Shanson, Russian criminal underworld music
October 24, 2010 11:46 AM   Subscribe

The Russian mafia and criminals have their own type of music. It's called shanson [chanson]. A couple of contemporary examples by Michael Krug- Kolschik and Lesovopal- Sit Boy l Arcadiy Severnyj (1939-1980) was considered the king of street (prison-folk) songs. Shanson MyRadio channel.

Notes From a Russian Musical Underground: The Sound of Chanson

Modern Russian History in the Mirror of Criminal Song

Arkady Severniy 1974

for those interested in further YouTube searching, some of the better known shanson singers/groups, Google translate used:
Alexander Dyumin
Kal'yanov Alexander
Alexander Novikov
Alexander Rosenbaum
Anatoly Cloth
Arkady North
Boris Sichkin
Basil Lazarovich
Willy Tokarev
Vitaliy Aksenov
Asmolov Vladislav (Slava)
Medianik Garik Krichevsky
Gennadiy Zharov
Grigory Leps
Dmitry Eurich
Eugene Kemerovo
Elena Vaenga
Jeka Zinovy Shersher
Ivan Kuchin
Ildar South
Katya Spark Love (Luba)
Michael Krug
Michael Tanic
Michael Sheleg
Osya Solntsevsky
Petljura Sergei Nagovitsyn
Sergei Trofimov (Trofim)
Stas Mikhailov
Tanya Tishinskaja
Yuri Diamonds
group Amnesty
group Belomorkanal
Group White Eagle
group Brothers Pearl
Group Butyrka
Group Convertible
Group Lesopoval
group Hitcher

In Russian:
Имена шансона
Александр Дюмин Александр Кальянов Александр Новиков Александр Розенбаум Анатолий Полотно Аркадий Северный Борис Сичкин Валериан Василий Лазарович Вика Цыганова Вилли Токарев Виталий Аксенов Владимир Асмолов Владислав (Слава) Медяник Гарик Кричевский Геннадий Жаров Григорий Лепс Дмитрий Юрич Евгений Кемеровский Елена Ваенга Жека Зиновий Шершер Иван Кучин Ильдар Южный Катя Огонек Любовь (Люба) Успенская Михаил Круг Михаил Танич Михаил Шелег Михаил Шуфутинский Ося Солнцевский Петлюра Сергей Наговицын Сергей Трофимов (Трофим) Стас Михайлов Таня Тишинская Юрий Алмазов группа Амнистия группа Беломорканал группа Белый Орел группа Братья Жемчужные группа Бутырка группа Кабриолет группа Лесоповал группа Попутчик
posted by nickyskye (24 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it's not that everyone who listens to shanson is connected to the Russian mafia… It's more like a distant, Russified analog of gangsta rap. I think it's half-and-half songs about stable, affluent, lifestyles and songs about the cruel, arbitrary, dog-eat-dog world out there. Just ways for people to come to terms with their daily reality by mythologizing and encoding it.
posted by Nomyte at 11:57 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Russian prison folk" is a genre. My life is complete.
posted by cmoj at 12:18 PM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Portland, Oregon, for clarification.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:23 PM on October 24, 2010

Dammit. Wrong thread.

Uh... St. Petersburg, Florida for clarification.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:25 PM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Personally, I prefer a slightly different style of Russian music.
posted by Xezlec at 12:27 PM on October 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


To build on Nomyte's point, it also sounds like it's coming from a similar place as narcocorridos.

In the English-language tradition, we have the highwayman ballad (which have been written at times by the highwaymen themselves, most famously by Bonnie Parker).

I seem to recall that there is an Italian tradition in this vein as well, but my Googling is a bit slack these days.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:29 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

That Michael Krug- Kolschik song sounded like any European pop-folky music for the middle-aged that permeates the lip-synched musical variety shows that plague state-owned television when football isn't on.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:31 PM on October 24, 2010

Personally, I prefer a slightly different style of Russian music.

Great, now I have to watch this like ten times (again) to figure out all the lyrics. Meanwhile, for those unaware, the chant you hear in the song -- "HUI! HUI!" -- means "COCK! COCK!"
posted by griphus at 12:34 PM on October 24, 2010

Leningrad is one of my favorite bands, though I barely know any of the lyrics. They have a crazy energy, diverse instrumentation, and singers who sound like they are barely keeping their lungs out of their throats. It's not something I would play around unfamiliar people, as they often sing in the most offensive form of Russian slang.
posted by notion at 1:27 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best Russian song ever!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:28 PM on October 24, 2010

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2010

Also, Sidhedevil, you may be thinking of Calabrian folk songs celebrating the 'Ndrangheta.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:34 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Has anyone put together a post about turn-of-the-90s counterculture artists like Игорь Тальков/Igor Talkov?

