[b]Oleg Yeliseenkov is one of the most popular pop composers and a producer bringing success to many artistes In recent years, Belarus has tried to win the Eurovision contest. The highest place we’ve achieved so far is the sixth — occupied by Dima Koldun, a pupil of Mr. Yeliseenkov. Our interview with the maestro begins with an attempt to reveal the secret of success.[/b]
How have you personally achieved recognition?
Initially, my own pop compositions were repeatedly rejected. I was told that they didn’t suit. Then, a new project was launched — a song contest in Baltic Jurmala. Participants were chosen in Moscow and two of our artistes took part in ‘Jurmala-88’, both performing my music. My family name was announced twice on TV, during prime time broadcasting of this most popular festival. Afterwards, I was called from the Belarusian Radio musical department and asked to come and record something. “Shall I perform anything first?” I asked, but they replied, “No. There’s no need. Choose a time, come and record whatever you wish.” I didn’t expect such an answer.
From where does your ability to spot talent originate?
I’m probably lucky. I remember being told, at a pop music contest in Lida called ‘Star Constellation’, “A guitar player wants to see you.” I was indignant, answering, “Why a guitar player? This is a vocal contest!” Then, a bald-headed young man came in, wearing canvas boots and a jersey. He sat nearby and I asked, “Do you have a guitar?” He then took out a perfect guitar and began playing. I realised that he had true talent. We immediately introduced a new nomination — especially for that man — and began to promote him actively. It’s pleasing for me when DiDyuLya recalls this moment with gratitude each time.
Who determines the quality of music? Who is able to do this?
You don’t need a special musical education to understand and appreciate music, just as a technical cast of mind does not hamper a career in art. Few people realise that, in the Middle Ages, music was viewed as an exact science, rather than art. Each melody follows laws of symmetry and mathematics. Many members of the famous Russian Moguchaya Kuchka composers’ club (Great Group) were not professionals. Borodin — who composed the opera ‘Prince Igor’ — was a chemist. He was Mendeleev’s companion-in-arms and son-in-law and composed his genius music in his free time only.
What is genius music?
I used to think only of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ as hits but, as I grew older, I put aside my ‘stylistic’ glasses. Since then, I’ve tried to understand all music. At present, only young people perform on stage. There are few older generation artists — or music aimed at these people. In the 1980s, the situation was different — with the domination of elderly composers and numerous singers of the same age. However, our 1980s music seemed to be inspired by the 1960s rather than western recordings of the time. We sometimes mix up ‘taste’ and ‘quality’, with our taste preferences — especially in youth — dominating all others. We only love that music which suits our style, and consider music bad if it fails to fit in the genre we admire. Over the course of time, these ‘curtains’ fall and we gain the ability to distinguish the quality of music for itself.
Should buyers and sellers of music assess quality — rather than composers?
Quality and sales are not always inseparable. Sadly, we realise the value of our hits only after decades pass. When a song is performed for forty years, we acknowledge it, saying that it’s great! It’s like long and short beam car headlights. We shine with short beams, demanding hits now and here. However, we should understand that some songs have long beams and some shine closely. We need short-term hits; without them, our modern pop music wouldn’t exist. The great Sergei Prokofiev always felt awkward about his waltz from his opera ‘War and Peace’. However, this is probably his greatest hit.
What do you think about Eurovision?
It’s as important for a country to participate as to send sportsmen to the Olympics or world championships. It gives Europeans the chance to know that Belarus exists.
How is it possible to win? Is there any recipe?
There’s a proverb: ‘what’s good for Russians is death for Germans’. Rephrased, we could say: ‘what’s good for our national song contest is a failure for ‘Eurovision’. A potential hit accepted with enthusiasm in Belarus is bound to fail in Europe. Meanwhile, a song which our audience greets without much enthusiasm may actually be good for ‘Eurovision’. There’s no need to over-estimate the importance of ‘Eurovision’; it’s well attended and is similar in quality to our Belarusian Star Constellation. Watching the broadcast from Oslo, I realised that some singers would have failed to reach the finals of Star Constellation, because of weak performance skills.
How do young would-be pop singers promote themselves, with your help?
People ask how much it will cost for them to use my songs but I always propose collaboration. I may have to pay them after hearing their voice, if they are a true genius. I want to find an artiste whom I won’t need to ‘drag along’ but who will drive themselves. We’ll then advance at double speed and, only then, will a breakthrough happen.
By Viktar Korbut