Far From Moscow.com

From Folklore to Fantasy: Bubamara, Chorny Busel, and DakhaBrakha
January 1, 2011

One of the primary aims of folk song is to humanize space; born of pre-modern custom, when distances were insurmountable and shelter uncertain, folk songs often celebrated manageable goals. They spoke of private wishes or love's harbor in a hostile environment.

If we then consider that Russian folk song evolved within the world's largest nation(!), it's easy to see why that stubborn gap between cruel nature and cherished wedlock, say, could become almost unbearable. In an unforgiving climate or across unending steppe, choral celebrations of family and good fortune were occasionally the soundtrack to an increasing sense of desperation.

They verbalized something that was elusive, if not totally absent - yet it remained desperately important.

Slavic folk music across much of the twentieth century, of course, was twisted into various patriotic forms. In the post-Soviet period, commerce then did much to turn that jingoism into profitable schmaltz. Despite those two extremes of rant and kitsch, folk traditions remain capable of voicing some very fundamental or cherished desires.

Take, for example, the Bubamara Brass Band from Moscow, who - with one eye on fading values - resurrect an antique Balkan and Roma heritage. The group's central members radiate enormous verve and vigor with their saxophones, clarinets, trombones, tubas, and joyful, clattering percussion. On vocals - fronting this happy chaos - is Anastasiia Tokareva, who also has an elegant solo project, Quinta Toka.

Often inspired by the films of Emir Kusturica, Bubamara and their frontman Aleksandr Kashtanov have been performing together for over five years. They have now graduated to some of the nation's most important jazz festivals, where they are advertised in the following manner.

"This ensemble has the most amazing level of positive energy! You might think that'd be an essential part of any Balkan outfit, but not every band from outside the region is able to be this amazing or positive! At the basis of Bubamara's repertoire are folk melodies - and some of their own compositions, too..."

"It all comes together in bright, beautiful improvisation from the horn section who put on a really special show by mixing free-spirited Balkan drive and some ethnic dance routines. The vocals are also excellent..."

This ensemble has the most amazing level of positive energy!

In many ways, the ensemble's repertoire is a celebration of movement. Not only in terms of dancefloor vigor, but also because - through the Roma heritage that's constantly on display - Bubamara invest much time and effort in praising a nomadic worldview. This appeal of "gypsy ways" for a Russian audience has long been important, even since the very first gramophones appeared at the start of the twentieth century. With growing urbanization and the general misery of modern society, shackled by class or capital, the appeal of some mythical gypsy spirit was great from the outset.

The lusty, though troubled heroes and heroines of gypsy romances always moved according to their emotions; they were always "elsewhere," driven by some inexhaustible passion.

The bittersweet melodies of the Bubamara Brass Band are likewise dedicated to another place and time. Neither that age nor address are here, in the immediate present. Which simply makes them more appealing."

(автор статьи: профессоро и заведующий кафедрой славянских языков Университета Калифорнии в Лос-Анджелесе David MacFadyen, Professor and Chair
Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of California, Los Angeles)