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A Belarusian Star In Our Ranks

“Danchyk” was especially popular in Belarusian opposition circles.
“Danchyk” was especially popular in Belarusian opposition circles.
RFE/RL's Belarusian Service has a star in its midst. The service's Deputy Director, Bohdan Andrusyshyn, is an accomplished recording artist, having recorded five studio albums, and performed countless live shows - including one at the Minsk Philharmonic (see videos below). Here, "Danchyk" offers a peek into the life of a Belarusian celebrity.

Q: You were born and raised in the United States, describe your Belarusian heritage.

My father came from Ukraine, my mother from Belarus. Both emigrated to Europe when they still very young. As it happens, a former long-term Radio Liberty colleague, Galina Rudnik, a close family friend of my mother, introduced my parents to each other on Second Avenue in New York, in front of a theater that later become famous as the "Fillmore East". That fateful meeting led to their marriage in 1955. To this day, Galina likes to remind me that she is the source of not only my "fame" - but my very existence!

Q: What are the highlights of your music career?

It began when I was around 15 and participated in a competition of young Belarusian talents held by our Belarusian community in the state of New Jersey. It was then that I first sang "Belarusachka", a song which I later became so identified with. Of course I was really extemely nervous about the whole thing - but, to my exhilaration and surprise, at that event I won first prize!

Through the years I've recorded 5 studio albums - 4 in Belarusian and 1 in Ukrainian, but I haven't perforned "professionally" since 1996. In 1989 I did a multi-city tour in Belarus, playing in all the country's major cities. In 1996, I had the opportunity to play at the Minsk Philharmonic. One of my lasting legacies, I think, is the very real affect that my concerts had on average Belarusian audiences - making Russian-speaking Belarusians aware of their own rich culture of song, of which many of them were apparently unaware. Remember these were concerts of an American from New York (!) who was singing in the Belarusian language with a faciility that most natives were inacapable of. Perhaps it was this fact, apart from any other, that made me so special to so many.

With all humility, I could summarize the compliments of many with these paraphrased lines: "You do more with one song than 100 opposition politicians or 100 Radio Liberty's. It's because of you that we have become a Belarusian-speaking family." We still get comments to that effect on our web site, in which audiences enquire why I don't return to the stage (That's a very complicated question!). Also, I had a fan club, which I found both amusing and touching. And, I was once rated in one Belarus-based independent newspaper poll as "favorite foreign singer", nosing past Michael Jackson in votes. At the time, given Michael Jackson's fame, that impressed even me!

Q: What is the music scene like in Belarus today?

It's nearly impossible to get on any state-run radio because the authorities continue to actively suppress pop or rock music. Groups that play folk music can usually play at some state-sponsored concerts or festivals, but the music must be "Slavic" and have the approval of state authorities. The largest gathering of Belarusian musicians actually takes place at an annual event in Poland, called "Basovishcha".

Q: Who were your musical influences growing up?

When I was young, I loved Joan Baez, and still do, even if today she is a 70-yr-old lady. I also enjoyed other singers from that era - like Simon & Garfunkel and Johnny Mathis. Not to diminish how old I am - and indeed I am very old - but all of these singers were popular way before my time. I never seemed to particularly care for the music of the moment. As far as Belarusian music goes, "Pesnyary" had a great influence on me. They were the Beatles of the USSR - and their lead singer, Leonid Bartkevich, then married to Olympic superstar Olga Korbut, who was one of my idols - and later a great friend.

Q: What's behind the name "Danchyk"?

There is no mystique about this. In most Slavic languages, adding "chyk" to the end of a name gives it a diminutive form. "Danchyk" is just the colloquial version of my first name (Bohdan) with that suffix. It's what most people who know me best call me. Nothing more mysterious than calling James "Jimmy"; no "Cher" or "Madonna" shtick behind it.

--Zach Peterson