Illya Malinouski, the leader of Drыmon band, is known both as a musician and one of the most interesting Belarusian journalists. Volha Ramashko talked to Illya about his music career, lies in Belarusian journalism and Belarusian national identity.

Olga Romashko
Olga Romashko

Project Citizen Journalism

– Illya, you’ve finished several universities, you’ve been involved in several activities. You are a musician, you are a journalist, you are a an MC. How would you define yourself: who are you?

– I’d like to notice that I actually have one degree – a degree in journalism, but I studied it in two different higher eduction institutions. I was expelled from the first one due to politics, as I think. Officially, it was for truancy, but what could I miss in September? I finished my education at the Institute of Modern Knowledge instead of the Belarusian State University. Speaking about how I call myself…

I dreamt of becoming a radio journalist. I liked the radio. I listened to the radio when I was small, ordered songs, knew DJs, particularly Radio Rocks and Radio BA DJs. They were my idols, and I’ve later met some of them. Who could imagine that I could listen to shows by particular people in my childhood and later say hello and easily talk to them in the street?

Working at a radio station automatically takes you to show business – for example, people ask you to be an MC at a concert, corporate event or wedding. Actually, I work only at concerts, because I like music. That’s why I make music, I feel really bad without music. It was a period when I didn’t make music, but I composed songs. Now I make music, but I don’t compose songs. I’m joking.

I can’t say I see myself as a journalist, or a showman, or a musician. I probably treat everything like a job. One job brings you money, another one doesn’t. That’s why I can’t say anything of what you’ve mentioned is my hobby.

– Could you tell us how your old boy band was formed? Why did you choose the name Drыmon?

– At the beginning, many years ago, Lyosha Azhohin, the director at Graffiti Club and a friend of us, offered me to take part in the project called Graffiti FriEndsBand. He offered me that because I often worked as an MC at events and in fact was a friend of Graffiti. It happened so that my birthday was coming, and it was a present for me. Probably, I often talked to Lyosha, saying it would be great to try something like that. I played in a band at school. Lyosha even tried to find musicians for me at that moment. He then said: “Listen, we’ve formed a collective of bartenders and waiters at Graffiti. Let’s play a couple of your songs and play them on June 10 at your birthday. It will be the first official concert and a present.” I performed a few songs with the guys as an invited singer. Later I replaced Lyosha. I took the mic from him, translated his songs into Belarusian. That’s how it started. Many band members came and went because of staff turnover at Graffiti. Then RSP’s rhythm section joined us, we even played a few concerts. Later they stopped playing with us because RSP has other projects, so they couldn’t afford one more, we understood it.

Then there was a class reunion. I saw the people who were my classmates 15 years ago. We had a band at school. We drank, of course, it’s what people usually do at reunions and talked about our lives. We asked one another, “How’s your music? Do you play?” Almost everyone answered they would like to play but something went wrong. At a certain moment, someone said, “Let’s try it again all together.” OK, let’s try. I said, “I have a band. We are looking for a rhythm section, we have a guitarist.” That’s how the band was formed.

The beginning was that we gathered the band we had had at school plus Lyosha Azhohin. We began to rehearse, began to enjoy the process, and everything changed, we understood we should record an album because otherwise it turns into jerking off, when you want to make a song ideal and alter it completely. To be short, we needed to put a period. When the album was released, we realised it wasn’t what we wanted. We failed to find our own style in that period. The new things we do now have some style. The first album is a collection of songs written in the last 20 years. We took the songs, analysed them, looked at the result. We were learning to work and play together. This is the reason why this mix came up. Maybe it’s not of high quality, not attractive, but it is very important and personal to us. It is our first “harvest” and, I hope, an important event in our life.

The name… There were Belarusian tribes called Kriviches, Dregovichs, Drymonichs. I’m joking. There were no Drymonichs. We thought a lot and finally chose that name. I’ve found it funny that Belarusian musicians sing in Russian or Belarusian, but their band name is in English. It’s so funny. I thought the name Drыmon with the Cyrillic ‘ы’ would, firstly, be funny and secondly, ‘dream on’ is the words any rock band has used in its life at least once. The guys said: “Okay, it’s a normal name.” So it began.

– The title of your debut album, Last, sounds as a contradiction. The group members repeatedly said Drыmon was a hobby and no continuation was planned. But the mood you create at concerts proves the contrary. The audience wait for new songs.

