winning the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest with her song "Wild Dances," inspired by the musical traditions of the Hutsul people of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains.

In the five years since, Ruslana has decided to use her name and public status to represent a number of worthy causes, including human trafficking, renewable energy, and even the basic concept of democratic process, becoming a public face of Ukraine's Orange Revolution and later serving in Parliament.

Currently, she is on an international publicity tour to promote her album Wild Energy, a project borne out of a science fiction novel that has come to symbolize her hopes for a newer, better, freer way of life for everyone in the world. She took time to respond to questions Wikinews's Mike Halterman posed to her about her career in music and her other endeavors.

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with past Eurovision contestants, which will be published sporadically in the lead-up to mid-May's next contest in Moscow.

Introduction to her life in music

((Mike Halterman)) You are now 35 years old. Being in one's 30s was considered "getting old" a generation ago; now it is considered sexy, sophisticated and more youthful. How do you feel being able to promote this fairly new ideal of explicit beauty and sex appeal in one's 30s through your contract with L'Oréal in the Ukraine?

Ruslana: I love to work with L'Oréal because we have [so] much in common. This company really knows what true beauty is.

No matter how old [you are], the main thing is how you feel [about] yourself. I have [the] heart of [a] real Amazon so my wild energy will always be with me.

My message for young people is: let's have real energy! Let's have real independence! Without any drugs. Without any synthetic energy. You can create it, you can make it yourself. It comes directly from your heart.

((Mike Halterman)) I read that your mother was one of the biggest driving forces in your decision to pursue music as a career. In what ways did she encourage you? What singers or groups were your musical inspirations growing up, and do they still inspire you today?

Ruslana: I have been singing since I was four years old. Yes, my mom was always near and helped to make my music dream come true. She's still my best friend. When I was a little kid I studied at an experimental music school and sang in a band. My parents joked that the microphone was my first toy and that I learnt the [music] notes earlier than the letters.

I loved Queen, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, A-ha, Beatles, Police, Cher and many others. I still love them.

((Mike Halterman)) You were trained in classical piano at the Music Conservatory in Lviv. How did the skills you learned while studying there impact your musical style now?

Ruslana: When I graduated from the conservatory, I obtained two educational qualifications in the field of music as a piano player and a symphonic orchestra conductor. My music education helps me very much to create my own music. For example, [a] few years ago at Lviv's 750th anniversary, I performed "Energy Source" as conductor of a symphonic orchestra that played my own composed music in a beautiful light show.

((Mike Halterman)) I interviewed Edsilia Rombley last month and she has a situation similar to yours, in that the main collaborator and producer of her music became her husband as well. How did you meet your husband and what led you to form a musical partnership? Also, how did the two of you fall in love?

Ruslana: Both of us were born in Lviv. We had the same friends, the same interest, objectives and the same love – music. I wanted to work with professionals and Sasha was [a] famous singer [at] that time in Lviv. He had his own band. So we met about work. From the first second I understood that we have [a] kindred spirit. Music connects us. And with our first song appeared our first feelings...

((Mike Halterman)) When you first started receiving recognition and becoming successful in the Ukraine in the mid-1990s, was it overwhelming? What was your main motivation in your career during this time? Was there ever a time where you considered leaving the music industry to live a quieter life?

Ruslana: No, I was born for music. I love what I'm doing with all of my heart. The first thing [about] recognition [is that] I should be very truthful with myself and with people. It's very important. I'm always honest with my fans. If you work only for money and you sing a song that you must sing but you don't feel it all of your heart and soul – you will be [a] singer for [only] one day.

Wild Dances

File:Ruslana at concert 1.jpg

Ruslana performing her song "Wild Dances," in which she incorporates the musical styles of the Hutsul ethnic minority from the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine.
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

((Mike Halterman)) In more than one project, including your Wild Dances CD, you have worked extensively in the unique musical tradition of the Hutsul people. What caused you to pursue such a niche? Also, are there any important things about the Hutsul people and tradition that people may not know, that you wish you could bring awareness to?

