How does one define cultural identity? Is it the customs, traditions, and spiritual practices at the heart of a society? Is it the storytelling we embrace that celebrates a nation’s folklore and mythology? Do our heroes and public figures shape what it becomes? Or does the artistic legacy of literature, art and music mould the identity of future generations? And when faced with the looming threat of having an entire nation’s cultural heritage cancelled, how do you ensure its survival?
For as long as I can remember, I have been an unapologetic Eurovision geek. There are very few milestones in pop culture that thrill me more than the annual pilgrimage to whichever country is hosting the Song Contest. For eight decades now, we’ve cultivated a bond of togetherness through this special cultural event we embrace and celebrate. We’re entertained by the drama of it all. We laugh, we roll our eyes, we drink, we hurl abuse at the television, we poke fun at songs, and laugh and cheer all over again. It is something worth cherishing and celebrating, more so now than ever before.
This year, Ukraine’s representative Kalush Orchestra melded traditional Ukrainian folk music with contemporary hip-hop, to have their song ‘Stefania’ voted the winning entry. It would be impossible for even the most unsentimental of viewer to not be moved by the symbolism in their stage performance. As lead singer Tymofii sung his wailing chorus, a thinly disguised, hypnotic cry for help, Mother Ukraine wore her yellow flower crown in the background, shedding tears for all the departed souls, the passing of time and the loss of a new spring. Visually incorporating ornamental motifs and traditional compositions, it was raw, emotive, and allegorical.
Was it the best song or the worthiest of winners? The answer to that almost doesn’t matter, because on that night we stood in solidarity and celebrated what it is to be Ukrainian. I cannot for a second imagine the hardship and trauma the Ukrainian people have been experiencing. But for one night, we all became Ukraine. We refused to let the cultural identity of a proud nation be ignored, by sending a loud and clear message.