My tastes as far as Russian music is concerned are more or less calcified at the point of my emigration. Whatever I liked then, I like now. New acts that sprouted in the last two decades – not so much.
There is a show on Russian TV that purports to select the best of all of the songs written throughout the history of the USSR and Russia. The show is called “National Treasure” (in a nice twist, the first two letters of each of the two words comprising its name in Russian – Достояние Республики – are actually the first two notes in an octave), and each of its episodes examines the musical heritage of a given decade. Two sets of judges – the “younger” generation and the “older” generation; the demarcation seems to be around the age of 32-33, so I would definitely belong to the latter – vote on each of the presented songs. Three songs with the most votes from each decade progress on to the future program finale.
The judges are all celebrities of one kind or another and they are also asked to openly opine on every number prior to voting. A couple of people produce thoughtful – or hilarious – remarks, but most of the conversation is given to ardent butt-kissing, especially when the performer has a high enough pedigree to only be dealt with as if he or she were royalty. There are some harsh, and even rude, put-downs on rare occasions for some lesser lights, but it is mostly “Fantastic! Super! Amazing! Genius! You are my favorite singer!” and all that. Entertaining enough, I suppose.
The songs themselves are what matters to me. I know enough of Soviet musical heritage from before I was born and practically everything that’s ever been on radio or TV in the 70s and 80s to find every tune familiar and to be genuinely pleased when a song I count among my favorites gets high marks from the judging panels.
And then we come to the installment dealing with the songs from the 90s.
To say that I do not know any of those songs is incorrect – most of them were or still are on the playlists in Russian restaurants in Brooklyn. To say that any of the songs can have a pretense of being considered for anything more than a fleeting note is a gross understatement – but then, I realize that you can’t just skip a decade altogether in this format. Several of the songs were legitimate hits in their time and possibly left a bigger imprint in the history of Russian music than I can imagine from my remote perch. But were I on that panel, I might just leave my ballot blank.
And then, there was this gem, which I have never heard before.
My American readers hopefully will not make the mistake to think that this song is sung in Russian. Or, in any language, for that matter. The words – of which there aren’t many – are pure gibberish.
During the performance of this number, I said to Natasha: “I can’t imagine that anyone from the ‘older’ generation would vote for it”. The tune may be catchy enough, and the number itself may have a sort of “pioneering” impact in the ex-Soviet society, but could this be something that people identify with or have fond memories associated with or simply enjoy singing themselves1?
And what do you know!? Both panels, the older one and the younger one, heaped unqualified praise on the group and its frontman, with one jury member, a respected poet in his 70s, recalling that he once labeled the guy “the new Tchaikovsky” and this song was the proof.
The song got enough votes to become a finalist. Indeed, a Russian musical national treasure.
1 Ok, I suppose I can imagine myself repeatedly croaking “Ramamba Haru Mamburu” in a deranged shower moment, but I wouldn’t be proud of my choice. I’m sure.