Ukraine 2023: Tvorchi

Tvorchi: "Our song is inspired by unbreakable Ukrainians"

INTERVIEW Ukraine is still in the middle of the war but that didn't stop the country from selecting Tvorchi to represent them at the Eurovision Song Contest 2023. Amongst the ongoing war, rehearsals and pre-parties, the guys from Tvorchi spoke to Eurovisionworld about how the Ukrainian people inspired their Eurovision song, on their ambitions for Eurovision, and more

On 17 December 2022, Ukraine held their national selection for Liverpool, Vidbir 2023.

Despite the ongoing war, the Ukrainian public broadcaster (UA:PBC) managed to broadcast it live from a bomb shelter. More specifically, at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti metro station in Kyiv.

This represents the strength of the Ukrainian people who truly have hearts of steel. Even with the daily and unjustified attacks from Russia, they still try to live their lives as normal as possible. The duo Tvorchi, who will represent Ukraine at this year's Eurovision, are no exception. They spoke with us while preparing for Eurovision, only a few days from departing to their first Eurovision pre-party in Barcelona:

– We're fine. There's a lot of work, preparation and events but we're doing well, assures Jeffrey Kenny, the vocalist of the duo.

We're not going for a victory.Andrii from Tvorchi

Tvorchi is a Ukrainian duo that consists of vocalist Jeffrey (Jimoh Kehinde) and producer Andrii Hutsuliak. They won Vidbir 2023 with "Heart of Steel" and will fly to Liverpool in May to try to take home another victory for their nation. But that's not their main goal:

– We're not going for a victory, states Andrii.

– Our mission is to represent Ukraine the best way we can, and we're already very happy that we will show something new from Ukraine. So far, the world has heard our folk music, and we're going to present electronic sounds that people may not expect from our country. We will show that Ukraine is diverse, pass on our message and hope to inspire people to be stronger.

That's the message behind their Eurovision entry, "Heart of Steel." When asked if the ongoing war inspired the writing of the song, the answer is immediate:

– Absolutely, says Jeffrey. Andrii continues:

– Subconsciously. When we write our music, we channel into it what we're feeling at that precise moment and that's how we felt when we made that song. We wrote it during springtime (2022) and by then we saw a lot of videos from our defenders. We knew that the situation was very bad, but in their eyes we only saw strength, confidence, and that they were unbreakable like all of Ukrainians. That was the emotion that inspired us to write this song.

Music video: Tvorchi – "Heart of Steel"

Vidbir 2023 and the war

"Heart of Steel" was written during the spring of 2022, but one year later Russia hasn't ceased their attacks against Ukraine. How do they manage to continue living life with bombs and missiles coming their way at random times?

– It's not something you can get used to, so you have to find ways around it and schedule time and even electricity because many times it goes off, explains Jeffrey.

– It goes off given the Russian attacks against civilian buildings and civilian infrastructures. They try to destroy our electricity, heat and access to water, adds Andrii.

Russia's ongoing attacks are the reasons why Ukraine can't host this year's Eurovision Song Contest. The United Kingdom, who finished second in 2022 with Sam Ryder's "Space Man," will host on their behalf:

– It means a lot to us and we're very thankful for all the help we are getting from the United Kingdom until today and for the future. We're sure they will be great hosts and we're excited to see it and to be part of it, tells Andrii.

Speaking of last year's victory, how did the duo react to Kalush Orchestra's triumph in Turin?

– Honestly...I wasn't watching, says Jeffrey.

– I found out about it on the next day and I was like "Damn, I missed the whole thing." We had a lot of work at the time but I thought it was a great time to put Ukraine in front of something like the Eurovision Song Contest. I mean, millions of people were watching so I felt that sense of happiness, pride, and obviously it was a good thing because it opened doors for those who came after which are us and we're straight into the final so... That's awesome! We didn't even know if we were going to apply for Vidbir!

The decision to submit "Heart of Steel" to Vidbir 2023 was a last-minute decision for Tvorchi:

– We had no motivation for the contest because we didn't put much work into making the song specifically for it. We had a few songs to pick from and we decided at the last minute to apply for Vidbir... A day before the deadline, in fact, tells Jeffrey.

We didn't even know if we were going to apply for Vidbir.Jeffrey from Tvorchi

– Yes, we applied without much thinking. There are people who prepare for years and create songs specifically for Eurovision, adds Andrii.

Jeffrey continues to say that "Heart of Steel" seemed to be the right choice as that was the message they wanted people to hear.

– We didn't expect to win. We had tickets to go home the next day. When we won we had to cancel them and had interviews the next day and the day after. It has been a rollercoaster since then.

– This was indeed a surprise and we appreciate it a lot because there were thousands of people who voted for us, explains Andrii.

As mentioned previously, Vidbir was held in a metro station. How was that experience?

– I could say unique. I honestly don't know how the organizers and technicians did it, Jeffrey admits.

– It looks like a very difficult job because they had to carry heavy equipment by hand, down the stairs and all that. They did a great job. Phenomenal, in fact, because watching it on TV you wouldn't know it was in a metro station if no one had told you. So, we really appreciate everyone who worked on it.

Andrii continues:

– I would also mention that it was winter. It was very cold, and the place for the stage was very tiny. It was just the platform where people wait for the train to come. I have to say that the worst part was the preparations because alarms go off every day, and you have a schedule, a lot of stuff to prepare for your performance. And once the alarm goes off, all you have to do is run to save your life and wait in the shelter until it's over.

