A friend sent Madison musician Stuart Stotts the photo of the baby carriages.
As Ukrainian refugees, especially mothers with children, fled the country for the relative safety of neighboring countries like Poland, photographer Francesco Malavolta caught an image of baby strollers on a train platform — donated by Polish families to welcome the new refugees. “You have to do something with this,” suggested the friend.
And he did. The resulting song and video, “Lulilu,” is a moving tribute to kindness in the midst of war.
Stotts, well known for his family-friendly shows and “Kids in the Rotunda” performances, was moved by the image and launched into some research on Eastern European folk melodies. “I went on YouTube and listened to a bunch of Ukrainian lullabies,” says Stotts, “to get the feeling.”
“Lulilu,” the song’s title and refrain, isn’t a specific Ukrainian word, so far as Stotts knows. “A lot of folk songs have these sorts of refrains that are technically nonsense syllables, and I wanted the refrain to be that kind of lullaby soothing sound.”
Coming up with a demo for the song, he headed to the website Fiverr, a global “freelance services marketplace,” where musicians can list their specialties, and searched for Ukrainian singers. He sent the demo to several and initially paid them to sing one verse, as an audition. “I ended up working with three of them,” Stotts says. “Two of them were actually in Ukraine at the time, and one had fled to Hungary with her laptop and her cat.”
The three singers, Alex Aleks, Kate Kosia and July Vitraniuk, all speak some English and “could sing in English in a way that was easy to understand,” he adds.
Remarkably, the three women do not know each other and never even heard each other singing the song, as all three recorded their parts separately and sent the files to Stotts digitally. He says it’s “incredible the way some of the harmonies went together, and how it all fit together,” considering the circumstances of the recording.
“I did a lot of mixing and editing. Two of them had better microphones going into their computers; one of them I think just sang into her laptop mic,” he says. “But this is done all the time by musicians. That’s the beauty of digital recording.”
Stotts pulled most of the images for the video from Creative Commons and used iMovie to put it together.
Ultimately, Stotts says, it comes down to this: “Imagine as the mom, bundling up your kids and getting on a train and you have no idea where you are going. You’re just trying to get out. And when you get there, there’s this act of kindness, waiting for you at the train station. It is such an act of compassion.”