We are all friends!

Anatoly Yarmolenko, People’s Artist of Belarus and permanent creative manager of ‘Syabry’ (named Honored Group of the Republic of Belarus last year) is still highly creative
Anatoly Yarmolenko, People’s Artist of Belarus and permanent creative manager of ‘Syabry’ (named Honored Group of the Republic of Belarus last year) is still highly creative.

Anatoly Yarmolenko, People’s Artist of Belarus and permanent creative manager of ‘Syabry’ (named Honored Group of the Republic of Belarus last year) is still highly creative. Anatoly Yarmolenko is beloved of every citizen of Belarus. We all adore his songs, which are both simple and meaningful. I would even say that they are quite dramatic. Many have been chart hits! Yarmolenko’s work with ‘Syabry’ is intimate, striking a chord with all of us, inspiring love for our Motherland, each other and universal values and truths. It brings sense to life; this is why the group is so popular.

In 2009, the group will celebrate the 35th anniversary of its work. You might think the creative well has run dry but the group remains extremely popular at home and abroad while steadily keeping its unique image. It continues to promote Belarusian culture, rich in folk traditions and talent.

‘Syabry’ has performed at almost every prestigious concert in the post Soviet Union space, touring the USA, Poland, Germany, France, India, Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is one of Belarus’ calling cards and recently toured America (for the fifth time). Mr. Yarmolenko shares his impressions, his creative plans, his attitude towards life and the upbringing of his grandson.

Grandfather and grandson. Being born (or brought up) wise, Anatoly teaches his grandson that one should appreciate every lesson in life and be able to catch elusive moments — or twinkles. He gives him a good piece of advice — to concentrate fully on a problem in order to solve it. In other words, live your life in the present.

“If you think about the consequences, you’ll never manage to resolve the problem,” asserts the wise grandfather.

“I got it, Tolia,” the grandson agrees.

We are sitting in Anatoly’s jeep, not far from Minsk Children’s Music School No 1; Anatoly Junior’s ‘problem’ is a piano examination. I note that he uses philosophical expressions in speaking to his grandson and Anatoly admits, despite his young age, he tries use articulate vocabulary. “In fact, I learn a lot from him; his generation is really unique, being born in independent Belarus. They are so free and relaxed.” Anatoly is clearly proud and is happy to fulfill his grandfatherly obligations of accompanying his grandson to school while overseeing his musical career and education. He is pleased to discuss all aspects of his role and mentions his grandson’s name — Anatol — fondly (noting its similarity to his own).

“I’ve been so busy these days,” he tells me. “That’s why I didn’t manage to come to your editor’s office. My grandson and his peers are at that happy age when they speak honestly without pondering the implications. Having a fine appreciation of truth, they form questions easily and are unafraid of being misunderstood.”

I ask him if he’s teaching young Anatol to sing but he exclaims, “Lord, no! It’s impossible to teach someone to sing, if song is not in their soul. It should flow from within.”

Anatoly stresses that he never pushed his grandson nor his daughter Alesia (the soloist of ‘Syabry’) to go on stage. He also hates the idea of children using the names of their famous parents to get ahead. “What I did was plant a true love of good music. My grandson was brought up listening not only to his mother’s singing and ‘Syabry’ songs but those of Elton John, Sting and Freddie Mercury. Anatol’s favorite was Michael Jackson. He learnt some rap and hip-hop and made some steps in this direction.” He even won the ‘Audience’s Choice’ award at ‘New Wave’ (a music festival, annually held in Moscow).

“My grandson has a vocal gift, with good range — although he rarely uses it. Sometimes, he strikes such notes. I won’t force him into anything; he should make his own decision. I admit that I want to him to love Belarusian culture and hope he’ll choose this direction when he grows up. Now, he is just a child.”

Soon, classes are over. Anatol calls his grandfather and we move in the direction of the school. The youngster’s mind is occupied with other thoughts — nothing to do with examination preparations.

“Tolia,” says the boy, “Mum says you’re going to our country house, may I come? The teacher says we can postpone the examination.” Anatoly looks at his grandson strictly and asks, “Anatol, do you remember who you are?” “Of course I do,” he answers. “I’m not a star, I’m a pupil.”

So, the worldly-wise grandfather brings up his grandson in an atmosphere of hard work — not just reaping laurels. Young Anatol likes to accompany his grandfather on trips — which the grandfather also enjoys. The car is equipped with a navigation system, computer and video.

