Ukraine Has A Legitimate (Musical) History

On February 24, 2022, Putin escalated his war on Ukraine into a full-scale invasion. Without hyperbole, I think it is safe to say that life will never be the same for many of us. Many North Americans are slowly waking up to the fact that the war on Ukraine is consequential not only for this region of the world, but for the whole of the global world order. I pray for peace in Ukraine, for the defeat of Putin, and for Ukrainian sovereignty to prevail.

Putin’s Russia has falsified history, made a childish simplification of it. The Russian military is now advancing a brutal assault on the entire population of Ukraine by arguing that Ukraine does not exist as an entity apart from Russia. The historic cities that the Russian military claims to be “protecting” are being reduced to rubble; they are desecrating their own shared history with Ukraine. It is sickening to witness, even as it is inspiring to see Ukrainians fighting back against this terrifying unprovoked attack.

My research going back to 2004 has centered on how the dynamic musical arena of Ukraine has shaped sovereign imaginaries that often refute simple narratives of Ukrainian history and identity, and reject binary geopolitical options. Since February 24, I’ve taken many opportunities to speak about this. I think about this as one front in the discursive battle against Putin’s attempted genocide.

Here are a few items that may be of interest if you are reading this now:

Tenure! And some archived talks

I received notice in April 2021 that I have been promoted to Associate Professor with tenure at Berkeley! I’m so relieved to put that hurdle behind me, and so grateful to the friends, colleagues, mentors, and interlocutors who supported me on that long road.

One of the affordances of the Zoom year is that the various talks that I gave, which would normally be to very small audiences, are archived on YouTube. All three of these are tied to publication projects that are at various stages ranging from “in press” to “in early draft.” So if you’re interested, here they are, from most recent to oldest:

And with that, on to thinking about which novel I will read before turning my mind to the neglected writing projects of the last year…

Wild Music wins the 2020 Lewis Lockwood Award from the American Musicological Society!

Deeply honored to say that Wild Music: Sound and Sovereignty in Ukraine (Wesleyan University Press, Music/Culture Series, 2019) has won the Lewis Lockwood Award from the American Musicological Society this year! According to the website, “The Lewis Lockwood Award honors each year a musicological book of exceptional merit published during the previous year (2020) in any language and in any country by a scholar in the early stages of his or her career who is a member of the AMS or a citizen or permanent resident of Canada or the United States.” A surprising and welcome affirmation of this book about Ukrainian etno-muzyka.


Wild Music book is out!

My first book, Wild Music: Sound and Sovereignty in Ukraine, is now out in the Music/Culture Series of Wesleyan University Press!


Cover art by Sashko Danylenko

Here is the blurb the press came up with to describe the book:

What are the uses of musical exoticism? In Wild Music, Maria Sonevytsky tracks vernacular Ukrainian discourses of “wildness” as they manifested in popular music during a volatile decade of Ukrainian political history bracketed by two revolutions. From the Eurovision Song Contest to reality TV, from Indigenous radio to the revolution stage, Sonevytsky assesses how these practices exhibit and re-imagine Ukrainian tradition and culture. As the rise of global populism forces us to confront the category of state sovereignty anew, Sonevytsky proposes innovative paradigms for thinking through the creative practices that constitute sovereignty, citizenship, and nationalism.

And here are some kind things some scholars I really admire have to say about the book:

“Sonevytsky’s vivid prose brings together rich ethnography with sophisticated analysis. Through her concept of wildness, she shows how performers disrupt binaries of tradition and modernity, of ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ culture, as they construct their country’s sovereignty. A powerful book!”

—Laada Bilaniuk, author of Contested Tongues: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine

“Beautifully written, this vital and sensitive ethnography documents the social, affective, and discursive energies that flow within contemporary Ukrainian music. Sonevytsky highlights the possibilities for imaginative agency that “wild musics” provide, without ignoring the very real constraints that hem in the Ukrainian subjects whose complex personhood is the real focus of this remarkable book.”

—J. Martin Daughtry, author of Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq

“Post-Soviet Ukraine emerges in this beautiful and original book as a place of a vibrant musical and sonic culture. Marked by experiment, hybridity, and ‘wildness,’ this scene not only produces remarkably creative musical projects, but also makes new forms of political sovereignty, citizenship and community imaginable. A great achievement.”

—Alexei Yurchak, author of Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation

It can purchased directly from the press, on Amazon, or even better, from your local academic bookstore!

Berkeley Ethnomusicology

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be joining the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Music starting in the Fall of 2018. Our little family circus will be moving West next summer. I am so thrilled to join the dynamic intellectual community of Berkeley, to be among faculty who have inspired and shaped my thinking since I started on this path, and to contribute to the renowned ethnomusicology graduate program there. I am all too aware that I have some big shoes to fill. 

We can file this one under “so damn bittersweet”: I am very sad at the thought of leaving our Bard and Hudson Valley community. I have learned so much from the endlessly creative, energetic, brilliant faculty at Bard, many of whom have become close friends. I love our little town of Tivoli, I love our street in that town, I love our little home, the mountains and our river and our lakes and our woods here, I love the klezmorim and the secret canoe shows, and I love the care that my kids have gotten outside of our home. There are too many people who I’ve grown attached to here to namecheck. I’m looking forward to one more year of the Hudson Valley life, and many future visits!

Lecture & DakhaBrakha at Amherst College: April 7, 2017

I’ll be speaking at Amherst College in advance of DakhaBrakha’s concert there on the evening of April 7. Haven’t heard of the NPR darlings and breakout Ukrainian musicians DakhaBrakha? You can check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert here. Tickets for the Amherst show are available here. Lecture is free and open to the public (4:30, Fayerweather Hall, Pruyne Lecture Hall).


The title of my talk is: “Ethno-Chaos: Hearing DakhaBrakha in the Context of Contemporary Revolutionary Ukrainian Politics.”

This lecture will contextualize some of the sonic influences that DakhaBrakha alchemize in their self-described ethno-chaos band. As they morphed from claiming to be apolitical musicians to touring as “Ambassadors of the Maidan Revolution,” DakhaBrakha exported a political message to audiences throughout Western Europe and North America; since the 2013-14 revolution, they have forged creative alliances that also suggest a particular progressive politics. In the current global climate, as the Ukrainian state faces an existential threat from continuing aggression from Russia, artists such as DakhaBrakha articulate their hopes and frustrations through their musical performances. Situating their creative experiments within a bigger emerging Kyivan arts scene, we will examine the sonic markers utilized in specific songs and ask what kinds of stories they tell about the complex geopolitical landscape of contemporary Ukraine. Through an exploration of “soundmarks of sovereignty,” this lecture will decode some of the layered histories of social belonging that their richly hybrid songs evoke.