Alexander Rybak – European Goldfisherman’s Fairytale
Found by Darina Šahtarova. English translation by Anglesina Est. Revision by Katie Anderson.
Author: Meelis Kapstas
Source: Kroonika magazine, paper issue, published on 18 Jan., 2013
“What I remember from Belarus? Discipline – one thing, that we don’t have in Norway,“ grins Alexander Rybak, the winner of Eurovision 2009, who on this Saturday will enter the stage of the club “Teater”.
After many years, Belorussian born Alexander Rybak (26) brought a gold medal to Norway five springs ago. There has been no winner in recent Eurovision history, that has been predicted with such unanimity from the beginning! With his violin and his song “Fairytale” Rybak managed to respond equally to the Western and Eastern tastes.
Today he seems to be even more popular in Eastern Europe then in the West. In the large Russian music market, maybe even more adored than at home, in Norway.
You are famous beyond Europe, and in big Russia even more of a demanded star. Where and how did you celebrate Christmas and The New Year this time?
Christmas and other holidays are always a question of choice. Either to do it the way that is better for everyone else, or to enjoy it yourself foremost! Throughout the Summer I didn’t have a single free day. Even then I chose to think: what’s the use in getting annoyed about it, better to be happy about being invited everywhere still! For two weeks during Christmas, finally, I now took my time. Not a single job! (laughing). Then I started to think if I should worry about just hanging around for two weeks. But I chose to be happy about my private time with my family and friends. I was in Oslo, went skiing in the mountains, spent a long time in my parents house, and answered letters. Almost to eight thousand, three thousand still remained. The New Year, I greeted at my parents place. It was wonderful to be there with those two, whom I can rely on the most in this life. Completely without stress. Life has two sides for all of us. One – to accomplish what you really want. The other – to enjoy it, when you have finally achieved it. Only the luckiest ones achieve the second side.
What do you think, are you still the same open-hearted boy, who five springs ago won all the hearts in Europe with his “Fairytale”?
If something has changed in me – the biggest change is, that I care more about focus, focusing on the essential. I don’t want to exhaust myself, to drive myself to the despair of exhaustion. I like to work a lot, every week I write many new song sketches. For example, today I will work the whole day in the studio. Right now I have a coffee break – and only this one interview, I rejected all others. Or when I go to perform somewhere, often I will be invited: “Since you are here, come by our club and do a couple of songs, it’s not much to you.” But I don’t want to drag myself into pieces. Gradually, I have grown in my self-respect to every single thing I do. I don’t believe anymore that a day consists of 58 hours.
Everyone can hum your “Fairytale”. What was your first fairytale – Andersen, Brother’s Grimm, or some Soviet cartoon story… ?
I always liked to listen to the music more than watch cartoons. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is the all time best fairytale.
The most unbelievable / lucky story, that has happened to you?
Actually, the biggest one is that my father dared to leave behind Belarus, in order for us to pursue our lives in Norway.
You were four when your musician parents took a chance on the fall of Soviet Union and Lukashenko hadn’t come to dictatorship yet.
It was more complicated. My violinist father took the chance in Oslo and “made the leap” already two years earlier. Thanks to perestroika the Chamber Orchestra of Minsk finally managed to have concerts abroad and… Of course the KGB came after him, but one rich Norwegian family took and hide him. In two years he had saved enough money to invite us, me and my pianist mother, there too. Back then I was four.
Have you thought about who you would be, if your father wouldn’t have taken that risk back then?
I think, I would still be a musician. I would tour with concerts around Belarus and play for people. Eh-eh, maybe I would have sung “Fairytale” and – Belarus would have won Eurovision!
What kind of connections do you still have with Belarus?
All my relatives still live there, from both parents. From my father’s side I have an older sister. And a little niece Uljana – she is the cutest girl in the world! I was so glad that I could give her a day in Oslo at Tivoli as a birthday present. I had visited them in Vitebsk, this time last Summer, when I was invited to perform there at the festival Slavianski Bazaar. I told the organizers, I will come if you give me two days there to be with my family.
After the winning of Eurovision, did Aleksander Lukashenko honor or congratulate you as a heroic son of Belarus in some special way?
