Ukrainian singer who wrote songs as bombs fell wins fans through UAE radio station

Music graduate, 21, makes it on to Rak Rock Radio daily playlist

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A young Ukrainian singer who wrote music from her Kyiv apartment block during the first wave of the Russian invasion is edging towards a career breakthrough after her music was played in the UAE.

Anastasia Khomenko, 21, a songwriter born and raised in the Ukrainian capital, compiled an album of 12 tunes inspired by the turmoil unfolding in her country.

The music graduate in piano and vocals recorded songs in her bedroom using a keyboard and her computer to produce an impressive playlist in both Ukrainian and English.

As air raid sirens rang out across the city and her neighbours fled to the countryside, Ms Khomenko, her parents and older brother decided to stay in their home and wait for the war to end.

Quote
My next song is in the Ukrainian language and it describes the experiences of the people in Mariupol who were in the worst kind of situation
Anastasia Khomenko

Unable to go outside at the start of the invasion, the singer tapped into her own experiences and those of people around her to write a complete album of songs that have since been picked up by Rak Rock Radio, a private online radio station.

“When I released my song, Far Away, I began searching for radio stations that would accept independent music and I stumbled across Rak Rock Radio,” said Ms Khomenko.

“I didn’t expect to get a response and when I heard they wanted to add me to their rotation playlist I was so happy.

“The music they play is similar to mine — a kind of pop rock — so it seems to fit well.

“It has been a tense situation for two months here; our city was surrounded and we didn’t know what the future would be.

“Air raid sirens were going off quite regularly and we heard a lot of blasts. We didn’t know if the next one would be near to us or not.”

That uncertainty inspired her to write a powerful set of songs, now available on Apple iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud.

Music inspired by Ukrainians

Anastasia Khomenko hopes the exposure could help her secure a record deal. Photo: Anastasia Khomenko

Her single, Far Away, is now featured on the daily playlist of Rak Rock Radio, a radio station established during the pandemic in 2020.

It plays a selection of classic rock, blues and country songs, as well as music from unsigned original artists.

Listeners tune in from around the world, with the majority of its audience in the UAE, America and Canada.

Ms Khomenko hopes the exposure could help secure a recording deal to further her career.

“All through this time, when the bombs were going off and people were leaving the city I did not stop thinking about my music,” she said.

“I used to record songs in my own mini-studio at home and continued to do that.

“I wanted to focus on those who have not given up in Ukraine, they inspired me to keep going.”

Her musical tastes include Ukrainian electro band Go_A, who play a mixture of folk and rock. She also takes inspiration from foreign artists such a US band NOFX and solo artists Demi Lovato and Christina Aguilera.

The album is yet to be played on radio stations in Ukraine but it has been picked up by other online stations, including Phoenix and Amazing Radio.

“I have tried to reflect what has happened here in my music and lyrics,” said Ms Khomenko.

“My next song is in the Ukrainian language and it describes the experiences of the people in Mariupol, who were in the worst kind of situation. This music is for them.

“They were forced into horrible conditions. Hopefully, it can lift their spirits, inspire them and encourage them not to give up.

“My music describes real-life situations. If it can help people get out of their own difficult situations, I will be happy.”

Supporter of unsigned bands

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 22 SEPTEMBER 2020. Phil Richardson who has been hosting quiz nights and booking bands and other artists for 30 years. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Nick Webster. Section: National.

Rak Rock Radio is one of the UAE’s newest radio stations and was established in 2020 by Phil Richardson, a Briton who has lived in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah for 30 years.

He is a keen supporter of unsigned bands, and his work in the music industry has supported scores of artists to get their music played in front of an audience, either in live venues or on radio shows.

Mr Richardson said it was the story behind the music that encouraged him to play Ms Khomenko on his station after she contacted him on Twitter in May.

“Anastasia has great vocals and, like many unsigned artists, she sounds as good as some of the well-known musicians who have made it big,” he said.

“It’s a fine margin between making it or not, with a lot of luck involved.

“The story behind Anastasia helped us get behind her music. It is hard to imagine calmly recording songs in a bunker surrounded by Russian tanks and bombs going off.

“Knowing she was recording music from inside a war-torn country made me want to listen to it more.

“It fits our genre, so we added her new song Far Away to our playlist.”

On average, the station receives around 30 demo tapes from up-and-coming artists every week.

With listener numbers on the rise, Mr Richardson has ambitions to secure an FM frequency (and licence) in the UAE to reach a wider audience, if he can raise the Dh1 million or so required in start-up costs.

“A few weeks ago, the UAE was the top region for our listeners, so there is a market,” he said.

“We have new music sent to us every day.

“Some are good, others not so good. It could be someone singing in their bedroom and it doesn’t quite sound right for broadcast.

“Anastasia wrote her album in the middle of a war zone, so it means a great deal to her.

“We’ve only just added it to our playlist, but the response so far has been very good.”

Updated: June 01, 2022, 9:54 AM
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