USSR/Russia had/has a very fertile alternative and independent music scene. But as soon as one artist or band makes it, it gets idolized as the best possible. Everyone goes: "Band X is great! So au courant, so incisive! Why do we need bands A, B, and C? We already have X!" This basically reduces the typical layman's awareness of indie music to Talkov, Rozenbaum, Vysotsky, and Tsoi.

Such a weird, winner-takes-all musical environment…
posted by Nomyte at 2:48 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, borked link. Igor Talkov.
posted by Nomyte at 2:50 PM on October 24, 2010

Sidhedevil: La Musica Della Mafia
posted by The Discredited Ape at 4:08 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

> Michael Krug- Kolschik and Lesovopal- Sit Boy

Кольщик [kól'shchik] is criminal slang for a tattoo artist; Посидим, пацаны [Posidím, patsaný] means 'let's sit for a while, guys' (of course, it must be remembered that 'sit' in Russian carries with it the slang sense of 'spend time in prison').

Interesting links, thanks!
posted by languagehat at 5:27 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Interesting. I used to occasionally listen to Radio Shanson (on which, IIRC, I discovered Seryoga) during my commutes, but never knew of this connection with criminal underworld music. Thanks!
posted by vidur at 5:40 PM on October 24, 2010

I'm liking the shanson, but I'm loving Leningrad, and I must acquire some immediately. Any advice about which album to start with?
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 7:05 PM on October 24, 2010

Where's the "Tro-lo-lo-lo" guy? If that isn't Russian mobster music, stop the world because I want to get off.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:26 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The more I think about it, the more I'm bothered by the lumping-together of a bunch of different musical genres in this post. Granted, Russian music often presents itself as a dichotomy between over-produced pop and miscellaneous other things. However, I think a typology of shanson may be of help.

The OP is describing a very particular type of shanson — namely, blatnaya pesnya (блатная песня). Blatnaya is difficult to translate exactly, but it refers to people who operate profitably outside the law. It's not an entirely negative word, and combines the thrill of illicit activity with respect for astute business sense and willingness to do what it takes to get ahead. You can recognize many of these artists because they project the image of the wealthy, well-fed businessman. Aviator shades are optional.

Then there is "urban romance" / городской романс ("romance" in the original sense), which typically features the singer-songwriter's narrative persona as an experienced observer of life's sometimes-sordid realities. The subject material is less organized crime and more urban decay, sometimes moral decay or existential crisis.

This feeds into авторская песня/бардовская музыка ("author's song/bard music") more generally, which refers more to how the music is produced, performed, and distributed: by individual artists working alone, rather than in collaboration between a writer and a composer, neither of which may be the eventual performer.

In contrast with mass-produced pop, which was often created to be performed at festivals and competitions such as Jurmala and then televised or broadcast over radio, авторская песня was an outgrowth of самодеятельность ("DIYism," organized amateur artistic expression, such as community theater or band, encouraged in Soviet times). Artists, sometimes called "bards," performed to small audiences and gained popularity through word of mouth. This type of music, by necessity, was often characterized by simple instrumentation, often just a guitar, and the performers' rough, unpolished voices. These features were then elevated to symbols of authenticity.

The OP's tableau up above is essentially an un-representative grab-bag of this bunch of genres, as they've diffused, cross-pollinated each other, and intruded into pop culture, aided in no small way by the collapse of the Soviet regime and the sudden drop in the standard of living for large numbers of Russians.
posted by Nomyte at 8:12 PM on October 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I seem to recall that there is an Italian tradition in this vein as well, but my Googling is a bit slack these days.

You may be thinking of Neomelodic.
posted by acb at 2:23 AM on October 25, 2010

Nomyte, if you read the articles I linked in the OP, the topic of shanson is fleshed out in detail.
posted by nickyskye at 5:19 AM on October 25, 2010

> The OP's tableau up above is essentially an un-representative grab-bag of this bunch of genres

Instead of slagging the OP, who is not a Russian music expert and was just posting some interesting stuff on MeFi, you would have done better to assign the music in the post to your categories, which might actually educate people.
posted by languagehat at 7:23 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks, nickyskye, and I apologize for being too hasty. I'm glad some people found my comments interesting, but they do largely duplicate stuff from your JRL link. I just wanted to emphasize the diversity and heterogeneity of the musical movement, because I thought that your intro text connects it too easily and neatly to "the Russian mafia and criminals."
posted by Nomyte at 7:26 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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