Rumors are there for pop-stars, while legends and myths are made for real singers, such as Natalya Matylitskaya. These myths are as beautiful as her voice, calm, heavenly and unique, the best voice for Belarusian folk songs… These songs have been collected for her new CD, which became a good reason to meet the offbeat singer, the mermaid and enchantress of Belarusian songs, who does not need rumors to be talked about.
There is one tiny rumor, though, that she is ready to leave the folk-group “Yur’ya” and start a new career on her own. There must be some sponsor-fan involved, I guess.
— So you decided to leave the band and get on on your own?
— Hmmm, it seems a nice idea, why not? No, I’m not going to say good-bye to “Yur’ya”. It is a professional band and I am proud to be a part of it. We have just got back from Vilnius’ international folklore festival “Jingle, Jingle, Gusli”, where “Yur’ya” was a huge success. People told us they had never heard anything like this before, as our folklore is something unique.
— You know, the front page of your CD booklet “Little Bee” reminds me of a poem from one of the recent collection of Anatoly Sys, the one about the mother bee and a disturbed man that is trying to find peace near her…
— No, I read the poem after the CD was made. I though then there should be something about it. The title is not accidental, by the way, because the main song is called the same. I recoded the song in the Sloutsk District, and the story is unique. There was a sort of round dance “Little Bee” in that area that is normally resorted to in order to invite spring. Girls were dancing around pines, or if there were no pines they were dancing around little girls, and singing “There was a little bee in the top of a pine-tree…” The bee has always been a good sign in Belarus, as the industry of bees was associated with heavens, and the swarm was associated with paradise. Belarusians have been so impressed by the logics of beehives that bees were called “God’s creatures”. Besides, bees make honey using the most beautiful creation on Earth, the flowers…
— So the CD is a collection of the best that you have?
— Yes, I was trying to make it like this… I had long been planning my first album, and my daughter Sophia was nagging: “Mum, that’s your first solo album, and you are old enough. Shakira’s much younger, and she has plenty of them.” What can I say? Only the truth — I never wanted to have as many CDs as possible. I must thank Ales Los for the CD, which would have been impossible, or next to impossible without him. He had lived in Poland for 10 years, and when he finally got back to Minsk, I talked to him. I told him I had been trying to find musicians to help me record my first CD (I had had several attempts, but none were good). And suddenly there is Ales with his instruments… At first I felt intimidated and I did not have the guts to ask him for help. Besides, I knew all musicians worked for money, and I am just a lecturer in Culture University… But I plucked up my courage. The only thing Ales asked me to do was to hurry and not to lose time. I’ll do it for you, he said. I was very much impressed, as he never mentioned money. I was honored to work with this rare musician, maker of folk musical instruments and artist (Los made icons in Poland). As a result, Ales helped design the CD cover…
— A project of this scope requires a lot of money, and friendship can’t help make a record in the studio of the Belarusian Television and Radio Company…
— Three years had passed since I first had this idea, so I had enough time to save money. My students tell me now: “Natalya Viktorovna, you are a real business lady…” I guess it is quite symbolic that I made my first album before I defended my first thesis: the folk song is my first love.
— Village girls that get into cities often try very hard to get rid of the “village” imprint, but you were emphasizing your origin when you were a student.
— The living standards in the village are lower than those in larger towns and cities, so the culture of villagers is often labeled as less profound. However, many people leave villages to have a more comfortable and easier life in cities, and not to get a better education. The ease and comfort of the city life is quite doubtful, though.
— They say Vladimir Berberov nearly forced Natalya Matylitskaya out of her village when he was looking for girls with strong voices and long plaits for his band “Litsviny”.
— I teach mythology in the university, so I can easily call these rumors myths. As for the hair, Berberov was really looking for authentic images. “Litsviny” was the first band that put on original shirts and skirts on stage. No one dared anything like that before them… I heard the first folk song sung by real grannies when I was the first-year student of the philological department of Belarusian State University (we were on a field trip). I liked it so much that I wondered why no one else sang like that. I was not alone who wondered then. A couple of months later my friend was going to get married, and I dared sing several folk wedding songs that I had written down in the Lyuban District. People were surprised and puzzled, as they had never expected anything like this, however, it appeared that they had been expecting these songs without knowing it. Vladimir Berberov was very impressed then. He came up to be, asked where I was from, and then we performed together. After that I met new people, who invited me to take part in their projects. They were not making me join them, as I was happy to partake. It is just great that “Litsviny”’s first disc with the songs “He-Dove on Cherry Tree, She-Dove on Prune” that I sang when I was a student has been released several times and is still in demand.
Sincerity cannot be copied
— Today’s “Litsviny” have lost much of their popularity.
— People were changing, but Berberov wanted them to repeat our songs with the same old know-hows. He used to say “Sing like Matylitskaya”. Girls were telling me there was a cult of Matylitskaya in the band, but one should never copy to create something new. I always tried to sing as close to the original as possible, but I never aimed at using “carbon paper”.
— I hear you sometimes sing during your lectures.
— I do. Sometimes. I decided I would teach and sing at the same time… There was a period in my life when I was on maternity leave, and my husband, poet Mikhas Skobla would tell me: “Why d’you always think about these songs? You should focus on your thesis, it is serious, but these songs are not promising at all.” I was ready to forget about my usual independence and stop singing, because when we are in love we tend to forget about important things. I soon started feeling that everything around me was growing numb. I had to make a huge effort to get into “Yur’ya” then, as I was thinking “Yur’ya” lacked feminine. Both the band and myself needed help then… And I got back to my youth, reckless and filled with rock’n’roll, the one I never had in my native village of Borki. Rock is a special atmosphere of youth, freedom and creativity, so however old “Yur’ya” and Yury Vydronok are, they always act as if they were young. And their work always sounds young… By the way, as for those village inferiority complexes, psychology books have it that they are treated marvelously by a positive influence of other talented people, especially if it is a creative influence. Our love for folklore counts here.
by Irina Tretyakova
The Bees and To Be
Natalya Matylitskaya’s “Little Bee”