Stars including Ed Sheeran, Camila Cabello and Emeli Sande took to the stage at Birmingham's Resorts World Arena for the televised event
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Music Export Ukraine's Dartsya Tarkovska calls on the international music business to "keep the spotlight" on the war-torn country
By James Hanley on 10 Mar 2023
The impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on touring in Eastern Europe and ethical dilemmas around potentially lucrative new markets were top of the agenda for ILMC’s Geo-politics: The Bigger Picture session.
The panel, hosted by LIVE’s Jon Collins, examined the place of touring and festivals in a tumultuous world.
Just over a year on from Russia’s invasion, Kyiv-raised Dartsya Tarkovska, co-founder of Music Export Ukraine, brought the room up to date on the office’s work, and stressed the importance of the international live music community continuing to support their efforts.
“We have the team of six people now,” she said. “And since Russia started the invasion in Ukraine, we had to split. Right now, we have two people working in Ukraine and four of them are abroad. I’m one of them. I’m currently working and living in the UK as a temporarily displaced person, aka, a refugee. That still allows us to be super-active and promote Ukrainian artists as much as we can, internationally. And our mission was definitely brought to a whole new level.”
Despite the stark circumstances, Tarkovska stressed that the Ukrainian live music industry was still a going concern.
“We used to think that Covid restrictions were super-tough to maintain. Trust me, it’s nothing compared to these challenges”
“It changed dramatically, and there are definitely a few things that impacted this change,” she said. “One of things would was a set of new restrictions and rules for concerts for civilians, because we have air raid alerts, we have shellings, we have curfew, electricity cuts… We used to think that Covid restrictions were super-tough to maintain. Trust me, it’s nothing compared to these challenges. But there are still promoters and bookers who are keeping up with these restrictions, because there is still a demand for concerts in Ukraine.”
She added: “Another trend would be concerts for Ukrainian soldiers at the frontline. That’s definitely a new, very non commercial niche, but a very important one. You can barely find an event without a charity component, and many Ukrainian artists donate at least part of their income for charity purposes.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies – a lot of industry stakeholders did pivot, because it’s very hard to maintain a full time business at the time of war. Some of them tried to diversify their activities, or stay open for new markets and explore new opportunities, whereas others literally do a 180 and focus on charity and other areas.
“For example, some of my colleagues – an independent booking agency called Kontrabass Promo – opened a charity organisations called Musicians Defend Ukraine, and are now collecting for charity. But solely for musicians who are now spending their time in the Ukrainian army, or at the territorial defence, so that they could get back from war and keep on creating more music.”
“Right now, one of the main challenges for us is to keep the conversation going, to keep the spotlight on Ukraine”
Promoter Máté Horváth of Live Nation CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) said the Hungarian market had enjoyed a “serious bounceback”, with strong post-Covid ticket sales, adding that the ramifications of the Ukraine war for the scene had been minimal up to this point.
“I think there was one confirmed tour which was, which was cancelled, but it hadn’t even been announced. It was literally just a week or two weeks after 24 February ,” he said. “I saw very few cancellations. I know there were difficulties for artists who lost tour dates in Ukraine, Russia or Belarus, to figure out how to make their tours work out… but it was not very rampant.”
Horváth added, however, that the completion of a new venue in the country was delayed and is still under construction because the building materials were to have arrived from Ukraine. “So there are effects on the market. But as far as cancellations go, it was not a major issue for us,” he said.
Tarkovska indicated that maintaining the attention of the international music community over a year into the war was a challenge.
“At first, we were overwhelmed as an export office with the amount of booking requests and cooperation ideas,” she said. “But as the time goes, we are definitely seeing the attention decreasing. Right now, one of the main challenges for us is to keep the conversation going, to keep the spotlight on Ukraine and keep the representation of our country in the international context.”
“We’re doing as much as we can. But we still need the interest from the international industry stakeholders to make this magic happen”
She pointed out, however, that keeping the spotlight on the issue was a “two-way street”.
“One of the things that our government is doing at this point is trying to develop some international policies and build the bridge to keep the spotlight and make sure Ukraine is represented at the key international events and cultural events,” she said. “Music would definitely be one of the areas of interest, and we’re doing as much as we can. But we still need the interest from the international industry stakeholders to make this magic happen. So if you’re wondering, ‘What can I personally do to support Ukraine?’ This is exactly what you can do.”
Weining Hung, co-founder of Taiwan’s LUCFest, mentioned that tensions between Taiwan and China had left some overseas acts reluctant to visit the former.
“We got rejected or asked questions by many artists from Western countries like Canada or the UK because they were quite concerned about their safety and asked us whether it was still a safe place to go.
“You definitely won’t have problems if you play in Taiwan. You can definitely still go to China, so it won’t have any impact.”
“Beyoncé did not perform in Dubai to celebrate the government, she performed to open a hotel”
The discussion later turned to how the industry should approach markets with questionable human rights records. Beyoncé’s recent private concert in Dubai marking the opening of the luxury Atlantis Royal Hotel, for which the singer was reportedly paid US$24 million, was put forward as an example.
Tarkovska said such decisions should be left up to the artist, but advised they first carry out “thorough homework” to understand the background of the country.
“They really have to evaluate if their values are aligned and if they’re not, why is it still beneficial for the artists to go and work in this particular market? It has to be thoroughly evaluated – what are the pros and cons of this kind of involvement? Because it is very tricky, and the consequences are inevitable. At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily all about the money.”
Middle East-based promoter Thomas Ovesen of TOP Entertainment said there was an important distinction for artists.
“Beyoncé did not perform in Dubai to celebrate the government, she performed to open a hotel,” he said. “Many of the shows in Dubai are commercial shows where the government has no involvement. Perhaps in Saudi is slightly different. So I think it’s a bit more nuanced than dismissing a market if you don’t agree with the rulership, because there is a massive upside in having acts performing. I mean, I’ve had Elton John in Dubai and he’s were very well aware of the rules there, but played to fans and did not play to support the government.”
However, Nick Hobbs of Istanbul-based Charmenko argued that outlook should not extend to all countries.
“Just to be polemical, I would say if there is a situation that the Russian regime continues after this war ends, then going to play in Russia normalises that situation. It says it’s okay, it’s normal.
“It wouldn’t be the Russian government directly inviting [the artist to play], although that is possible, it would be a promoter – but with the sanction of the government. And that, for me, is normalising something which is not normal.”
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