He also likes to appear on stage and isn’t at all nervous of the audience. He is still in two minds about becoming a professional singer though. He likes quad bikes and motorcycles, having been riding since he was just 3 years old. He also likes granny’s pancakes, isn’t keen on computer games and has been granting interviews for some time. He answers my questions quickly and gives a hint to grandfather, “Tolia, hurry up, the tape recorder is almost out of space.”

“Thank you,” I tell the boy. “Your grandfather answered most of my questions while you were having your piano lesson.”

Syabry. What about your trip to America? Did ‘Syabry’ learn anything there?

I’m fully satisfied with the trip. I can’t think of anything negative to say. The invitation indicated our high professional level. We were invited by a television company, at the instigation of a viewers’ poll. We performed on RTV (a Russian language channel with a big audience worldwide). To sell tickets to our concert, we needed authorisation from the International Musicians’ Association. They listened to our music and evaluated our achievements; no doubt we waited impatiently, being afraid of time running out, but the advertising campaign was great. Before flying to the USA from Moscow, we managed to open a Days of Culture of Belarus in Russia, giving a big concert at the Kremlin. We then performed at America’s Millennium Hall in New York, as well as venues in Baltimore, Denver, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Chicago. We returned home with overwhelmingly positive impressions.

Did you manage to go sightseeing in America?

We walked around Washington and along Broadway, looking at theatre bills and watching passers-by — despite our tight schedule. We had so many flights to different cities and suffered from jet lag, not managing to catch up on sleep. We stayed in high spirits though.

What about the audience? Did you take interviews after your concerts? What can you say about the level of the concert halls?

Everything was great, with full houses and encores from our audiences; they did not want to let us go. Fans waited for us after the concerts were over, to ask for autographs. They wanted to tell us how they were linked to the Republic — via visits and relatives. Most were Russian speaking. We also met some friends of ours, who told us about their life in America, and visited Yury Bogatkevich — who used to work with us and now creates music in America (also giving classes). He suggested we sing ‘New York, New York’ in English, which left the audience dazed with admiration. I was very proud of our performance and the audience’s reaction. Our success is intertwined with our promotion of our national culture and interest in Belarus in general. Every concert and interview brings respect for our country. You should have seen the happy tears of those seated in the hall. It was unforgettable! We are certainly moving in the right direction.

What are your views on fashion?

Indeed, we tend not to follow fashion, since it is ever changing — rather than immortal. Nobody would deny that we have style. We appeal to the audience’s soul, using instruments, musical arrangements and techniques which compliment our voices. It’s quite difficult to make a name for yourself in this business — and even more difficult to keep it for 10 or 20 years. We have 35 years of experience. Our greatest achievement is ahead though; we are always raising the bar.

Will you return to America some day?

It depends on the invitation. We will be touring Europe and are ready to cross any border. Our art will help us unlock all hearts. I’m pretty sure that any trip of ours will be a great event for everyone. We evoke interest, as we are different. Our music is beautiful and we do not imitate anyone. We just try to show the state of our souls and our love for our motherland.

How is your group coping with the crisis?

We are working hard — as ever. If you do what you are supposed to do, all will be well. Work without thinking of prizes.

You are in your creative prime. Do you ever think you have gained all a man might wish?

Never! I haven’t yet achieved all my goals but I won’t reveal all my secrets. We’ll discuss them when they come to fruition. We’ve invited new musicians to join our group and are working on a new program.

Where are you next touring?

In November, we’re in Moscow, then St. Petersburg and Kiev — with a new concert program called ‘Circle of Friends’. Russian and Ukrainian singers are to take part, we hope.

What is your attitude towards jubilees?

I understand that they show progression but I’ve never been much interested in such things. As long as I’m singing and audiences keep coming, I’m happy.

You used to sing with Demis Roussos. How long have you known each other and do you have any co-projects planned?

Demis has always been my idol; his famous singles are the greatest hits ever. I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to sing alongside him — or that he admired my vocals. I’m really happy that he is ready to sing with me. Co-projects are possible, if we start working on them seriously. I’ll sing with any decent singer if they want to sing with me!

What important message do you want to convey through your words and songs, taking into account your great experience?

Be happy for other people’s success.

Valentina Zhdanovich
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