Over the last decade or so the idea of music compilations has taken on a new face – thank goodness!! Compilations have become an art form and, fortunately for the music lover, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The series of Rough Guides produced by the World Music Network is one of the best. I never have to worry about the quality and variety of the selections presented on any of the recordings. The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia is no exception. The information in the booklet is also well done with pertinent historical references and biographies of the artists. I find that good liner notes increase the listening experience and help me gain an understanding of the music, especially when the language is unfamiliar.
Music from the former land of the Soviet Union is a study in the effects of repression by governments, the tenacity of artists, and the tidal wave of accessible information (especially from the West) on the musical community. Mix all of these elements up in the musical pot and you’re bound to get an incredible array of sounds and styles with sometimes surprising results.
The CD includes music from living and dead artists. There are cuts representative of what was allowed under Communist rule (Vladimir Vysotosky, Mark Bernes, Clavdia Shulzhenko). There are songs from contemporary artists who have latched on to influences from the West (Kukuruza – Russian bluegrass[!], Mashina Veremeni.) That’s just the beginning.
Two of my personal favorites are Loyko and Gipsy Talisman. Both of these gypsy bands include members of Russia’s first family of Gypsy music, the Erdenko family. Loyko’s cut, “Djelem,” is described as one of the oldest of gypsy songs. It has a beautiful melody sung exquisitely by Leonsia Erdenko with harmony by the other group members. It is accompanied by an infectious smooth groove that makes it very hard not to sway in your chair or swoon around the room. This is a great example of gypsies absorbing music from all over and bringing the most useful elements into their arrangements. Gipsy Talisman also includes Leonsia Erdenko along with two other women (sisters? cousins?). “Britchka” is a wedding song and one of those tunes that starts off slowly and gradually builds up in speed. A bop till you drop bit of Russian folk music. Phew!
Alla Pugacheva has achieved unprecedented popularity in Russia. She is described as being as “beloved as the Beatles, yet as controversial as Madonna.” This particular song, “Arlekino,” sounds like the Beatles and Madonna teamed up with Kurt Weill in the big top at a Ringling Brothers circus. Pugacheva pulls off some high-flying vocals that will make you laugh out loud with amazement.
The Terem Quartet is the one group I was already familiar with before listening to this Rough Guide. The members are classically trained, but they incorporate musical ideas from folk and jazz along with their Russian classics. A truly wonderful blend of sensibilities. “Diplomat Waltz” is based on the work of Russian composer Alexander Griboedov (1795-1829). If you like this piece you’ll love their entire CD No, Russia Cannot be Perceived by Wit.
This CD does what compilations should do: it opens the door to a particular area of the world and presents it in an exciting way. I’ve been successfully introduced to lots of artists and I’m ready to hear more from them!
(World Music Network, 2002)