Pink Floyd and Freedom for Ukraine
A surprise collaboration raises funds for humanitarian relief
Eight months have passed since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. For many, the war is happening at home, but governments, activists and artists around the world have been eager to offer support to Ukraine’s fight. In music, progressive rock legend Pink Floyd returned with a new single featuring Ukrainian vocalist Andriy Khlyvnyuk, all proceeds to go to the Ukraine Humanitarian Relief Fund of the United Nations. “Hey Hey Rise Up” is Pink Floyd at its best: unexpected and meaningful.
Nothing cultural has a definite beginning, but this particular piece of music had a beginning in March. That’s when Andriy Khlyvnyuk — vocalist of Ukrainian pop band BoomBox and currently a soldier in the Ukrainian Ground Forces — went to Sophia Square in Kyiv, sang the Ukrainian song “Oh, The Red Viburnum in the Meadow” (Ой у лузі червона калина), and posted it to Instagram. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, whose daughter-in-law is Ukrainian, told Britclip that he saw Khlyvnyuk’s post and asked to put it to music. Khlyvnyuk, who was recovering from a shrapnel wound, agreed. Next, Gilmour rang up drummer Nick Mason and the result was “Hey Hey Rise Up.”
“Hey Hey Rise Up” begins in majesty with a recording of the Veryovka Ukrainian Folk Choir singing the central anthem. Then Khlyvnyuk launches into his performance. Pink Floyd’s instrumentation begins in the background with the laidback but precise rock characteristic of its later releases. At 1:22, Gilmour breaks into a guitar solo that runs for over a minute and a half of musical bliss. The video shows the band performing in front of a screen on which Khlyvnyuk’s post is projected and cuts to scenes from the war — the tanks, the soldiers, the protests, the refugees. The images evoke not horror so much as compassion.
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Pink Floyd has never shied from a message. Even the seemingly nonsensical tracks of the Syd Barrett era were part of the Sixties counterculture. Then, while bassist Roger Waters was lead conceptualist through The Final Cut (1983), the band addressed a variety of topics, including war, politics and religion. The Gilmour-era track “A Great Day for Freedom,” reworked but originally from The Division Bell (1994), is the B-side to “Hey Hey Rise Up.” It’s about the fall of the Berlin Wall and has another one of those magnificent solos that talk, sublimating through guitar the feelings that Gilmour expressed in words to Rolling Stone:
“It’s an enormously difficult, frustrating, and anger-making thing that one human being could have the power to go into another independent democratic nation and set about killing the population.”
As one would expect from Pink Floyd, the cover art is low-key psychedelic: a sunflower with a center that looks like an iris and pupil. By Cuban artist Yosan León, the painting manages to combine in one simple image the colors of the Ukrainian flag, Floydian motifs, the unsettling nature of the situation at hand and hope, that all-important yet inconstant virtue. The inside sleeve of the Japan-only clear vinyl 45 is divided into blue and yellow, as is the center label and even the obi. The point is clear: We must stand with Ukraine.
Mustn’t we? Much of the world has responded in the affirmative, but there is dissent. People whose voices I lend an ear, Presbyterian minister and journalist Chris Hedges (The Real News Network), former congresswoman and former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard (The Joe Rogan Experience) and former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters (JRE ) point out how, once again, the powers that be are manufacturing consent for a war that enriches the military-industrial complex and strengthens American influence at the cost of lives and the risk of nuclear devastation. These are valid points, but allowing Putin illicit gains would only encourage more wars. More death and destruction. Anything gained?
A new release eight years after Pink Floyd’s presumed final album, The Endless River (2014), is a big deal. We should remember, however, that when it comes to the issue at hand, the well-being of those whose lives the war has upended, the lives of everyday Ukrainian and Russian people, is most important. One way to give is through buying products such as “Hey Hey Rise Up,” but you can also give directly to Ukraine Humanitarian Relief Fund here.
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