When the proprietor of an underground membership in Kyiv reached out to Western musicians to play in Ukraine, lengthy earlier than the conflict, there weren’t so many takers.
However an American from Boston, Mirza Ramic, accepted the invitation, spawning an enduring friendship with the membership’s proprietor, Taras Khimchak.
“I saved coming again,” Mr. Ramic, 40, stated in an interview on the membership, Mezzanine, the place he was making ready for a efficiency throughout a current tour of Ukraine.
The nation, he stated “is among the locations that has welcomed me most and been probably the most supportive of my music.” And so particularly after the Russian invasion two years in the past, he added, “I wished to return now, to indicate my help in these laborious occasions.”
Mr. Ramic, born in Bosnia, is a toddler of conflict himself. At 11, he misplaced his father within the shelling of his hometown, Mostar, and spent years as a refugee, transferring from nation to nation together with his mom as she struggled to discover a technique to survive.
They lived in Zagreb, Croatia; Tunis; and Prague, earlier than transferring to america, first to Arizona, and ultimately Boston. There, he completed his training and started a profession as a musician, forming an digital band, Arms and Sleepers, with a school good friend, Max Lewis.
Now a solo musician, he was again enjoying in Kyiv and two different cities within the fall, undeterred by the specter of missile strikes, giving free concert events in a private dedication to face alongside his Ukrainian followers.
“Arts and tradition throughout conflict are probably the most necessary issues that retains folks going as a result of it provides them a way of human dignity,” Mr. Ramic stated. “They’re additionally entitled to this in troublesome occasions.”
Mr. Ramic has many Russian followers too — in addition to Russian mates, together with his promoter in Moscow, who left their residence nation in protest on the conflict in Ukraine. He stated he has tried to think about the dilemma in his personal context, how he as a Bosnian would have felt towards a Serb who was in opposition to the conflict. However for the reason that invasion, he stated, he had determined to not play in Russia out of respect for Ukrainians.
“To go there, symbolically, at this second, wouldn’t be proper,” he stated.
The one fixed in his life has been music, and it has change into his predominant device in navigating his traumatic life experiences. Within the interview, he spoke eloquently of his life as a refugee and an immigrant, of the lack of his father, and of his sense of alienation and never belonging anyplace.
“For me music is a technique to cope with these troublesome core recollections,” he stated. “On the root, it’s that.”
His mom, Selma, a piano trainer, taught him classical piano all through their odyssey as refugees, and hoped Mr. Ramic would change into a live performance pianist. However in his teenagers, he gave up the every day 4 hours of piano follow to give attention to his research, and turned to enjoying piano and keyboards in bands by way of highschool and school as an alternative.
He studied Japanese European historical past and politics at Bowdoin School, in Maine, and worldwide relations in a masters’ program on the Fletcher College at Tufts College, pushed by a want to grasp the geopolitics that’s the backdrop to his life.
But he got here to confront his personal ache within the course of. In “To Tell a Ghost,” a brief documentary movie he made a number of years in the past, he described the shock he felt when the category dialogue turned to the wars of the previous Yugoslavia.
“I bear in mind sitting at school, ingesting my espresso — like everybody else — and instantly freezing on the within,” he associated within the movie. He couldn’t take part within the dialogue, he stated.
In between programs, he performed in a rock band, and in 2006 he shaped Arms and Sleepers with Mr. Lewis. It was a particular partnership, he stated, between Mr. Ramic, born a Muslim, and Mr. Lewis who’s Jewish, and now educating ethics at Yale College. The band’s title displays Mr. Ramic’s view of the conflict in Bosnia, referring to the numerous who wielded weapons, and others, who did little to cease it. “The world was sleeping,” he stated.
He was 9 when conflict broke out in Mostar as Serbian forces fought Croatian and Bosnian fighters for management of town. His recollections are visceral.
“Skies stuffed with rockets,” he stated within the interview. “We had a tank that rolled into our avenue, by our home.” He remembers watching the tank from the kitchen window. “That was terror.”
Because the preventing intensified, his father, Ibrica, a dentist, despatched his spouse and son out in a refugee convoy for ladies and youngsters. He stayed in Mostar to take care of their property and was killed the following yr, in September 1993, when a mortar shell landed on the street outdoors their home.
Shedding his father, with whom he was very shut, stays a defining trauma for Mr. Ramic. It wrenched him away from his homeland, and he’s nonetheless wrestling with a deep unhappiness and generally melancholy, he stated.
It led him lately to advise a few Ukrainian mates in opposition to enlisting within the military. “You’ll be extra helpful to your nation alive,” he advised them. “And for the following technology of individuals, like your youngster, they will be in a a lot more healthy and stronger state to make a distinction, should you keep alive.”
If his father had survived, he would in all probability have gone again to Bosnia, Mr. Ramic stated. His finest good friend from childhood survived the conflict in Bosnia and nonetheless lives in Mostar, working and elevating a household, however Mr. Ramic, an American citizen, stated he doubted he would return to dwell there.
“It’s too troublesome emotionally,” he stated. “I’m form of in between. I don’t actually really feel American, I don’t really feel Bosnian.”
He and his mom have returned to Mostar for visits, together with in September for the thirtieth anniversary of his father’s demise. A lot of town nonetheless stands in ruins, he stated, they usually have by no means restored their household residence. The roof was fastened with European help, however his father’s dentistry tools and different possessions lie untouched, coated in mud, because it was the day he died.
Mr. Ramic moved to Berlin in 2020, and spends time in different European nations — composing in Latvia through the pandemic, and in Spain organizing assist for Ukraine in February 2022 at the beginning of the invasion. Europe feels nearer to his roots than America, he stated.
“Quite a lot of the music that I create — and maybe that’s why it does resonate with folks in locations like Ukraine — is that it’s form of in-between,” he stated. “It’s about belonging, or not belonging and determining who you’re, and possibly coming to the conclusion that it’s simply you and that’s it.”
His music is digital, accompanied by cinematic movies that blend documentary movie footage with kaleidoscopic, computer-generated digital visuals, typically with a powerful political message. He steadily confronts the violence and tragedy round him — from his time working with at-risk youth on the South Aspect of Chicago, to the Black Lives Matter protests, to the conflict in Ukraine since its first beginnings in 2014 when separatists seized energy in elements of the jap area of the nation.
With 13 albums produced, he has a devoted following and has discovered a technique to dwell off his music. He carried out, dancing intensely over his keyboards, earlier than a crowd of 200 folks on the Mezzanine, a membership set in an outdated Soviet textile manufacturing facility in Kyiv. Among the viewers had been followers of his on Fb and knew his music, however others got here alongside to see a uncommon American prepared to play in wartime Ukraine.
His music is pressing and intense, however there are additionally calm, ambient-influenced tracks. One fan on the Kyiv live performance, an I.T. engineer who solely gave her first title, Yana, stated she listened to his music when out strolling to overlook the stress of the conflict.
“It takes you to some second the place you’re neither unhappy nor comfortable however simply in steadiness,” she stated.
Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting from Kyiv.