Four Years Late, Ukrainian Jazz Group Finally Arrives in YEG
ShockolaD's members fled to Poland after Russian attack on their homeland
By Steven Sandor | February 2, 2023
It was 2019. The war in Ukraine was limited to Russia’s incursion into the country’s far eastern region. Bill Richards, the chair of MacEwan University’s Department of Music, was in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, and saw ShockolaD, a jazz ensemble founded by drummer Igor Gnydyn and pianist Anastasia Litvinyuk.
He was blown away. Gnydyn founded the jazz program at Lviv National Music Academy in 2014, at a time when, as Livinyuk says “you could count on two hands” the number of pure jazz musicians who existed in that country. Richards invited the members to come to MacEwan, which is a partner school of the academy in Lviv, to hold a workshop with the students in Edmonton. The invitation was accepted.
But, heck, 2019 feels like such a long time ago. Before COVID. Before the Russian attacks on Ukraine had spread to the entirety of the country.
Finally, this week, the band, which also includes bass player Roman Chraniuk, made it to MacEwan. They workshopped with students on Thursday, working intricate rhythms into their jam sessions. Gnydyn likened rhythm in music like different planets in orbit; they can all take different paths around the sun, but they all end up where they began.
The trio have recorded a new album as a “sub band” called Kinva — which is Ukrainian for a wooden drinking vessel meant for sharing — and will play the Yardbird Thursday night. On Saturday, as ShockolaD, they will play a fundraiser show at Allard Hall on the MacEwan campus, and they invited some of the students who jammed with them in the workshop to join them for the weekend show.
The three current band members all call Poland home, for now. The morning that the Russians launched their full-scale attack on Ukraine, Livinyuk saw the news on her phone. She and Gnydyn left Lviv within the hour, taking their daughter, Anya — and almost nothing else — with them. Anya is now eight years old, and supplies some vocals on the new Kinva record.
“It was difficult, not because of Poland, because we love Poland and have many friends there,” said Livinyuk. “It was difficult because it was immigration that we did not want. We had one hour, and we moved. We left our home, we left everything. It was hard. But many people helped us in Poland and we also try to help with our concerts, to play charity concerts, and talking about Ukraine and Ukrainian culture.”