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Oh Early on Ivan’s Day (Pesnyary)

I have been exchanging a lot of videos recently with a friend of mine, who eventually said: ‘You send me English and French musical videos, but what about Russian ones?’

I was somewhat lost for words, to be honest, not because sending something in Russian has never crossed my mind, but rather because I felt I would need to explain too much, which could kill the joy of liking something just because it is likeable. Another point is that Russian (or Soviet) music scene has never been completely cut off the “Western music”. Indeed, it was difficult to get access to it, but surprisingly, those rare contacts seem to me to have been more beneficial for the musical progress, than Russia’s current openness to the Western musical trends. Then, of course, one can say that until recently the Western music was better, so no wonder its influence was benigne.

There’s a plenty of good Soviet pop and rock songs out there, which I could translate and put up here. But I opted to introduce you to one of my favourite musical groups, a Belarussian band called Pesnyary. Pesnyary (the final syllable is stressed) means bards, and the group’s speciality was modern arrangements of Belarussian folk songs, as well as original songs inspired by the Belarussian folklore. Since their formation in 1969 by the now late Vladimir Mulyavin, the band has seen many changes in its membership, but their creative vision has remained unrivalled. They covered several Beatles’s songs and put Shakespearean sonnets to music. They composed larger musical pieces, including an opera and a masterful interpretation of Robert Burns’s cantata, The Jolly Beggars.

The song posted here is called Oh Early on Ivan’s Day, and is an arrangement of a Belarussian folk song dedicated to the Midsummer Night holiday, which is celebrated on July 7 (St John the Baptist Day). It opens with a stupendous a capella, and the use of harmonies mesmerises you later on. It has got some medieval overtones, which yet again might remind us that medieval music has got a lot to offer to a musician. I intentionally left Belarussian/Russian equivalent to the name John, Ivan, in the title. The picture shows a performance of this song on Soviet TV in 1971.



official website (in Russian)
Wikipedia entry (in Russian)
a site about the band (in Russian mainly)
– about the band at PNP Records (in English) – a very good overview of Pesnyary’s inventive musical outlook from a records collector from St Petersburg.

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