Ruslana: My father is from the West Ukrainian area [populated by] the Hutsuls, the dwellers of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains. So I was born in it. I saw it all in my childhood. Hutsuls have a unique culture with an ancient and rich history which inspired me to create my concept album Wild Dances. It combines powerful and permeating ethnic drums, trumpet sounds of the trembita, an ancient Hutsul music instrument, with modern dance beats.

((Mike Halterman)) You were chosen by the National Television Company of Ukraine to represent them at Eurovision in 2004. How were you approached by them? Was it a hard decision for you to decide whether or not to accept their offer? Obviously it was very successful for you, but before the fact, did you ever consider not performing?

Ruslana: I can say that before I went to Eurovision there were a lot of talks – [people saying it's] good or bad. I just did not listen to anyone; [I] just trusted my instincts.

((Mike Halterman)) Your performance is one of the best-remembered in history. Did it ever tire you to hear yourself compared to "Xena" from the television show "Xena: Warrior Princess"? Are you okay with that being your primary aesthetic attribute to foreign audiences?

Ruslana: For me [a] real Amazon is not [a] "Warrior Princess." It's [a] beautiful, smart, independent woman. She knows what she definitely wants and she gets it. Lana [Editor's note: Ruslana's alter-ego, an "Amazon," in her album Wild Energy] dreams about love. Magic feelings that give us inspiration and wings.

The main idea of [the] Wild Energy show is to show the character of [an] Amazon. She can be [a] girl [with] wind, girl [with] fire, girl [with] water, girl [with] rock. She's [a] girl [made of the] elements, but she fell in love and became vulnerable. She doesn't know what to do, how to live with those feelings.

Ruslana performing on Germany's national public TV channel Das Erste. German viewers voted her song "Wild Dances" the best song in Eurovision history.

((Mike Halterman)) German public television held a contest a few years ago and the public voted "Wild Dances" the best Eurovision song in history, ahead of well-established standards like "Waterloo" and "Ein bißchen Frieden". Do you feel your song is the best in the history of the entire Contest?

Ruslana: It was a great honor for me. I was so happy to hear it. [There were] a lot of beautiful talented singers and great songs [in all the] years [the competition has been in existence]. I like original songs with deep meaning and of course interesting shows.

Wild Energy

((Mike Halterman)) The Wild Energy concept is tied to a science fiction novel. How did the idea come about that you would take the sentiment expressed in that novel and make music with it? How do you personally relate with the messages conveyed in the novel and in your music? What does "the energy for living" mean to you?

Ruslana: We're trying to build a new energy generation using the book Wild Energy - Lana. This new project means a new album, new videos, new songs.

My new project Wild Energy is based on the science fiction novel by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko...They are very good friends of mine. The main idea of this novel is that in a [futuristic] city which experiences a global energy crisis, far more threatening than lack of oil and gas, people are lacking their will for life, their energy of the heart – the fuel for people. Lana, one of the synthetic inhabitants, sets out to find the mystical energy source. After many adventures she discovers that the wild energy comes from her own heart.

((Mike Halterman)) How did you cross paths with T-Pain and Missy Elliott, and how did your musical collaboration with them come to fruition?

Ruslana: [The] Wild Energy album was recorded at the Hit Factory Studio in Miami. [The] song featuring T-Pain [is] called "Moon of Dreams." "Moon of Dreams" is first and foremost an exotic mix of Slavic tunes and American R&B grooves. It's dance but romantic, temperamental and gentle simultaneously. The song that I sing with Missy Elliott is called "The Girl that Rules" and is a big departure [from] ethno-infused pop and dance sounds.

Ruslana performing her Wild Energy show in Berlin in 2006, while a Member of Parliament for the ruling People's Union "Our Ukraine" party.

Goodwill work and politics

((Mike Halterman)) One of the messages of Wild Energy is that you want to bring to a wider audience the dangers of the global climate change, and the importance to use renewable energy. Do you feel Ukraine has been "a victim" to other energy resources that have been more expensive or more mortally damaging, specifically with the Chernobyl disaster and Ukraine's feud with Gazprom in Russia?

