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Udmurt Grannies
June 12, 2011 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Buranovskie Babushki is a charming group of grannies from the village of Buranovo in Udmurtia, Russia who came one place away from being the national entry to last year's Eurovision with their crowd-pleasing folk number. Since then, they've been covering a few western classics in their native language. Here's a few: Yesterday; Venus; and Let it Be.
posted by madamjujujive (16 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
On one hand, this is great find, and I want to thank you for posting this. On the other hand, it's kind of sad that efforts to keep folksong relevant often end up producing novelties and curiosities that are here today and gone tomorrow. The Babushki put on a great vocal display, but the crass Eurovision light show doesn't really do them any favors.

There's a wealth of non-novelty Udmurtian folk music on YouTube (e.g., 1, 2, 3, …). I hope this FPP inspires some people to learn more about the folkways of minority cultures within Russia's borders: Udmurtia, Tatarstan, the Chuvash Republic, and so on. And if it takes Beatles covers to accomplish that, then… let it be.
posted by Nomyte at 7:17 PM on June 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


the folkways of minority cultures within Russia's borders: Udmurtia, Tatarstan, the Chuvash Republic, and so on.

link?
posted by carsonb at 7:36 PM on June 12, 2011


There they are! I see 'em!
posted by carsonb at 7:37 PM on June 12, 2011


Ah, I miss my baba.
posted by boo_radley at 7:48 PM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know anything about Russia's ethnic groups, but the combination of Eastern (Mongolian) and Western never ceases to leave me in an uncanny valley. If these old women had darker skin and (more) slanted eyes they might as well be in a yurt somewhere making yak butter tea. But they're singing The Beatles like western rock stars. It's an effective contrast that shows the nature of Russia.
posted by stbalbach at 7:53 PM on June 12, 2011


Incidentally, the toponym "Buranovo" is from buran/буран, a Turkic loanword that has entered Russian with the meaning of "blizzard or snow storm with strong wind." It was also the name of the Soviet analogue of the space shuttle. The etymological dictionary connects it with various Turkic words meaning whirlwind or storm, such as the Chaghatai boraɣan and Kazakh boran.

I guess they have cold winters there?
posted by Nomyte at 7:54 PM on June 12, 2011


Ladies and gentleman, if you've come this far in the comments, you may be interested in hearing the great, Piatnitsky Chorus ... here ... and here's their modern selves.
posted by Faze at 8:07 PM on June 12, 2011


I don't know anything about Russia's ethnic groups, but the combination of Eastern (Mongolian) and Western never ceases to leave me in an uncanny valley.

Final comment, sorry to thread-shit: the Udmurt ethnicity is largely unrelated to various Altaic peoples such as Mongolians. The Udmurt language is a member of the Uralic language family, which also includes the various Finno-Ugric languages (Finnish, Hungarian, etc.). It is not mutually intelligible or even related to Mongolian, other Altaic languages, or Russian. These people have basically been in place for millennia, Russia is the historical invader/conqueror. They are only examples of "the nature of Russia" to the extent that Russia has taken over and incorporated the territory they occupy.
posted by Nomyte at 8:08 PM on June 12, 2011


On the other hand, it's kind of sad that efforts to keep folksong relevant often end up producing novelties and curiosities that are here today and gone tomorrow.

I agree with this, but I can't find a way to justify it without feeling squicky.

I am a huge proponent of folkloric music in its purest form, but I am also prone to becoming a snobbish museum guard when my musical puritanism comes out. Once you start taking a serious scholarly look at what constructs "folkloric" music, you realize that finding a true line to it is pretty much impossible unless you go and live in those communities themselves (assuming they even exist anymore!).

For example, It drives me crazy to hear Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares doing "Oh Susanna" on the Tonight Show. But isn't music also so powerful precisely because it takes no heed of these self-imposed cultural barriers? Why is it bad-ass when a bunch of Beninese musicians discover James Brown and make shit like this, but awkward and embarrassing to some when the Udmurt Grannies filter the Beatles through their own traditions?

In fact, what we now call "Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares" was itself the product of a decades-long campaign by the Communist government to suppress folkloric traditions in favor of a more "refined" and Westernized version (see). Yet we accept them as an "authentic" representation of Bulgarian music when they are just about the furthest thing from it. Tinariwen, the rock band from Western Sahara, continue to carry the flag for Tuareg music, despite signing to a celebrated American indie record label, playing at the Hollywood Bowl, and collaborating with TV On The Radio.