When asked how their life was impacted after their victory, they highlight mostly their busy agenda. Tvorchi has been on the music scene since 2017, and even attempted to go to Eurovision back in 2020 with their song "Bonfire," which finished fourth in Vidbir. How different was it from this second try?

Vidbir 2020: Tvorchi – "Bonfire"

– The first time we applied was in the beginning of our career, we had no experience on live TV, Andrii explains.

– When you perform on TV it is so different and there were some technical issues for which we weren't ready for. So, I think that was the biggest lesson learned; that we need to be prepared for anything and that we should always aim at becoming better and better. In reality, we are now a thousand times better than back then.

From studying pharmacy to making music

Let's go back to the start of Tvorchi. It takes us back to their times in the Faculty of Pharmacy of Ternopil National Medical University. That's where they met and where they began making music together. How did pharmacy turn into music? That sounds a bit different:

– Yeah, quite different, agrees Jeffrey while laughing with Andrii.

– I honestly can't give you a straight answer, it just happened randomly from when we met until we made our first song, it was mostly a hobby during those times. We were doing what we could and we would find time usually at night after classes.

Did you graduate?

Both of them laugh, but confirm they have:

– I even went as far as pursuing a master's degree. It's funny because I graduated and I could have time for music then. But since it wasn't too serious at the time I decided to go forward with the master's and finish it completely, says Jeffrey.

Jeffrey was born with a gift. His voice is incredible. But, to produce music you have to actually learn it from scratch. How did that happen for Andrii?

– Since my childhood I've always loved music. I was listening to a lot of music because I had satellite TV and there were international channels. I grew up with artists such as Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake. And when I got into college, I was looking for myself, and for something like a hobby that I could have not to get bored.

He thought he found it: video games!

– I was playing a lot of video games back then and I searched on how to create them. When I found a program to do so, I just thought "How do people manage to create video games? I don't understand it." And that shifted into, "How do people make music?" That's when I started my journey with it. I was basically developing my skills, doing it at home and not showing it to anybody because, back then, it was all trash.

– He's a self-taught producer, says Jeffrey.

– Yes, and after some time I felt like I could show something of substance to the world and we started making music until today. We will soon release our upcoming album that will be much more us, more fresh and with new stuff.

When asked about a release date, they assure that it will come after Eurovision.

The revamp and Eurovision 2023

Ahead of Eurovision 2023 Tvorchi decided to revamp their entry, "Heart of Steel." The instrumental gained more strings and a Ukrainian part was also added:

– We decided to revamp it mostly because the song was not made for a competition. As soon as we won, we knew we wanted to improve "Heart of Steel." So, we added a Ukrainian bridge to show that this is Ukraine, and completed it with more strings that represent the anxiety and concern from those not so great moments. It is also a reminder that you shouldn't give up. You should just go ahead because if you have a heart of steel, everything will be all right, explains Andrii.

Vidbir performance: Tvorchi – "Heart of Steel"

In their Vidbir performance, the duo had four big screens on stage. The middle of it resembled a cross, and Jeffrey is in the middle of it while acting along with the images on the screens and is later joined by two dancers. Andrii is on the left. What was that about?

– It's a possible interpretation of the song that is about being confident and unbreakable and to keep a positive attitude even in bad situations, says Jeffrey.

When asked if this will be exported to the Eurovision stage, Andrii tease a little:

– We can say that we will use part of it but we will improve everything, make everything better, bigger, and add more surprises to everyone.

On the hunt for some exclusive details, we ask who they will bring on stage with them. Jeffrey adds:

– We can't talk too much about it. By the rules of Eurovision, the maximum amount of people you can have on stage is six so...

We know what we are going to do and understand what the outcome should be.Andrii from Tvorchi

Will there be four dancers instead of two? Little to no details concerning what Tvorchi's performance will be like in Liverpool. But, are they nervous about this whole experience?

– Like Andrii said, we have a lot of responsibility but we're not exactly nervous. People may think that since Ukraine is at war and since Kalush Orchestra won last year, this may add pressure to us but it doesn't, we're relaxed. We know what we are going to do and understand what the outcome should be.

What is your goal with this Eurovision participation?

– I honestly hope that people connect to our song and will take something for themselves from the song. Maybe become better versions of themselves. We want them to feel inspired by our song, performance, and even by us, says Andrii. Jeffrey agrees:

– We also want people to know that Ukraine can come up with different acts, performances and performers. We want to put it out there for the world and, of course, connect with more people internationally.

– The main goal is to represent Ukraine the best that we can and bring light to the situation that's going on. We're aware that most of Europe knows about it, but outside people may not be as aware. This year, more people outside of Europe can vote and we want to highlight this cause, put out the message of the song and give ourselves 200%, concludes Jeffrey.

Given Kalush Orchestra's victory last year with their song "Stefania," Ukraine's Tvorchi are automatically qualified for the Grand Final and will take the stage at the Eurovision Grand Final on 13 May to perform "Heart Of Steel."

About the author: Pedro Santos (Portugal)

authorPedro comes from Lisbon, Portugal. He's 30 years old and graduated in journalism. He has attended Eurovision Song Contest three times live - 2018, 2019 and 2022 - and covered the show twice more (2021, 2023) but his first Eurovision memory takes him back to 2007 when Sarbel delivered his catchy "Yassou Maria" performance. Pedro's favorite Eurovision song is Albania's 2015 "I'm Alive" by Elhaida Dani which is also his favorite Eurovision edition.

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