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Stay Ukrainian My Friends

Sep 14, 2023 | Featured, The View From Here - Walter Kish

This past Saturday, I was privileged to attend a tribute to the life of a Ukrainian Canadian music icon, Ron (Roman) Cahute who passed away several months ago, creating a massive hole in Canada’s Ukrainian music scene. The music of Ron Cahute and his band Burya provided a fitting soundtrack to much of my adult life, one that cannot be easily replaced. His magical compositions created a treasure trove of Ukrainian Canadian music, reflecting both his Ukrainian and Canadian roots. This genre of music was distinctively Cahute’s, and many of Canada’s top Ukrainian musicians gathered at the UNF Hall this past Saturday to acknowledge the giant role Ron has played in entertaining several generations of Ukrainian Canadians.

The fact that Ukrainians are currently engaged in another round of their historical struggle against Russian invasion and oppression provides a fitting background to his signature piece “Fly Kozak Fly” that still echoes in my mind…

“Cross the steppes the
Kozak riding with his fellow Kozak
At his side and you can feel the Kozak
Full of pride and passion’s grace,
On their way to glory, trusting in their
Faith to lead them on to victory
And grace of God, believing freedom
Is a right that all men have to see
And fighting for what you believe in has to be
And freedom is a right men have to see…”

My first exposure to Ron’s musical talents happened almost fifty years ago at Toronto’s famous Caravan multicultural festival, where his musical talent, combined with that of composer Zenoby Lawryshyn, and the dynamic choreography of the Kalyna dance ensemble led by Sam Dzugan, combined to make the Kyiv Pavilion the most popular venue to visit during the festival.
Ron was a master of the accordion, and I never ceased to be amazed at what he could make that instrument do. He formed the band “Burya in 1969 and for decades they entertained Ukrainians across Canada the U.S. and many other countries. They played at my wedding in 1975.

His creativity knew no bounds nor age barriers. One of his most memorable albums, “Barabolya” was geared towards children and teaching them how to speak Ukrainian in a fun way:

“Ba-ba-ba barabolya!
Ba-ba-ba barabolya tastes good to me
Cause that means potato!
Barabolya potato tastes good to me
With a little smetana!
With a little smetana, that′s sour cream!
Oh it’s a dream with sour cream!”

This led to a whole series of children’s albums, including “Tsyboolya” (Onion) and “Booryak” (Beet), “Borscht” (Beet Soup) amongst others. All told, Ron produced dozens of memorable albums, as well as helping numerous other musicians and bands to do the same.
In the latter part of his life, Ron became a regular on the Ukrainian TV show “Kontakt”, spotlighting Ukrainian personalities and events within Canada’s Ukrainian community. I was interviewed a number of times by Ron, and I always marveled at his talent for putting his interviewees at ease, and finding humour and wonder in almost everything he ran across. His signoff “Stay Ukrainian My Friends” became a ubiquitous slogan known everywhere in the Ukrainian diaspora.

He had a way with words as well as music, as evidenced by his naming one of his last albums “Sharavarshchyna”, a satirical jab at most Ukrainians’ nostalgic addiction to Kozak era symbols and icons. That term “Sharavarshchyna” literally means land of the “sharavary”, the baggy flowing pants worn by kozaks. At heart though, Ron Cahute was all about music.

Slawko the music man, “dobriy muzikant”!
He plays all the instruments,
Even those he can′t!
His zumbaza, his zumbaza
He loves to play his zumbaza

The other thing Ron was passionate about was being Ukrainian, and his parting words were always “Stay Ukrainian my friends! I will do that Ron, and hope that you are making beautiful music in the great hereafter.

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