Yes, in that same year Belarus had the honor to organize a big beauty contest, Miss Intercontinental, or something like that. There, on the stage, he gave me a little gift – a national costume and a sword that goes with it. Eh-eh!Well, as long my relatives are pleased with their life there, and right now it seems they are happy… I am as well… pleased with him.
The Norwegian royal family was probably more generous with you?
Yes, the royal family sent me, right after winning, a little congratulations card. Eh-eh! Card, not a car. No, it was very nice. Actually, I have not met them after winning. And I have been on the go, everywhere else, all the time, almost in every other country. I first met the Norwegian royal family when I was 11-12 years old. My father and I once played jazz and other music at one of their festive dinners, while they were eating and drinking.
How much do you remember from your childhood in Minsk? your mother and father were honored, but poor musicians – did you live in straitened circumstances?
Not necessarily poverty. As you know how it used to be in Soviet Union – everyone was equally poor or rich. What do I remember from Belarus… ? Discipline – one thing that we don’t have in Norway. I don’t know how you have it in Estonia, but here children will be spoiled by pampering them. The schools in Russia are more strict. I remember how I was taught to do everything perfectly – and now, afterwards, I am happy about it.
How smoothly did you adapt to the Norwegian way of living? Norwegian children start skiing from an early age, you practiced the violin daily as “a little weirdo” …
Exactly. But at the same time my parents wanted me to feel special, and not weird among other children. The forbid me from playing basketball, to save my violinist hands. But they did let me play football and go skiing. Although we are from Belarus, they didn’t raise me to be a robot. They were very clever. They gave me a lot of love, but being able to judge my talent, they also managed to make me practice violin. Every day, for two to three hours. And by the age of ten I was accepted to the best music school, there I found friends that were like me.
You won Eurovision with the highest score ever. Most likely because within you Slavic and Scandinavian tastes were united. And yet, in both folk music styles there is a certain melancholy present.
Oh, in my opinion most of the Norwegian songs are in major, and they sound cheerful. Russian songs sound more in minor.
How is it for a Slavic soul to live among the reserved Viking nation?
Actually, all this old great Viking stuff is the closest thing that Norway has to confront toughened Russia! But Norway is not viking anymore – people here want to take it all relaxed and smile to each other. Not much ambition, especially in the Norwegian music business. Well, I am trying to change it! Eh-eh! Norway is trying to change me, they hold me for too melancholic and nostalgic. But I like it! To do things differently, to stick out from the same style of all the radio stations. As a violinist plus a singer I feel a certain mission in myself. That they don’t expect the same thing from me all the time. To experiment with all kinds of music. I want to be… in Swedish they have a suitable word for that, alltsigdig (versatile) – it means, in you there are all aspects of life.
You were able to practice Swedish for a long time when you fought to fourth place in their version of the TV show “Dancing with the stars”…
Well, in Norway they take me terribly seriously, I wouldn’t have dared to compete here. But in Sweden it is quite fun. Within the first weeks I realized that dancing is not my thing. I probably received that fourth place not because of my dancing skills, but because of my popularity. That makes me a bit shy. But there again – I made good friends among Swedish artists, and as for my coach, I met the most beautiful girl in Sweden! And one more thing, why this show paid off. In the Swedish dance show I saw hope for Scandinavia – artists who worked really hard on themselves, who didn’t just enjoy or admire themselves. Great!
You and the Swedish Eurovision-boy, Eric Saade, remain in the playlists of Russian channels. Moscow, and the immense market of Russia, are probably the biggest that an artist on the eastern side of the Earth can achieve.
Yes. But once again, even in Russia you need radio hits to remain on top, but I don’t like to make radio music. Then, I’d rather be in big TV shows. In Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan – Every time I’m there I feel that I am very-very much welcomed. There, I receive two in one – I have fun by doing my work, and I earn money. Russia is a very big, but also a very rough market. Fortunately, as a winner of Eurovision, I have the very big privilege of being a star for them. Eh-eh! It will probably still take quite a few years until they forget me.
Had you been to Moscow at all before Eurovision?
Of course. As a classical violinist I had performed in Moscow, as well as in St. Petersburg. I would like to stress – classical music is the biggest thing in my life. In fact, before Eurovision it was all my life! Yes, I knew those cities before.
Excuse me, but I managed to witness in Moscow , when you were taken aback by the bathroom door at the opening party.
