Whether or not we agree with the editorializing of the enthusiastic fan who posted this video on YouTube — “Russian Folk Music That Will make You Thrill!” it does seem to be a hit with the audience. Yes, we notice all the singers are young woman and yes, all the musicians are men, and yes, this is a performance by the ensemble formerly known as the Red Army Choir, one of the most patriotic state-supported cultural institutions of the Soviet era, and the performers are wearing army uniforms and clearly cloying for nostalgia, and yes, yes, and yes…that gives us a lot to unpack. Yes. But can’t we just enjoy a nice song?
Our version of the Ingush/Chechen folk song “Darida” gives us a chance to a song using all the kids names, pretend to “run” by patting our knees, and of course learn all the intricacies of the intertwined histories of Chechyna, North Ossetia and Ingushetia.
“Darida” is a traditional Ingush love song that, in its original form, is a conversation between a man and a woman he loves (and is “chasing.”) “Darida” means “la la la” in Chechen. In class we sing it with just as much bravado, albeit not with our est friends on a concrete platform in the middle of the mountains.
Yesterday met “Kalinka,” the iconic Russian folk song that is usually accompanied by an acrobatic squat and bouncing “Preesyadka” dance. The little kiddos reeeeeeally enjoy dancing to Kalinka in class, singing about the pine tree and the snowberry and kicking our legs up in the air. Maybe we’re not technically impressive, but what we lack in all skill we make up in the unnatural ability to look silly without feeling embarrassed.
Let’s start our time in Russia with an icon. Kalinka is a mid-19th century Russian song that has had multiple lives: as a pre-Soviet standard, an officially sanctioned autocratic Soviet-era folk anthem, a post-Soviet elctro-pop hit and, not at all least, the soundtrack for “Tetris.” It has also become an internationally popular folk dance that you may recognize from a wedding, bar mitzvah or random late night college party. This version, by the ensemble formerly-known-as the Red Army Choir, is the mother lode.
We’re HERE! Russia. Russia is massive in every respect and has always known it. Russia has never been shy about exerting its influence, never timid about being a dominant power; every country we’re going to explore this session has spent decades, if not centuries, under Russian rule. Sure, Russia is not the world power it was just two decades ago, but a nation so essential to the global power structure, one with a thousand years of hard-fought, heartfelt history…Russia is always going to be huge and its influence, especially in Eastern Europe, is everything.
Let’s end our week of searching the world for Balkan brass bands right in All Around This World’s Philadelphia back yard. West Philadelphia Orchestra is absolutely one of our favorite bands of all time. They know their stuff, they always please, and you couldn’t find a bunch of nicer music-makers. Enjoy!
Next we start our Eastern European journey in earnest. (Well, in Russia.)
Big brass bands may be all the rage in the Balkans, but you’ll find brassy musical cousins everywhere. Let’s enjoy the brass stylings of India’s Jaipur Kawa Brass Band (while we hope the guy at the top doesn’t lose his balance and make them all tumble down like dominoes). Just look at these guys — are they not great?
Quick, don’t think, just answer — what’s more incredible: the boisterous Balkan Brass of the Boban and Marko Markovic Orkestar, or the amazing Mexican brass ensemble Banda Estrellas de Sinaloa de German Lizarraga? Of course there is only proper answer — “Why do I have to choose?”
Balkan Brass Band music is so great that there’s no way it could possibly stay in Eastern Europe. The exciting Italian Balkan Brass marching band Bandakadabra takes the music to the street.