A Brief History of Ukrainian Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Ukrainian folk music has a long and rich history, dating back centuries. In this blog post, we’ll take a brief look at the history of this genre of music and some of its key characteristics.


Ukrainian folk music is the music of the Ukrainian people. It is characterized by a wide variety of styles and influences. Ukrainian folk music has its roots in the music of the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe. It also has significant influences from the music of the Byzantine Empire and the music of the Ottoman Empire.

The influence of the Church

The role of the Church was very important in the development of Ukrainian folk music. The Church was a major source of musical influence in Ukraine, and it was through the Church that many Ukrainians were exposed to music from other cultures. The Church also played a role in the dissemination of folk music, as many folk songs were sung in church choirs or performed at religious festivals.

The influence of the Cossacks

The Cossacks were a group of people who lived in the steppes of Ukraine and Russia. They were known for their horsemanship and their fighting skills, but they were also known for their music. The Cossacks had a significant impact on Ukrainian folk music, and their music was often very lively and upbeat.

The Cossacks were not the only people who influenced Ukrainian folk music, however. Other groups such as the Roma (Gypsies) and the Jews also had an impact on the music. The Roma, for example, introduced new instruments and new styles of playing to Ukraine.


Ukrainian folk music is incredibly varied, with regional styles developing over the centuries. However, there are some common characteristics that tend to be found across the different styles. First, Ukrainian folk music is typically very lyrical, with songs often telling stories or conveying emotions. Second, the music often makes use of a wide range of different instruments, both traditional and modern. Finally, Ukrainian folk music tends to be very lively and upbeat, perfect for dancing.


Folk music of Ukraine is often performed on an acoustic guitar, as well as on a bandura, kobza, lira, piano, flute, Piccolo, violin and accordion. Other traditional Ukrainian folk instruments include the tremolo, tambourine, bagpipes, horns and trumpets.

Subject matter

Most Ukrainian folk songs are about love, labor, and nature. Many of the love songs are sad songs about unfulfilled love or parting. Love is often described in terms of nature—the springtime, the birds, and the flowers. Other songs express the hardships of labor—the toil of field work, the dangers of working in the forests, and the loneliness of migrant workers.

While some songs are celebratory, even those often have a tinge of sadness. For example, a song might be sung at a wedding, but it will also talk about how the bride will be leaving her home and her family to start a new life. This bittersweet feeling is a common theme in Ukrainian folk music.


One of the most striking features of Ukrainian folk music is its melodic character. The use of minor tonalities gives Ukrainian music a “sad” quality, which is perhaps why it was able to gain such popularity among slave-owning plantation owners in the American south. For the same reason, it was also popular among nineteenth-century Romantic composers such as Chopin and Liszt, who were drawn to its melancholic quality.

Notable performers

Ukrainian folk music is as varied as the country’s East Slavic roots, which are reflected in its melodies, rhythms, and harmonies. The first Ukrainian folk music ensemble was established in the early 1920s byAndriy Markovych. Folk music ensembles soon began performing in cities and towns across the country. The most famous Ukrainian folk music performers include Ostap Veresai, Markiyan Shved, and Mykola Pryhodko.


Bands are one of the most popular forms of Ukrainian folk music. They usually consist of a group of musicians playing traditional Ukrainian instruments, such as the bandura, accordion, and tabors. bands often perform at folk festivals and other events.

One of the most famous Ukrainian bands is DakhaBrakha. DakhaBrakha was formed in 2004 by four friends who met at the Kyiv Center for Contemporary Art. The band’s name comes from the Ukrainian words for “give” and “take,” which reflect their philosophy of making music that is both traditional and contemporary. DakhaBrakha’s music has been featured in films and TV shows, and they have performed all over the world.

Another well-known Ukrainian band is Haydamaky. Haydamaky was formed in 1989 by a group of friends who were passionate about Ukrainian culture and history. The band takes its name from a group of 18th-century Cossacks who rebelled against the Polish government. Haydamaky’s music blends folk, rock, and electronic influences, and they are known for their energetic live performances.

Other notable Ukrainian bands include Kobzar, Lemko Jazz Band, Plach Yeremiyi (The Plot), and Troitsa (The Trinity).


Some of the most notable Ukrainian folk music soloists have been:

-Ivan Franko, a writer and composer who is credited with popularizing Ukrainian folk music in the late 19th century.
-Mykola Lysenko, a blind composer and singer who is considered the founder of professional Ukrainian folk music.
-Solomiya Krushelnytska, a coloratura soprano who was one of the first Ukrainian performers to gain international recognition.
-Lesia Ukrainka, a mezzo-soprano who was known for her interpretation of Ukrainian folk songs.

Modern interpretations

Ukrainian folk music has a long and proud history, dating back centuries. Music was and remains an important part of Ukrainian culture, with traditional songs and dances being passed down from generation to generation. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Ukrainian folk music, with many modern interpretations of traditional songs being released.

Pop music

While the folk music of Ukraine has been well-known for centuries thanks to the traveling bards known as kobzars, in recent years, a new generation of Ukrainian musicians has taken the folk traditions of their ancestors and created something entirely new.

Blending traditional folk instruments with modern pop sensibilities, these artists are creating a sound that is both uniquely Ukrainian and appealingly modern. Among the most popular of these artists are Dakha Brakha, Vysotskyi, Gutsulka, and Haydamaky.

Dakha Brakha, perhaps the best known of these groups outside of Ukraine, is a quartet of women who sing traditional Ukrainian folk songs in a avant-garde style that incorporates elements of rock, jazz, and electronica. Their unique sound has earned them a dedicated international following, and they have toured extensively throughout Europe and North America.

Vysotskyi is a solo artist who combines traditional Ukrainian folk music with modern pop and rock sensibilities. His catchy melodies and thoughtful lyrics have earned him a devoted fanbase at home and abroad, and his popularity shows no signs of waning.

Gutsulka is a trio who specialize in energetic renditions of traditional Ukrainian folk songs. Their uptempo arrangements are perfect for dancing, and their lively stage presence always gets audiences moving.

Haydamaky is a septet whose music blends traditional Ukrainian folk influences with ska, punk, and reggae. They are one of the most popular bands in Ukraine thanks to their catchy tunes and high-energy live shows.

Rock music

One of the most popular music styles in Ukraine today is rock music. Though it developed later than other genres, rock music has become one of the most important genres in Ukrainian music.

Rock music first developed in the West in the 1950s. It quickly spread to the Soviet Union, where it was banned by the government. Nevertheless, Ukrainian musicians were able to adapt the style and create their own unique form of rock music.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of Ukrainian rock bands rose to prominence, including Kobza, Vopli Vidoplyasova, and Zemlyane. These bands combined Western rock influences with traditional Ukrainian folk music to create a new, distinctly Ukrainian sound.

During the Soviet era, rock music was often used as a tool for political dissent. Many Ukrainian rock bands openly criticized the Soviet government and championed Ukrainian nationalism. This led to conflict with the authorities, and several bands were banned from performing publicly.

Despite government repression, Ukrainian rock continued to develop in the late Soviet period and after independence in 1991. A new generation of Ukrainian rock bands emerged, including Okean Elzy, Skryabin, and Ruslana. These bands built on the foundation laid by their predecessors and helped make Ukrainian rock music an international phenomenon.

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