The Rural Voice on Reality TV: The Politics of Timbre in the Ukrainian ‘Voice’

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Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Tuesday, March 20, 20184:00PM - 6:00PM108N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place
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This paper concerns the politics and aesthetics of what is known in post-Soviet Ukraine as the avtentyka singing voice (автентичний голос), which translates literally as the “authentic” voice. My focus is on the problem that this avtentyka vocal timbre creates when it appears in the context of a popular reality TV singing competition called Holos Krainy, or “Voice of the Nation,” part of the global “Voice” franchise that has aired in Ukraine since 2011. Beyond the clashes of style and genre that occur when avtentyka singers who use village timbres sing modern pop hits, I attend to a more general politics of vocal timbre to examine how the avtentyka voice, which sits within a historical trajectory of resistance to state power, challenges the conventional wisdom about how the folkloric necessarily points backwards, toward an essentialized national past. Rather, I consider avtentyka and its iconic vocal timbre as a form of late Soviet expressive culture that also has the somewhat paradoxical potential to operate in today’s Ukrainian mediasphere as a forward-looking expressive form. Rooted in ethnographic research among avtentyka practitioners, I examine how the politicized timbres of avtentyka reject logics of success according to the standards of reality TV “democratainment” and remake failure in the competition as an act of refusal—of the limited musical forms that dominate Ukrainian media and as an assertion of the ungovernable wildness of Ukrainian rural expressivity.

Maria Sonevytsky is currently Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Bard College. Her first book, Wild Music: Sound and Sovereignty in Ukraine, is forthcoming on Wesleyan University Press. In the fall of 2018, she will join the ethnomusicology faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.


Olga Kesarchuk


Maria Sonevytsky
Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Bard College

Joshua Pilzer
Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto

Main Sponsor

Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine


Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies

University of Toronto Ethnomusicology Roundtable

Wilfried Laurier’s Anthropology Program at the Faculty of Arts, Office of the Vice President Academic & Provost, Anthropology Students' Association

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