– No, it’s not the last, of course. It’s a reaction to what was going on at the time when we were finishing our album. There was news that Neuro Dubel was recording the album titled First. Of course, the first, because it was Neuro Dubel’s first crowdfunded album. We decided that our album would be the last. All musicians in our band have a sense of humour and take things easily, I’d like to believe it. Sometimes we argue, quarrel, shout at each other at rehearsals, but it turns into a joke sooner or later. Sometimes your cheeks ache after rehearsals, because you were laughing so hard. Our main funny man is Stasik, our drummer.

Though our songs are about love, serious feelings, rather gloomy things and we whine at our concerts, we like jokes in real life. There’s something serious in it, too, because we didn’t know how things would develop. When we were recording the album, we disappeared from our families for some time. We didn’t know: we record the album, it fails, and half of the musicians will say, “you do something and put it on the shelf” and leave the band, so I was nervous to hear reviews.

I didn’t expect much positive reaction, actually, there was little reaction, so I waited for a reaction from my musicians. They said we should continue working, and I understoond that the title Last should be taken as a joke.

– Drыmon’s songs are lyrical and romantic, but the band members look like rock 'n' roll guys. Have you ever thought of making the rougher sound and more biting lyrics?

– You know, music we make now is rougher. All of us like heavier music than that we play… I am the author of the lyrics, and I can’t say it is too soft. Those who know me personally know I can say any word, even an obscene word if I find it appropriate and necessary.

There’s a song we are going to work on. We planned to release it as a single, it’s heavier. The first album included the songs that were easy for us. We used them to feel we are a team. The process is more difficult now, we are using a more adult approach.

By the way, as a music journalist I’ve always found it funny when musicians release a second, a third album, you ask them about the difference between them and they answer they’ve become more adult. When I asked this question, I could answer it instead of any musician, but now I say it myself. Music becomes more adult, but it’s only now that I understand what it means.

– Your love for all Belarusian, your national identity – are they a result of your upbringing, the right school or something else?

Frankly speaking, I don’t know. My parents didn’t speak Belarusian at home. My grandmother spoke a mix of Belarusian and Russian. She thought it was Russian, but it wasn’t. really. My grandfather told me before his death he hadn’t known Russian before the war, he had only spoken Belarusian and Polish. But I never heard a Belarusian accent in his speech. It hardly makes sense to look for deep roots.

I remember myself in the ninth grade, throwing a white-red-white history book at the wall, shouting I didn’t understand what’s written there, shouting I didn’t want to learn it. Then something clicked in my head, I don’t know what happened, I can’t even remember. I wrote my first song in Belarusian in the same ninth grade.

There were funny moments relating to my upbringing and its influence. For example, I came to my parents and announced proudly that I had joined the Belarusian Patriotic Youth Union. My father looked at me and said: “If you want to return home normally, you leave it tomorrow. You’ve joined Lukomol.” I didn’t understand what he meant. “Do you know Komsomol?” It’s the same, but it’s called Lukomol [from the words ‘Lukashenka’ and ‘Komsomol’]. My enthusiasm disappeared immediately. I went to school, I argued with them. I said they had deceived me saying it was a Belarusian patriotic union. Where is patriotism? Language, history – it had no relation to the organisation. It turned out to be a pro-government organisation created just for the record. They told me I was expelled. But when I accidentally came to the office of BRSM [the Belarusian Patriotic Youth Union was renamed as BRSM, Belarusian Republican Youth Union] in the eleventh grade, when I was graduating from school. What I found there was a stack of membership applications, including one on my behalf. I was very angry, I tore it into pieces together with applications from people who had left the organisation.

Like any other child, I watched how my parents reacted to different events, I attended rallies with them. My parents were called to school because I didn’t go to dance parties organised on the days when rallies were held. My parents replied to the headmaster: “So what, we were there [at rallies], too.”

So, the upbringing had its role. I can say exactly that it was my independent decision to use the Belarusian language. When I came to work at Euroradio, I was sure I knew Belarusian perfectly. It took me two or three years to realise that my knowledge was rather poor. I can’t say I am a native speaker of Belarusian. There are certain questions in narrow fields when I begin to doubt how to say something in Belarusian. I am ashamed for it. That’s why I bring up my child in Belarusian. My wife and I try to do it, we try to speak Belarusian with him. He begins to speak it.

I think he will grow up and decide what language he will speak, but I will understand he knows the Belarusian language. I won’t be ashamed for him as I was for myself. It was a time when I needed an emotional reset to transit to Belarusian, to speak Belarusian to a person who speaks Russian, to think in Belarusian, not to shift to Russian. I think every Belarusian should feel shame for it, especially if you can’t speak, can’t speak at all.

– What Belarusian music do you like?

