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Bard (Soviet Union) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Outlaw songs

These songs, known in Russian as blatnaya pesnya, or more recently as shanson, originated long before the bards appeared in the Soviet Union. Their origin can be traced as far back as the first decade of the 20th century. While not differing much in style from other bard songs, these songs can be compared in their content to modern rap: glorification of crime and city romance. These songs reflected the breakup of the structure and rules of the old Russian society.

Since the 1930s, new outlaw songs had emerged from the Gulags. Many of these songs were concerned with innocent people who were sent to the labour camps, rather than with criminals. Some songs were actually composed in the camps.

During the Khrushchev Thaw years, many were released from the camps, and with them came their songs. Bards such as Alexander Gorodnitsky learned of these anonymous songs and started singing them. At that point, the songs gained a more symbolic meaning of struggle against oppression. Bards such as Alexander Rosenbaum also wrote many humorous outlaw songs about the Jewish mafia in Odessa. Many of these songs were inspired by authors like Isaac Babel.

Shanson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Russian Shanson - also spelt Chanson (from French "chanson") is a neologism for a musical genre covering a range of Russian songs based on the themes of the criminal underworld. This song style, called blatnaya pesnya ("criminals' song"), has been popular in Eastern Europe ever since its first appearance in the beginning of the 20th century. Shanson can be seen as one of two genres stemming from 19th century Russian city romance songs (русский городской романс), the other genre being the author song. The two genres are now quite distinct, but have overlapped significantly throughout the 20th century.

The earliest criminal songs in this style largely came about due to the crumbling Tsarist regime, but the style has changed significantly after the rise of Stalin, when both innocents and criminals were massacred and sent to labor camps.

Yet another change occurred during the Khrushchev Thaw, when the songs from the camps started reaching the public, performed by artists like Arcady Severny and Vladimir Vysotsky.

Modern artists affiliated with the Shanson genre often sing not in the traditional style used even by the Khrushchev-era performers, but more professionally, borrowing musical arrangements from pop, rock, and jazz.

Lyrically, Shanson songs are usually narrative-driven and are more similar to ballads than pop songs. In fact, this is one of the reasons for naming the genre after the French Chanson (the other being musical similarity).

Shanson themes vary greatly depending on the time in which the songs were written and the places in which they are set. For example, songs set in the Odessa of the 1910s tend to be more cheerful, and are sharply contrasted by the dark, depressing, and violent songs set in the Stalinist era. The interesting thing is that it is common for a Shanson artist, regardles of the time in which he writes his songs, to include songs of all periods in his repertoire, and write songs set in an era different from his own. This often leads to confusion: for example, the bard Alexander Gorodnitsky reports being beaten up once after claiming authorship to one of his songs, which was attributed to a Gulag inmate living over 30 years earlier.

Recurring themes in Shanson songs include:

As seen above, Shanson is rooted in prison life and criminal culture, but some Shanson performers insist that the genre transcends mere criminal songs, and look upon Alexander Vertinsky and Alla Bayanova as their precursors. Today Shanson can be more equated with American Country music. It is a mainstream style and has lyrics that tend to stress features such as loyalty, patriotism, male-companionship and traditional culture.

The musical style of the older Russian criminal songs, much like the Russian Bard songs, are heavily influenced by the classical Russian romance genre of the 19th century, more specifically a subgenre known as the City or Urban Romance. Romance songs are almost always divided into four-line rhymed couplets, rarely have a chorus, and follow a fairly consistent chord progression (Am, Dm, and E, sometimes with C and G added). The strumming pattern is also predictable: it is either a march, or a slow 3/4 waltz pattern often utilizing fingerpicking rather than strumming. Romance songs were traditionally played on a Russian guitar, since its tuning makes playing these chords easier (most of them are played as a single-finger bar chord).

Criminal songs were prominently performed by artists like Arcady Severny, Vladimir Vysotsky, Alexander Gorodnitsky, and Alexander Rosenbaum. Notice that with the exception of Severny, these performers are usually better known for their Bard songs. Arkady was one of the rare performers who focuses exclusively on collecting and performing old criminal songs.

Modern shanson performers include Villi Tokarev and Lyuba Uspenskaya (both based in the US), Sergei Trofimov and Aleksandr Novikov, Vika Tsyganova and Mikhail Krug (murdered in 2002 at his villa in Tver).

Recently bands like Ukrop (Change the World Without Taking Power) and Panch (Koleso Dharmy) are known as Anarcho-Chanson.

A more recent artist who playes shanson with Rock music is Grigory Leps.

Shanson fans are often referred to as 'Gop's (pronounced Gohp) or 'Gopnik's.

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