Connection stories: Krapka;KOMA and Studio89

06 March 2023 Connection Stories

Making connections happen is one of the main goals of Tallinn Music Week (TMW). This is something we can’t write into the programme, but it happens every time – people meet, minds collide, and it all leads to wonderful collabs. This “Connection Stories” episode takes a look at how Ukrainian artist Krapka;KOMA worked and recorded at Tallinn’s Studio89 in 2022.

Last year’s TMW was strongly influenced by the war in Ukraine. To help Ukrainian musicians, TMW provided free sound residency and accommodation in the Estonian capital to Ukrainian artists FO SHO, Gentle Ropes and Krapka;KOMA.

Let’s take a look at how Krapka;KOMA’s Ira Lobanok aka Krapka and Aliona Kovalenko aka KOMA worked at Studio89. We talked to the band as well as the studio’s General Manager Franck Reisner about the process but more importantly about the importance of music and creativity in times of crisis.

Tell us about the music made in residency?

KOMA: About a week before the start of the war, we were working on a song that turned out to be quite new for us, both in terms of sound and lyrics. More mature, so to speak. I remember us sitting in Ira’s home studio on February 23rd finishing the composing stage. It was then when we agreed that this would be the first song in our project with live drums. We decided not to put it out and record drums the very next day, so I booked the studio for February 24th from 16 to 19:00. But… on that day we all woke up to the sounds of air raid sirens, and of course there was no recording or music in our lives for the next few months. That’s why recording drums in Tallinn really meant a lot to us. Closing that gestalt and not giving up on music felt so essential. 

The song “Standing Firmly” was created just one day before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was released exactly a year after, on February 23rd 2023. This is a personal story about language differences between people and defending one’s position, sometimes even in a mocking, teasing way: “Firmly standing my own ground, would you dare to play around?” Since the Russia’s invasion the narrative of the song has gained a new meaning. 

What was the most memorable moment during your residency and TMW?

KOMA: The moment when we arrived at Studio89 and the guys started preparing for the recording. To be honest, it was my first experience working in such a professional studio, so I felt a little nervous. But thanks to Gregory, Franck and my musical partner Krapka, I really enjoyed the process. As for TMW in general, the most special thing was the attitude towards us and the apparent desire to give all possible support to Ukrainian artists. We could feel this particular care at every stage of the festival. I can’t relate to the stereotype that people of northern countries, including Estonia, are “cold” and reserved, as we only faced openness, kindness and sincerity. 

The best thing that has come out of your time in Estonia?

KOMA: I just fell in love with Estonia and its language. And the best thing is, of course, all the lovely people we met from guys at Studio89, Marie and Johannes from the crazy amazing band OOPUS, to all the organisational team. Besides, I discovered some cool bands there, for example, the Romanian indie-pop project Lucia. Also, we got booked to the Romanian festival Mastering The Music Business thanks to the acquaintance made during TMW’s networking sessions. 

Krapka;KOMA at TMW 2022. Photo by Kaie Kiil

What is it like to create music during times like these?

Krapka: For me the purpose of making music now is getting a message about the war across to international audiences. People get tired of war and we don’t want them to, we don’t want the war to become a “normality”. Music can help find a new way to approach people and capture their attention. One of the songs I made during the war was aggressive, another one satiric. We performed the aggressive one at Sziget festival – part of our audience cried, whereas another part criticised us for being too bold and shocking. I’m fine with both reactions. If our song caused a strong reaction, then it means that the message was delivered.

Franck, what did you learn from your Ukrainian friends? 

Franck: Strength, positivity, strong-willingness and humour as survival instinct. If you take someone’s home, they will absorb strength from anywhere they can. As musicians their purpose is to inspire, draw attention to what is important and give others the strength to move forward, hold on and keep fighting. To do that, they cannot show signs of weakness, even if they feel it. They have become advocates of their people and this position holds a strong responsibility. To publicly stand for justice sounds romantic and heroic, like something from a book. But if it is actually happening to you, then there’s nothing to do with romance as there’s just fear and worry at an enormous scale. So what might seem for bystanders like a heroic tale is the only course of action for them to survive. I learnt a deeper understanding and that the tears falling in silence can be the loudest cries for help.

Franck Reisner at Studio89. Photo by Anna Shushpanova

Why are music, arts and culture important during war?

KOMA: Music, arts, culture and… memes. As the best coping mechanism.

But of course, besides the direct confrontation on the front line, culture is another front, that’s what will preserve historical events in the most diverse forms. That’s what helps artists to live through the horrible reality. Art is a cure for our shattered souls.

Krapka: I feel like art gets braver and more honest during war. Because once you start living between air raids and the possibility of dying any day, there is nothing to be afraid of anymore, and you lose all the “what ifs” and experiment like never before. Also, culture is a soft power, so we should promote our culture now as much as possible to catch up with years of Russia overshadowing us, appropriating our musicians, writers and visual artists, and making it look like Ukrainian culture doesn’t exist.

What do you wish for Ukrainian people right now?

Franck: Confidence, resilience and unity, now and in the future. But most of all, peace and a better tomorrow for their land.

Krapka: Victory of course!

What would you like to say to the rest of the world?

KOMA: Support Ukraine the way you can, go to demonstrations, donate, just talk about the war, help us defeat the evil. Slava Ukraini!

Why continue creating at times like these?

Franck: People need faith, hope and love. Creativity can conjoin and pass them on. That’s what’s most important now.

There is still an ongoing invasion forced on Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Help is very needed, so if you have the chance, please donate, spread awareness, buy Ukrainian artists’ music and support in any way you can.

Krapka;KOMA at TMW 2022. Photo by Kaarel Antonov

Krapka;KOMA is an electroacoustic duo of multi-instrumentalists Ira Lobanok and Alona Kovalenko. Their main strengths are multi-instrumentalism and multitasking, as the duo appears on stage, simultaneously singing and playing a variety of instruments such as electronic drums, keyboards, synths, guitar and trumpet. They combine elements of trip-hop, nu-jazz, indie electronica and soul with occasional jazz references.

Studio89 offers an artistic and creative environment for the realisation of various musical ideas. The studio is built with simplicity and minimalism in mind, offering both works of art on the walls and high-level technical capabilities.