Well, yes, I am used to Norway, where everything is very clean. If I am allowed to say it, everything is much more dirty in Russia. But for now, I have even learned to love the disorder they have over there.
Russians have got more heart and soul?
No, I don’t like that kind of stereotype. I want to believe that any nationality and person has a heart and soul. Everyone, differently and uniquely. I don’t like to make a ranking between different nations and countries. Just as with music – if I find something good from some country, I try to intertwine it with another country. Especially now, by moving back and forth between Russia and Norway.
Do you feel, that the clan of Alla Pugacheva has taken you among them, as a friend?
I guess, I can say so. Even now Alla Pugacheva is asking me to do what I wouldn’t want to do – to write a song for one of her young protégés. Eh, it’s not like I do everything she asks of me. Although it is a very big privilege to be approved by Pugacheva herself.
How are you getting along with Dima Bilan, your predecessor from Eurovision?
Dima is a star of modern times. Eh-eh, not really yet Corleone in Russian music mafia. I still consider Pugacheva and Philipp Kirkorov big Russian stars.
And even about myself… I don’t know exactly, what my style is. One thing is certain – whatever would happen in my pop career, I still have my violin. In June I passed my Bachelor’s Degree Examination in violin at Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo, with the best grade. You know, I am a winner – I very much love to win, to have it all big. For more than an hour I played classical violin in front of my professors. Besides, it was the first time ever in the history of Scandinavia, that the exam of a little student was broadcast on almost all channels, and all papers reported about it. This was something new – and I am very proud and happy about it.
How many violins have you played to pieces?
Oh, quite a lot! I like the visual art of playing. Sometimes I forget that a violin can break during such playing. It has happened on the stage – but the audience likes it. The violin masters don’t…
For recordings you probably have different, more expensive instruments?
Exactly. I found myself a violin that sounds much deeper, almost like a cello. Even now, on my Christmas album it sounds like a full orchestra. But in fact I recorded it all myself – by playing the same melody over again many times. In the depth of my soul I can say, I am more of a musician than a famous star. I don’t really enjoy red carpets and flashing lights. The most wonderful thing about fame is the possibility to share your music with an immensely large audience.
Your recent video single “Leave Me Alone” complains that adoring admiration has another side. Was this song of any help – did the fan stopped harassing you after that?
To sum it up, yes. She calls and writes me now even more often – but that’s ok, I chose that profession myself. Most important, she doesn’t bombard my parents with phone calls or stalk the doors and windows of my closest ones anymore.
Is that girl Norwegian, how old is she?
She is Israeli, a woman about 34. After that song it seems she is a bit startled, became more timid. But, that is what I wanted to achieve with that song. And the song itself is good, plus the music video.
Where did you shoot those mental house scenes?
In Ukraine, Kiev. Because of the director – Alexander Filatovich is the absolute top of his field, I like to work with him – it’s expensive, but the result is worth that money. Art!
How does it feel to be bound in a straightjacket?
Ah, that is not worth discussion! I don’t want to look shameless toward people who have to live in the mental clinic. The straightjacket was not the point of that video. I didn’t want to ridicule those poor people.
But it does drive you crazy, when someone is attacking people dear to you.
Exactly. That was the meaning of that song and video. I hope, Estonians like that song.
On your second English speaking album there is a dedication song “Suomi”. What was the motive for writing that song?
As I said, Norway is an extremely free country – everyone is smiling, no discipline at all. Russia, against it, is harsh and dirty, but there is discipline and plenty of great talents. And Finland is, in my opinion, the mix of those two extremes. Finns seem happy, but disciplined – and they have achieved great results in many areas of life. I visited one music school in Helsinki. They were all very-very good there, they were perfect. After that I wrote the song “Suomi”. It’s aim wasn’t to become a big hit, I just wrote that song with dedication to my Finnish fans.
You have performed in Tallinn twice. What kind of impression have you got from us?
It is a modern city, and also has a strong history. Walking the streets of Tallinn, I felt that Estonians feel that history is their identity. It’s something valuable.
Compared to you, Finns must be more withdrawn – and focused on their career and stuff. In Tallinn, people are open, they think more on others. I felt it was much warmer in Tallinn than in other European cities. But it was only my brief impression. This time I hope to meet as many people as possible. See you at the concert!
This post is also available in Русский.