It’s been nearly three months since Vidbir was won by TVORCHI (meaning creative, in Ukrainian): a duo made up of producer Andriy Hutsulyak, and vocalist and lyricist Jefferi Kenny. Read on to learn all about the group and their journey to become Ukraine’s artist for this year’s Eurovision.
Who are TVORCHI?
Nigerian born Jefferi had a privileged upbringing, coming from a wealthy military family. He is quoted as saying that in his homeland, he would always have a guard and personal driver. He moved to Ukraine hoping to gain more independence. Andriy grew up in the Chortkiv Raion region in western Ukraine in a working-class family, his parents having to move away to find work.
The pair went on to meet at Ternopil National Medical University, where they were both students in the Faculty of Pharmacy, when Andriy tapped Jefferi on the shoulder to ascertain his level of English. The conversation that followed, led them to realise that they both had a shared interest of music…
Pre Eurovision career
The pair have been active in the Ukrainian music scene since May 2017, with the release of their debut single, ‘Slow,’ followed by their debut album ‘The Parts’ in 2018.
After an array of successful releases, the duo entered the 2020 edition of Vidbir with the song ‘Bonfire.’ They won the second semi-final, topping both the jury and televote, and gained significant attention in doing so. However, on the night of the final, a technical issue meant that Jefferi couldn’t hear the music, panel member Tina Karol commenting on the quality of the vocals, saying “the vocal performance was even worse than last week.”
In the end, out of six acts, TVORCHI only finished fifth in the jury ranking and fourth in the televote which led fans of the band to come out in support of the duo, even claiming that the broadcaster didn’t want TVORCHI to win. The band seemed to support these claims, Jefferi posting on Instagram:
“To those fans who stood by our side the whole time, we love you and we will give you all we have, but I am not sure why this allowed in this contest. One word Eurovision… shame on you. Shame on you, I might understand why it is done to me… but the sound engineers were laughing! Disgrace. See you never Eurovision. To all those who supported and support us, thank you again. I live for you. The time will come when we will have the chance to give you what you want. But for now… We have no excuses, we only feel disgust.”
“For those asking what happened… Basically, the sound engineers turned off the music in my ears. Completely! They were laughing at us. What a shame! I love you Ukraine. But Eurovision, shame for letting this happen.”
Days later, they then posted again:
“A good number of people even had problems when it was time for voting for us: this was clearly planned out every step of the way. But fortunately, a song contest doesn’t determine who has the best music, just like an exam doesn’t determine who’s the smartest, because people cheat all the time.
Eurovision is not an open contest when it comes to giving respect and when it comes to fair play. Eurovision was very underwhelming to say the least, but a new album awaits us all. We keep working.”
Despite this, the band continued to build on their domestic success in Ukraine, ‘Bonfire’ went on to become the most popular Ukrainian song of 2020 on Deezer, the group won in the INDY category at the 11th Golden Firebird music awards, and they went on to be nominated in four categories at the YUNA 2021 Music Awards, and at the 2022 YUNA awards, they won the awards for “Best Concert Show” and “Best Song in Another Language.”
- ‘The Parts’ (2018)
- ‘Disco Lights’ (2019)
- ‘13 Waves’ (2020)
- ‘ROAD’ (2021)
Despite the controversy around their 2020 entry, TVORCHI returned to Vidbir for its 2022 edition. Despite their popularity in Ukraine, their place at Eurovision was anything but a done deal; upon the reveal of the Vidbir competitors, they were not identified as frontrunners by Eurovision fans, who suspected Jerry Heil or KRUTЬ would take the coveted slot at Eurovision.
When the duo took the song to Vidbir in December 2022, they received positive feedback from the panel of experts, Eurovision host and The HARDKISS frontwoman Julia Sanina saying that ‘Heart of Steel’ is an example of “new Ukrainian music. With your music, really, we can show that Ukraine can be different.” However, like Eurovision fans, the judges did have their reservations over the entry, particularly the chorus, which Sanina commented may not by “catchy” enough.
Despite concerns, ‘Heart of Steel’ still managed to come second in the jury vote (behind KRUTЬ’s song ‘Колискова’) while their significant fanbase led them to the top of the televote.
Post Vidbir, fans have theorised that, in choosing ‘Heart of Steel’ to represent them, the Ukranian people are choosing to avoid submitting a song with heavy connotations of war; however, the duo themselves have made links between their song and the Ukrainian people’s response to the current situation:
“We came across a video of the defenders of Azovstal,” Hutsuliak has explained of what inspired the track. “When I looked into their eyes, I saw fire, strength and steadfastness. I couldn’t imagine how hard it was, but what I saw gave me goosebumps. And we transferred those emotions to this song.” – kyivpost.com
“When we went to the Eurovision Song Contest, we looked into the past of this contest. It was created after the Second World War to unite Europe. Today, while some are playing with nuclear threats, our people with steel hearts are protecting all of Europe. Time to unite against evil, for the sake of peace,” – translated from tsn.ua
“Our song is about everyone who, despite all hopelessness, carries a heart of steel in their chest and does not give up. Today it is all of us. Our song has lines, “Don’t be scared to say just what you think. Cause no matter how bad, someone’s listening”. We want our unbreakable spirit to be heard everywhere.” – eurovision.tv
Any naysayers that suggest Ukraine could be seen as using the war to accrue votes, can also interpret the song as an anthem for the disenfranchised, and any that are struggling, giving it a much broader appeal across the continent.
In preparation for the contest, TVORCHI have seemingly taken the Vidbir panel’s comments onboard, adding a section in the Ukrainian language, and a heavier use of strings in the production, which could be seen as giving the song a greater crescendo..
You can listen to the revamped version of ‘Heart of Steel’ in the video below:
What do you think of Ukraine’s 2023 entry? Be sure to let us know in the comments, and on Twitter.