As a collective of musicians, Vinok has some pretty lofty goals. So much more than just another “band,” the group is intent on acting as a voice for the marginalized and those that feel disregarded. Their music brings attention to the serious issues that are affecting millions of people globally and promotes social change and justice for all. Whether it’s politics, religion, feminism, or even disability rights, nothing is off-limits for Vinok.
Their new single, “Elephant Girl,” is a perfect example of this, a song that tells a story of the transformation and spiritual awakening of a young woman living with a disability. The song title is in reference to the 1980 film The Elephant Man, the story of a man judged and mistreated solely because of his appearance. The Ukrainian indie rockers are led by lead singer and keyboardist Nathalie, who has practiced as a mental health professional and expressive arts therapist and has worked extensively with victims of various forms of abuse, trauma, and neglect.
Vinok is rounded out by drummer Ilya, who has also worked as a journalist, witnessing the horrors of war and poverty in authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe, and bassist Anton who grew up in war-torn Eastern Ukraine. These are three talented young musicians who know a thing or two about social issues and aren’t afraid to voice their opinions. We recently connected with them for a Top 10 list where the group runs down their ten favourite songs that address mental health and social issues.
1. Arcade Fire – “Creature Comfort”
“This is one of our all-time favourite songs. The emotion, the tragedy, the pain is all sensed throughout the lyrics in parallel with instrumentation. This suicide awareness song is a naked look into the struggle of a teenager (people) trying to find meaning in this world that is selling to us so much superficiality. ‘Creature Comfort,’ like many other amazing works of Arcade Fire, is such an honest and raw look into the struggles so many of us face; it exemplifies music for us at its finest. If there’s at least one kid we can convince from harming themselves through our music, then we are doing our job.”
2. The Cranberries – “Salvation”
“This is an important one for us and really symbolizes what we are trying to achieve through our music; to serve as a persevering stomping hope amid the deadly lies and traps this world is filled with. The lines ‘To all the kids with heroin eyes. Don’t do it, don’t do it. Because it’s not, not what it seems’ are heartbreaking and remind us of some of the most innocent out there falling victim to addictions and other lies. This song doesn’t just relate to drugs, it has to do with any addiction that creeps in saying that it can be our salvation, meanwhile we forget that what we want most is often staring at us but we can’t see it. ‘Inject your soul with liberty, it’s free, it’s free’ are some of the most beautiful lyrics out there.”
3. Florence + The Machine – “Hunger”
“We are big Florence + The Machine fans. That said, it seems that her latest album High As Hope lost some of the initial energy that the band had… We like her old stuff. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that bassist Mark Saunders and drummer Chris Hayden were no longer in the band. Yet, we find the song ‘Hunger’ still preserving that energy combined with a really strong message, that so many fear to address, of Florence Welch’s own experience of an eating disorder and other unhealthy habits. It’s quite bold for Florence to actually face that in her own song; it is a message all of us need to hear and acknowledge.”
4. Lauryn Hill – “I Find It Hard To Say (Rebel)”
“Though originally released in 2002, this song is still so relevant today as it was back then. The title itself brings us chills. Even though it was written specifically about anti-police brutality and racism in the U.S., it can also resonate with those who have been victims of other forms of injustices. The line ‘And while the people sleep, too comfortable to face it’ really nails it.”
5. Childish Gambino – “This is America”
“Obviously this song is a masterpiece that deserves attention in any social issues list. It craftily pinpoints at everything that’s wrong with America’s ongoing racism. Instead of us writing about it just make sure to give it another listen and the official video is an art of its own.”
6. Tracy Chapman – “Rape of the World”
“We can associate with Tracy a lot even though her tunes may seem softer or more country in comparison to our sound. Two of us studied in the Boston area, as Tracy did, so we can relate to some of where she is coming from. Boston is a great hub for discussing social justice issues and her song ‘Rape of the World’ is one of those remarkable cries of raising awareness on an international scale.”
7. Stromae – “Papaoutai”
“Stromae is such a gifted musician and his energy is contagious; we love that aspect about his music. So the fact that he can concoct a song that combines on one hand a dance-inspiring beat with such a serious topic as parental neglect, fatherlessness and abandonment is quite influential and drastically moving. This is a powerful song as he faces his own experience.”
8. Leonard Cohen – “The Partisan”
“Leonard Cohen’s monotonously sung adaptation of ‘The Partisan’ perfectly communicates the personal pain and suffering caused by war. For us this is a very special piece considering the events that have been taking place in Ukraine since 2014 as Russia invaded the country. ‘Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing, Freedom soon will come, Then we’ll come from the shadows’ is an inspiring message midway through the song.”
9. U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
“Similar to ‘The Partisan,’ U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ reminds us of Ukraine. This time it brings back memories to 2013-2014 when peacefully protesting students were brutally beaten by police which then outraged millions to go out to the streets in the coming months, The Maidan Revolution. Though the events are quite different between the two countries, the tunes and lyrics really resonate with the overall mood of Ukraine’s protests against corruption and the Kremlin’s imperialist agenda.”
10. The National – “Light Years”
“‘Light Years’ is about Aaron Dessner, his wife’s mother dying due to cancer. There’s a healthy way to mourn, grief and loss in their song ‘Light Years’ does it. It’s like finally taking a breath of fresh air after days of crying. Grieving never becomes easier, it is a journey with one breath at a time.”