One could argue that there's a world of difference between the continental Afro-funk of the '70s and the Eurovision Song Contest, but I think it's a matter of interpretation. Perhaps we get into the most trouble when we try to categorize this stuff at all. Almost invariably there are hidden connections criss-crossing between music and culture that none of us can fully account for, and once you start looking too hard for "authenticity," you eventually realize it's a complete fabrication to begin with.
posted by mykescipark at 8:39 PM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once you start taking a serious scholarly look at what constructs "folkloric" music, you realize that finding a true line to it is pretty much impossible unless you go and live in those communities themselves (assuming they even exist anymore!).

Heh! I sympathize and agree. It's hard to say to what extent there's a living tradition of folksong (in Udmurtia or elsewhere) without first-hand experience. Most of what's available to remote viewers is often formal, organized acts that are about as far from their roots as Cirque du Soleil. In particular, this is often true in the former USSR where a lot of folk art was developed into "professional folk art," becoming stylized and heavily essentialized.

But then, I don't even know what forms these folk traditions took in pre-USSR times. Were they recognizable? Did they even exist? I mean, even the Tetris song, often taken for a folk song, was adapted from a literary, "folk-inspired" poem. It has an author and a composer. It's a fine, fine line between essentialization and cultural appropriation.

Not that the world should bend to my wishes, but I like ensembles like this Belorussian one. The combination of British-invasion instrumentation and folk song is pretty cool by itself, but I really like how the musicians really get into the performance. Maybe it takes the creative chaos of rock'n'roll to breathe new life into folksong. (Also, that's a really cool way to whistle.)
posted by Nomyte at 8:57 PM on June 12, 2011


But then, I don't even know what forms these folk traditions took in pre-USSR times. Were they recognizable? Did they even exist?

I can only speak to Bulgarian music, as that's my particular area of expertise, but even today one can go to the smallest villages in Bulgaria and find older women (most of them now in their 80s) who can sing the original field songs. There's a considerable body of scholarship devoted to this music (see Timothy Rice in particular), and folklorists such as Rice, Yves Moreau, and Martha Forsyth have spent decades recording it.
posted by mykescipark at 9:13 PM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would guess that field songs aren't nearly as ornamented and "pretty" as stuff sung by national choirs like MDVB. I'm not an expert by any means, but is there any risk in excessive focus on the bygone and the remote? It's obviously quite important to document the passing of traditions in the out-of-the-way areas, but that approach should be supplemented by something that can detect and cast light on vibrant, hybrid forms, like your example of Tinariwen. There's a lot of artists "dipping into" tradition, wherein Bjork or Laurie Anderson will go and "borrow" a Tuvan throat-singer for a recording, but surely there must be plenty of cases of people growing up in hybridized environments, creating creole musics they actually inhabit rather than merely visiting.
posted by Nomyte at 9:29 PM on June 12, 2011


Of course, this utterly adorable and delightfully quirky post had to be yours madamjujujive. What fun! I love it that the younger generation in Europe is enjoying this picturesque, folksinging grannies in wonderfully colorful outfits.

That rendition of Yesterday is especially touching.
posted by nickyskye at 9:54 PM on June 12, 2011


... is there any risk in excessive focus on the bygone and the remote?

Sure, because it carries the same risk of fetishization that trad-lovers often complain about in modern work by Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, etc. Folks who are obsessed with the "pure" work of recordists like Alan Lomax and Moses Asch aren't thinking about the fact that field recordings are always mediated by things like Western scholarship, modern recording technology, the formalization of the recording process, etc. Hence my comment that there really is no such thing as an "authentic" recording. That was the biggest lesson I learned in Bulgaria: you can know the music inside and out on a scholarly level, but if you can't get up and dance, the villagers don't have any use for it. Recording music - whether modern or ancient - is always only a tiny sliver of the true experience, because it has (by necessity) been severed from it.

Surely there must be plenty of cases of people growing up in hybridized environments, creating creole musics they actually inhabit rather than merely visiting.

Of course. Cf., my comment about the Afro-funk of Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, etc., in the 1970s - music that rarely (if ever) made it out of the home country, but which nonetheless thrived there for decades before being "discovered" by Western collectors in the '80s-present.
posted by mykescipark at 10:27 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rjeđe fra bira are adorable, I sa red to make note that the word 'bura' means 'strong wind' or 'storm' in Croatian, as in strong enough to blow you away.
Of course that was also an area the Turks came through.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:12 AM on June 13, 2011


*The Grannies are adorable!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:02 AM on June 13, 2011


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