Interview: Sofia Shkidchenko

I’m angrier than a fan of good music that the artist that I’m about to discuss hasn’t yet achieved the level of fame in the United States that she deserves.  I speak specifically of Ukrainian artist Sofia Shkidchenko, whose music video was last week’s pick of the week.  After posting my pick, I thought it’d be nice to reach out and ask her some questions about her growing career, especially since she has become much more than just a yodeler.

I reached out via email and asked her some questions that I think her fans and those who find her music to be great might find interesting.  The good news for us here in the States is that she’s in Massachusetts for the summer, working on new music.  I won’t get into politics in this article, other than to say I wish Ukraine nothing but victory.

It all started on the talent show Ukraine Got Talent when she was 13.  She sang “She Taught Me to Yodel,” and did so flawlessly.  She immediately won over the audience with her performance.  Of the experience, she said that “…the experience was life-changing.”

“It was one of the very first TV shows I appeared in and as a child, I didn’t even realize that this performance would become such big of a deal. It blew up out of nowhere and that’s how people started discovering me,” she went on to say.

She got three “yes” votes from the judges.  “However, as it often happens in such shows, even 3 ‘yes’ votes didn’t guarantee that I’d get into the second round. That’s what happened to me.”

As for the performance itself, she stated that “there was no specific choreography…I just improvised on the stage.”  She said this in response to my question of whether or not the routine was rehearsed.  If you take a look at this portion of the performance, you’ll see her take three steps back to accommodate the camera going around her at 360 degrees.  As the camera does that, she looks straight ahead, never into the camera, which is something a true performer does.

How did I notice that?  In my younger years, I directed things like this, so when something so well-planned happens, it stands out to me.  It may have only been a few steps, but I immediately knew that this was a special performance, so unique and so high-spirited.

I’m not the only one who felt that way.  The judges and the audience got into the routine, which goes to show that, even at a young age, she knew how to put on a good show.

So how did Shkidchenko get to that point?

“Music has been a big part of my life since my childhood, but what I especially love about this passion is that I constantly discover something new. Lately, I’ve been getting more into jazz, although I never thought I’d like it. Most of my original songs have pretty much the same vibe and sound that expresses me. Now that I’m older I just see a clearer picture of what I want to achieve with my music.”

And it’s true.  Her YouTube channel is full of covers and original songs.  If I link to and discuss each and every song, this article will never end, so I highly recommend that you sit back and enjoy for yourself.  I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

What’s admirable about Shkidchenko is her humility.  She knows exactly how successful and famous she is, but she doesn’t forget where she came from, which is a trait that I respect in any performer.

“I appreciate each and every of my supporters from all over the globe. I did enjoy performing in the US.  People are especially friendly here, so I always get a lot of good feedback after the show, which I appreciate. However, I do miss my Ukrainian audience, especially in such hard war times, so I’m glad that although I don’t give live performances in Ukraine these days, my people can still watch my channel and feel my support.”

Since she brought it up, I will say that it’s appalling to see what Russia, and more specifically Putin, is doing to the country that simply minded its own business.  Innocent Ukrainian lives have been lost over the war and when I went to Mass yesterday, I prayed for the Ukrainian people.  But that’s enough about that!  This interview isn’t about politics.

In addition to live performance footage, there are plenty of music videos.  Again, having directed a few myself, I notice things that the average viewer might not notice.  Perhaps my favorite video is this one, which was made when she was 14.  The song is entitled “Auf und Auf Voll Lebenslust,” which according to Google Translate, roughly translates to “Up and Up, Full of Lust for Life.”  The song was written by Franzl Lang, an accomplished polka artist.  Here is his version.

I initially thought it was in the Ukrainian language.  Shkidchenko corrected me, however, saying:

“The catch is – that’s not Ukrainian! 🙂 I’m singing in one of the German dialects and as you guessed correctly; the song is basically about a happy life. I don’t remember the translation of lyrics at that particular moment, because this dialect is not common at all, so we had trouble finding lyrics for the song.”

As part of research for this article, I tried to find the lyrics in English and finally hit paydirt.  You can read the lyrics for yourself, and you’ll find that, just like she said and I inferred, the song is meant to be a light-hearted, fun song.

All I can say is that her version of the song is beautiful, and the music video is well-shot and fun to watch.  One of the things that I’ve done is that, after I first watched MTV as a young child, I’ve had visions whenever I watch a video or hear a song on the radio, I’d come up with a music video in my head.

