To describe Tina Karol as a Ukrainian national treasure and institution might seem far-fetched, yet Karol’s concert at the Troxy in East London had to be seen to be believed, and the experience warmed up the wintry Saturday evening of January the 30th. Did British legends like Elton John, the Rolling Stones or the recently late David Bowie finish off their concerts with rousing renditions of God Save the Queen? Perhaps they did, but I somehow doubt it. Yet Karol’s hearty belting of Shche ne vmerly Ukrainy ni slava ni volya (The glory and the freedom of Ukraine has not yet died) was the finale of an evening that left me marvelling at the Ukrainian people and curious about their traditions.
That Karol’s concert was a nationalistic occasion wasn’t particularly surprising given the recently over-shadowed geopolitical turmoil Ukraine is currently involved in with Russia, and the fact that Karol, representing her country, came a high 7th in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest. Traumatised people of any nation will cling onto and make a cultural idol of the most unexpected things and for the Ukrainians, the initially baffling (to the outsider) yet finally unsurprising choice is Tina Karol, her music and live appearances. As I witnessed the headlong adulation from men, women and children which came Karol’s way, the singer in turn lapped up all the attention and gave it right back in full measure to her loyal subjects – I mean adoring fans.
All the songs of the evening were either in Ukrainian or Russian, a neighbourly Ukrainian reliably informed me, but my linguistic handicap was no barrier to enjoyment. Karol’s voice was powerful, her music rhythmic and infectious and her expressive delivery simply captivating. She’s an unashamedly sultry songstress, but definitely not a diva – in the aloof and unattainable sense of the word. She sang, seduced, gave hugs mid-song, and gladly obliged those seeking selfies. For her fans Karol simply delivered – no one, young or old, female or male was immune to her charms. The songstress performed her choreography – just on the edge of risqué – and her audience was generous in its appreciation, the set punctuated by random excited fans handing her bouquets of flowers to which she responded unflappably. While she might have modelled herself on Jessica Rabbit, it was the Argentinian national saint that shone through, for Karol is triumphantly Ukraine’s digital-age Evita Perón – adorable, approachable and very much of her time.
The singer roused the crowd with her well-known Ukrainian pop tunes, but apart from the Ukrainian national anthem what really got them on their feet and singing along was a koliadky, a Ukrainian folk carol. It may not have been Christmas outside but in a Ukrainian packed Troxy the mood was patriotically festive. This followed by the national anthem, the night was rounded off on a nationalistic high. Just one thing made the evening shy of perfect – despite the event’s promotion, Karol didn’t woo us with her Eurovision anthem Show Me Your Love, the song which won her a place in the heart of her nation. I suppose, along with others, I’ll just have to make do with YouTube…
Tina Karol’s concert on 30th January 2016 was part of an ongoing programme at the Troxy, 490 Commercial Road E1. The event was presented by Britur Ukraine.