Song for Ukraine
A serendipitous moment in a part of the world where calamity and horror reign proved to be a catalyst for a project that brought together people from the Rogue Valley and around the world in support of Ukraine.
The result: a moving music video featuring the Peter Gabriel song “Red Rain,” which plays under scenes of destruction, hope and aspiration in Ukraine. The video, involving performers from Ukraine to Medford, has thousands of views on YouTube.
Viewers of “Red Rain (Over Ukraine)” are urged to donate to the Ukrainian Red Cross to aid those suffering in the war-torn country.
James (Jimmy) Twyman, a former Rogue Valley resident now living in Ajijic, Mexico, was working this spring with Ukrainian refugees coming into Poland when, on a return trip from the border, he heard Gabriel’s song on the radio of his rental car.
“Because of my experience at the border, I started listening to the lyrics in a new way,” he said. “’Red Rain’ became the Russian bombs being launched into Ukraine, and that’s when the idea came to do a version of the song for the people of Ukraine.”
He wanted the project to be a way to raise awareness as well as funds for those suffering from the war.
“Hopefully, people not only are inspired by the song,” he said, ‘but also are sending donations to the Ukrainian Red Cross.”
Twyman contacted long-time friend and fellow musician Sean McCoy of Central Point to enlist his help.
“Jimmy had already started lining up a Ukrainian singer when he contacted me,” McCoy said.
The owner of Oregon Sound Recording, McCoy began orchestrating and arranging the music for the video. Then he did the programming and mixing. The video was finished May 6 and went live on YouTube May 12.
The Ukrainian singer secured by Twyman is Oleksandra Didyk, an 18-year-old, up-and-coming star from Kyiv.
“Jimmy knows a lot of people all over the world and had a contact in Kyiv who recommended Oleksandra,” McCoy said.
It didn’t take long for Twyman to be convinced she was the one.
“I went to her Facebook page, listened to her sing, and that was it,” he said. “Her amazing, mature voice, combined with her innocence, was perfect for the song. She’s still in Kyiv, and we’re working with her on a new song now.”
Didyk had a friend in Kyiv who owned a recording studio and another friend who was a cinematographer. They helped her record then shoot her part of the video, risking their lives going to areas the Russians had bombed.
Twyman also secured the services of noted bass player Victor Wooten of Nashville and guitarist Jeff Pevar of Ashland.
McCoy arranged for the rest of the participating artists — a string quartet composed of cellist Michal Palzewicz of Ashland, and violinists Faina Podolnaya of Ashland (originally from Ukraine), Kathleen Strahm of Central Point, and Emily Severson of Ashland; and percussionist Theresa McCoy (his wife) of Central Point.
Each segment of the video was recorded remotely, with McCoy putting them together in his studio for the finished product. He estimates he spent more than 75 hours on the project.
Twyman has deep roots in the Rogue Valley, moving to Ashland in 2001 where he lived for 12 years. He has been an author and musician for decades.
“I started a retreat center outside of Talent, and it was some of the best years of my life,” he said.
Nine years ago, he moved to Mexico, where he founded a spiritual, interfaith community called Namaste Village.
“Sean and I have been working together for many years, and he’s always the one I turn to for projects like this,” Twyman said. “Between the two of us, we know all the musicians in the Rogue Valley, as well as people like Victor Wooten, who is considered to be the greatest bass player in the world.”
Twyman has written 18 books, all on spiritual topics. His best-known, “The Moses Code,” made the New York Times best sellers’ list.
He’s also produced or directed several feature films in the valley, including “Redwood Highway” with Gary Lundgren and Indigo.
Peter Gabriel did not participate in the project except for his song being used as the basis for the video. Twyman was unable to get a response from Gabriel’s management or publishing companies, so using the song without permission was a risk.
“YouTube flagged it right away but only restricted monetization rather than pulling it down,” McCoy said. “Facebook, on the other hand, pulled it immediately. Knowing what an activist Peter Gabriel is, we’re certain he would support it.”
The song has been covered many times over the years, which led Twyman and McCoy to believe it isn’t fiercely guarded.
“On his Facebook page,” McCoy said, “Gabriel has posts in support of Ukraine. I’ve posted there, hoping he or one of his people might notice it.”
McCoy and Twyman are adapting another classic, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” for a new video project, with similar methodology and purpose in mind.
Didyk will contribute again and has lined up two Ukrainian men to sing on the video. Twyman has written original verses, reflecting the Ukrainian experience during the war. It should be ready to go live by the end of May, McCoy said.
“This has been a very rewarding project,” McCoy said, “though the challenge of tampering with a fantastic, well-crafted song such as ‘Red Rain’ was daunting at first, and bordered on sacrilege. Peter Gabriel’s album, ‘So,’ was the first CD I ever bought.”
“Red Rain” made its debut in 1986 as the first track on that album by the British rocker.
Today’s technology made such a project much easier to pull off than in the old days.
“In the ‘90s, a project like this would have involved shipping a reel of two-inch tape around the world,” McCoy said.
Even though the first video was a lot of work, McCoy and Twyman are launching into the second one with enthusiasm.
To view the video, go to YouTube.com and search “Red Rain Over Ukraine.”
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.