various artists,
The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia
(World Music Network, 2002)

Both the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union had a profound effect on the music of Russia, and it is thanks to the latter that CDs such as The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia are possible. If you grew up thinking that Russian music was mostly Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky and all the rest was balalaikas, then you are in for an eclectically pleasant experience.

According to the liner notes, "under the Soviet system, artists who graduated from sanctioned State musical institutions had to pass a 'test' to become 'official musicians.' The government decided what music could be recorded, performed on stage, and what could be broadcast on the nation's airwaves." As might be expected, creative musicians found ways around the restrictions, most notably with a form called bard music, poetry with musical accompaniment.

This Rough Guide includes some of Russia's best known bard musicians such as Vladimir Vysotsky and Alexander Dolsky, and it also includes an impressive variety of music. Zhanna Bichevskaya performs old, forgotten folk songs such as "Dikoye Pole (Wild Field)" and "Lyubo, Brattzy, Lyubo (Good, Brothers, Good)." Alla Pugacheva has an in-your-face cabaret style as she demonstrates in "Arlekino (Harlequin)," and her repertoire includes controversial and confrontational songs such as "Muzykant," adapted from a poem by a murdered Jewish poet whose works were banned by Stalin.

Loyko and Gipsy Talisman reach into traditional Gypsy roots for their lovely passionate songs, "Djelem" and "Britchka" respectively. Mashina Veremeni's "Povorot" reflects the influence of early Western pop and rock while Kukuruza is a Russian bluegrass band performing "Beyond the Rocky Mountain (Za Skaloyu)."

Overall, there's a good variety on The Rough Guide to the Music of Russia representing a mini-history of modern Russian music, from the traditional roots music to the modern mix of rock, jazz and the blues.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 14 February 2004



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