I’ve always been that way, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to direct this music video.  The transitions between the scenes, namely the way she reaches out to the camera and wipes to a new scene are nothing short of inspirational.   I have my own vision of the video from a director’s point of view, and although it’ll never be made, it’s nice to have a vision.

I find music in general to be beautiful and I love watching artists express themselves in videos, especially in the case of Shkidchenko.  Her gestures and facial expressions really make the video. Whomever directed the video is one hell of a director and artist.

Shkidchenko has all kinds of songs and videos up her sleeve.  Santa’s Yodeling Song, which was written by Janet McBride and Dell D’lizarraga.  Here is the original version and here is her version.  Just as an aside, Ukraine now observes Christmas Day on December 25, just like most of the Christian world, whereas prior to 2017, the day was observed on January 7.

The video is shot very well, especially in the beginning where she goes around the room in fast motion and when she sits down, her head moves in perfect time to the music.  I am curious about one thing, however: at 1:23 in, she pulls a small orange thing out of her stocking.  Is that Ukrainian candy, perhaps?  I forgot to ask her.

So what’s next for her? Fortunately for her fans around the world:

“Currently I’m planning to make use of  [American] recording studios, since I’ll be staying in [Massachusetts] for [the] summer. No particular songs yet planned, but I’m trying to record the American anthem before July 4th, so stay tuned!”

As all Americans know, our national anthem is written in such a way that not just any person can sing it well, especially when you hit “…and the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”.

Now, I’ve been an American citizen for all 46 years of my life and I would never even dare to try to sing it.  Shkidchenko has my respect for trying, without even hearing her attempt.  But if you watch and hear her, you can infer that she’ll do one hell of a job!

Most Christian/Catholic church hymns are within my vocal range, but that?  I’d probably be arrested for attempted manslaughter if I tried to sing it in public.  I look forward to hearing her take on it, especially since she can offer a unique perspective: a Ukrainian artist performing the American national anthem.  And by the way, she’s performed the Ukrainian national anthem as well.  Thankfully, there are numerous resources online which translate the beautiful song into English.

Every musical artist has someone they look up to, someone who inspires them.  Shkidchenko is no different.

“I look up to many singers, but lately, I’ve been mesmerized by the music of Esperanza Spalding and Jazzmeia Horn. I’d love to collaborate with them, learn their singing techniques and analyze how their minds work towards music creation. Speaking of the all-time favorites/classics though, I’m a huge fan of Beyonce’s voice, so I’d love to learn from her as well.”

Her musical inspirations explain why she performs different genres.  She started off as a yodeler, but as she evolves as an artist, it’s clear that she will keep on growing musically, thanks to her talented inspirations.

Not only does she dabble in different genres, but she performs in multiple languages.

“I sing in many languages and I don’t limit myself. If I find a foreign song that I like – I’ll simply learn it, even if I don’t speak that language. So far I have sung in Ukrainian, English, Polish, German, French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Latin, Georgian, and maybe some others, because it’s easy to lose track of them 🙂 at the moment I’m not learning any new languages, instead, I’m focusing on improving my English, while not forgetting Polish and Korean, since I’ve studied those [two] for a while.”

She sings and writes in English very well, and it shows.

One thing that’s inspirational about her is that she cares very deeply for her country and her fellow Ukrainians in general.  One example of this is when she posted her version of John Lennon’s Imagine to her YouTube channel.  The song is, right off the bat, already inspirational and emotion-inducing.  But her version of the song absolutely brought me to tears, to the point that I couldn’t see well enough to keep typing.

No, I’m not ashamed to admit that my tears flowed to the point that I had to stop writing this article while listening to her cover.  Her voice is emotional, beautiful and powerful, especially with a song like this and especially when she sings, “imagine there’s no countries.”  That line is particularly relevant and emotional, given what Ukraine is going through at this very moment.

Her voice in her cover of Imagine, is, in a good way, haunting.  That is the hallmark of a true musical artist.  We already know that people around the world are inspired by her works and it is my sincere hope that American audiences discover, listen to and appreciate her music.  She deserves every bit of success that she enjoys in this country, and I eagerly await what else she has to share with us.

And to think, it all started with a young lady yodeling, an art that unfortunately is starting to fade away.  Her music, however, will not fade away.  And that is as it should be!