Ruslana: The thing is that I started the project in the Parliament [for] renewable energy. I, as a deputy, thought that if there are so many conflicts around the gas, we need to introduce solar panels. For [the project], I [became versed in] all alternative energy [forms]. Can you imagine, me, [a] musician, [getting] into all economic and technical nuances. Me and my team tried to [promote] this project. But the parliament was so incapable [of working properly] that it was wiser [to] go out, [which] I actually did. My policy [now] – it's my new show Wild Energy. That [is] how I will appeal to people.

((Mike Halterman)) You have also served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for the Ukraine, and your platform has been increased awareness of human trafficking.

Ruslana: I released two video clips which aim to make potential victims aware of the dangers of human trafficking, [and I] performed at an anti-human trafficking event in Vienna, Austria, organized by UN.GIFT in front of 117 international delegations. My song "Not For Sale" became the anthem of the anti-trafficking campaign.

I think this is a very important issue and I will do everything I can to draw attention to it!

((Mike Halterman)) You were one of the public faces of the Orange Revolution, and ended up becoming a member of Parliament for a while. What caused you to throw your support behind Viktor Yushchenko so publicly, considering it could have been dangerous not only to your career, but your life?

Ruslana: It seems that staying in the Verkhovna Rada [Editor's note: The Parliament of the Ukraine] may [be able to solve] certain problems. Unfortunately, not always. I realized that in our country, if you want to do something for your Motherland – you should do it by yourself; not hoping that one day somebody will hear or help you...

((Mike Halterman)) When you left Parliament, you said, "I still hope for real changes and for a new political generation to come with the mentality to work and not being corrupt." What did you mean by that?

Ruslana: All that I can say is that I'm not in policy any more. And I'm very happy because of that! It seemed to me that [passing policies] could help me make more for my country, but on the contrary, [policy] just tied my hands. I came into politics [with] "[rose-colored] glasses" and [left] there very disappointed...

((Mike Halterman)) When I was asking for research help among the Ukrainian and Russian-speaking Wikipedians, one of the Russians made an off-hand comment to me that stuck. "Ukraine is just a part of Russia anyway." When I asked a Ukrainian Wikipedian what that meant to him, he said it upset him. How do you feel when you encounter such attitudes, considering you also release your music to the Russian market?

Ruslana: Ukraine is [an] absolutely independent country, with her own culture, language, [and] history.

After winning on the Eurovision I [received] a lot of invitations [to] Russia. Many friends of mine live there. My grandparents live in Yekaterinburg. I had a lot of propositions to make a big tour in Russia. I like to give concerts there. We will definitely show Russia my new Wild Energy show.

Counterpoint on the East in Eurovision

((Mike Halterman)) One final political question, and this one relates to Eurovision: I interviewed past winners Nicole and Anne Marie David, and both seemed to indicate that "bloc voting" could exist amongst nations; in Nicole's case, she believed it is currently occurring, especially between the countries of Eastern Europe. Your song received votes from nearly every country in Europe, but other winners weren't so fortunate, like the song from Russia last year. Do you believe "bloc voting" exists between the countries of Eastern Europe, and do you feel it is unfair to Western European performers who enter the Contest?

Ruslana: I think it's because Eastern Europe shows to others her graceful, beautiful style. That style wasn't typical for other countries. Eurovision every year has a lot pretty girls, handsome boys, but it's not enough. If you want to win – you must be special, not like many others.

((Mike Halterman)) Finally, what would you like to say as a closing note to all your fans who have followed your career? They would probably like to know what's next for you, what projects do you have planned?

Ruslana: Most of all, thanks for all the support and love, for all the WILD ENERGY that you give me during my concerts.

Thanks for all your positive [comments] and all of your smiles. It means a lot to me...

I hope that my greatest success will be in the near future. Now I work a lot for it. It has been more than five years since I [won] Eurovision and was named Best-Selling Ukrainian Artist at [the] World Music Awards in Las Vegas. Just about time for the showbiz electorate to demand a new program from their chosen one. I'm very happy that my new album is finished. I was waiting for it [for] so long. I hope all of my fans will like it. Because all that I do, I [do] for them.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.