Saturday, 13 April 2013

Taxing Ukrainian Folk Songs

Interesting news from Ukraine lately about their need to fill the government treasury is puzzling and perhaps troubling - not sure yet.  It seems that with the rising popularity of Ukrainian folk songs, their government is eyeing opportunities to cash in.

Ukrainian folk songs express the accumulated wisdom of a people.  The rhythms of folksongs accurately represent syllabic stress in the language, subtle inflections in phrase, and the syntax is clearly expressed.  Over the years, the melodies of Ukrainian folksongs have evolved from a small range, with many repeated simple motifs, to a grander use of diatonic and altered scales.  The more "native" the melody, the more authentic it may be.  And authentic folk songs travel through the generations with ease, taking on the transitions of language, and subtle melodic influences in its vicinity. When you "straighten out" a folk song, you are messing with antiquity. 

Ukraine's young people are beginning to recognize the powerful truths jam packed into the folk songs of their ancestral memory, and enjoying their ancestral identity.  With available technology for recording, manipulation and marketing of their native folk music, Ukrainian folk songs are taking their place in the modern culture.  Their government has recently opined their desire to cash in on this national treasure chest - and I am a bit concerned, if not bewildered. 

There are international laws protecting authorship, composers, performers, etc.  Music over 50 years old is generally considered "in the public domain".  Copywrited music requires licensing, and the list goes on.   Even composed songs with authored lyrics can fall into the public domain but this is more touchy, again I am not an expert.  But Ukrainian folk songs are way older than that!  They belong to the people, shared from generation to generation,  primarily through an oral tradition.  So very much of the Ukrainian language, spirit and lifestyle is revealed in its folksongs - there is a song for every moment of one's life. 

Conceptually, the Ukrainian government taxing Ukrainian folk songs concerns me.  In conversation with a person far more versed than I, the question was - is this an attempt to limit permission or to censor the folk culture of Ukraine?   One can only wonder whether this is a truly benevolent attempt to honor and protect the cultural identity and ancestral treasury wantonly usurped by manipulators of history! On the other hand, is this another way of preventing wide consumption and access to tradition, culture and the place where authentic language has evolved as a descriptor of the people and her dreams?  Or, on the other hand is this a way to validate and champion, bringing recognition, legal support, and financial recompense to the keepers of the hearth, the keepers of ancestral culture?  The ancestral babas and didos who continue to live close to the land, authentically engaged in lifestyle practices foreign to city dwellers may be both a target and recipients of attention - gotta watch out for the tax man.

This is a bizarre attempt to fill the government treasury with the lifeblood of a nation in my eyes.  Can you imagine the government trying to license a community choir performance of Taras Shevchenko's The Last Testament?, and where do you draw the line between folk songs and communal singing at a liturgy?  Really?! Wouldn't it be better for Ukraine to tax real estate? or use some muscle to collect income tax first, especially from those who have hidden their billions in off shore banks? 

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