– It’s difficult to answer this question, because I worked as a music journalist for a long time, and I focused on Belarusian musicians.

I even don’t want to attend concerts, because I’ve seen too many. I’d rather sit in silence. Speaking about Belarusian musicians, I listen to Zmitser Vaitsyushkevich in my car. I like singing when I drive, I can listen to him and sing without straining my voice, I don’t need to take high notes, scream, lose my view of the road, it doesn’t affect safety.

I always listen to Radio Stalitsa. It’s my way to learn what Belarusian musicians do. It’s difficult to recall particular bands, but I’ve liked and like NRM, Krambambula, Volski, Neuro Dubel, Krama, Palats. I listen to them with pleasure and can go to a concert.

– What does a Belarusian musician lack to compete at an international level?

– I’m not a director or a producer. It’s hard for me to say. Bu the main thing is the lack of confidence. We go on stage and look like we are apologising. People stand in front of the stage, they have come here to listen to you, but you get on stage and say: “Excuse me, I’m going to play a bit.”

I am exaggerating, but it often looks like that more or less. Even those who attract big audiences do it. Maybe it is our Belarusian mentality, our peculiarity. I think it’s not a good thing.

One more point is that we lack motivation. It’s impossible in our country to make a living playing music. Only few people do it, I mean musicians performing their own music, not cover bands. I don’t mean pop music, which is in fact lobbied by the state. You don’t even need to be able to sing. You just appear on TV, perform at corporate events or TV shows and get money. It’s enough for living. What we call underground remains underground and never becomes widely known even if we speak about awesome musicians. I don’t know why it happens so. On the other hand, rock musicians almost don’t play at good corporate parties, but they attract people to their concerts without anyone’s help, they just sell tickets. Pop musicians don’t have concerts without administrative resources. To be short, we lack financial motivation and management.

A musician must make music. Administrative work should be done by an administrator or, which would be ideal, several administrators. I think success is possible only in this case. Kulinkovich can’t create songs, rehearse, play three-hour concerts, arrange concerts, work with video engineers, sound engineers, light engineers, think how many tickets he sold or whether he recoups his costs. One cannot sing on stage and at the same time count if he took money from his family or can bring something home!

It’s not normal, but it’s our reality, unfortunately.

– How often do you ask provocative questions in interviews?

– I try to ask them every time, but it doesn’t always work. I remember interviewing Uladzimir Puhach. I told him: “Vova, I will ask provocative questions on the air. So, be ready.” He said: “Okay, I’m ready.” I asked everything I wanted on the air, but after the interview he asked: “So, where are your questions?” I thought I would tore him apart, but he didn’t even notice it. I depends how a person treats the issue you raise. You can’t have a good interview without provocative questions. Public persons are usually well prepared, they have experience and ready answers.

– How would you describe journalism in Belarus?

– Negatively. I think there’s no journalism in Belarus. I won’t praise Euroradio, nobody is perfect. There are two things I find surprising. People working in media must have education, and most of them do. How can you not understand that what you are doing is blatant lie? People who are interested in the issue don’t take information from one source, they see different points of view and see who lies regularly and who doesn’t.

– If you lie regularly, why do you think it won’t affect your image? The situation will change when lying is not important and paid any more. What will you do then?

– It will be the biggest problem for our country in general. As it turns out, even adult educated people don’t think about their future and their children. My son is two years old, but I understand that it’s only abroad that he can see comfortable life on a high level by global standards. The problem is not only economical and political, the problem is that Belarusians are not interested in culture any more. We’ve lost our identity. And with it, we’ve also lost our life and our children’s life. It’s the most awful thing, because a person without culture has no connections to the civilisation, I think.

It’s impossible for a Belarusian to inherit, for example, English culture. Even if you had a child in England, and he had grandchildren, they would like to go to Belarus, I believe. They would say upon return: “Listen, there’s a terrible situation there, I don’t like it, but my heart clenched.” Even if he doesn’t know he has Belarusian roots. I believe people can feel their roots through generations.

– Do you have a credo?

– I’ve never thought about it. There are certain things I remember from literature. I have situations in life when I repeat my principles again and again. One of them is from Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. It’s not an exact quote. The fox told the little prince: “It’s silly to lie if you can be caught easily.” There’s only one solution – trying not to lie at all.

One more is from Karatkevich’s book The Spikes under Your Sickle – “Nothing – friendship, love and neibourhood – is possible without trust.” I trust all people, sincerely, until they betray me. Sometimes it’s very painful, but I will trust every person until he shows he doesn’t deserve my trust.

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