Distant Stars: K.A.T.Y.A., Cricket Captains, Shuma, and Misha Mishenko

Nadzeja Chuhunova (R) and Rusia, vocalists of Minsk's Šuma (Shuma)

A few months ago, the Belarusian neo-folk outfit Šuma or Shuma released a marvelous album entitled "Zhnivo" or "Harvest." One of the first––and most positive––reactions came from a local journalist who spoke with admiration of "Šuma's relevant folk catalog, combined with our own native traditions." The air of mild surprise in his text or review emerged from the fact that "Belarusian folk music––much like that of the Baltics––isn't exactly the jolliest of material. It's far from ideal for a party atmosphere or for club remixes... And yet, in my humble opinion, 'Zhnivo' is the most successful attempt to showcase Belarusian traditional music within the format of club tracks... This LP has absolutely taken a step in the right direction. And, for that reason, the authors are to be congratulated." Somehow, incompatible elements had been elegantly dovetailed; but how? Sonically or philosophically?

Folk tradition impinges upon the sacred core of our nation

Other commentators in and around Minsk spoke approvingly of the fact that: "Zhnivo"s success had come not from the inclusion of anything modish or modern. Quite the opposite, in fact; "There's a profound, deep sense of respect for the vocals here." Sure enough, in the words of a third Belarusian publication, "Zhnivo" was "not to be considered a remix album. Each composition is a self-contained work in terms of the voices, music, and sound design.... Taken en masse, this is important because any Belarusian project that manipulates native folklore will touch––unavoidably––upon matters musical, aesthetic, and political. That's because our common folk tradition impinges upon the sacred core of our entire nation, by way of its symbols, myths, rituals, and chants." 

One of Shuma's founding members, Rusia Šukiurava, spoke not long after the release of "Zhnivo" to Kroogi. She repeated a unique tag or generic marker employed elsewhere by her colleagues in Shuma: "Digital archaica––that means a reconsideration of archaic material within a digital setting. It means we're happy to make use of ethno [facets], electronica, bass music, chill-step, future beats, downtempo, and other trajectories. In some of our tracks you're also find dubstep, psystep, and other [especially modern] directions like ambient or IDM." 

As if more approval were needed for these ideas, they came from Saint Petersburg's folk-goth ensemble Fedor Svoloch'. "This is smart electronic material. [Despite sounding modern], it's by no means crude, and that's a major achievement. So much music nowadays falls into a standardized system of patterns. Here, on the other hand, everything is mature in tone. The melange of ethnic and electronic elements reminds me of the wonderful Moscow outfit, Volga."

Future relevance was assured by a meaningful relationship with the past.

Misha Mishenko

A related state of affairs surrounds the brand-new album from Moscow's instrumentalist Misha Mishenko. "I'm [merely] a boy who plays with the wind. My music is a tiny reminder of God. It's a reminder of something that's much greater than us in this world. It's a harmonious link between all living things and the stars." Mishenko has worked under several stage-names since 2006, when his debut recordings appeared. He views his modest, restrained persona against a humbling backdrop: he speaks of constant inspiration from "the [landscape of the] Far North with its boundless valleys, frigid, pure streams, and dormant volcanoes..."

That final noun takes us away from Russia to the peaks of Iceland, a place often referenced in Mishenko's catalog. Inspiration comes from far away.

Each artist is more focused on their own work, intuitions, self-awareness, and so forth....

The newest LP, simply entitled "Piano," has appeared against some discussions in the Russian press of where Mishenko's future plans might take him. By way of direct and striking illustration, Mishenko's ability to keep on composing depends––he says––upon feeling the weight of the past upon his shoulders. "Each year I reach some kind of creative plateau––but then I need to overcome it. You always need to do more than the year before. You need to do more, do things better––and therefore evolve. That's how you know matters are always improving. For that same reason, I'm always trying to compose [each day]––I'll write anything at all, simply in order that my brain stay charged. It needs to keep working. It's hard for me to say what'll be happening in ten years, because each new recording is a fresh experiment, too. Every release becomes a sort of minor revelation."

The past leads the present to overachieve.

The challenges posed––or benchmarks established––in years gone by have now led Mishenko to speak in 2015 of his craft not as romantic disorder, or wild flights of fancy even. Instead he needs constantly to plan and train. "By nature I'm actually something of a pedant; I try and make sure that everything is in its place. You need to be very organized when you're working on––and for!-–yourself, as opposed to working for anybody else. You try and handle your time with maximum efficiency. I certainly don't think that an artist needs to be 'crucified' in any [thespian or melodramatic] way. Artists are just a little odd, perhaps, or what you might call.… special individuals."

Mishenko then explains in intriguing and more detailed terms how an ongoing need to match composers of the past leads to him sometimes ignoring the present day. "I go on camping expeditions quite a lot, and whenever I lie there in my tent, I notice that bugs are walking all over the place. They crawl over one another without even being aware..."

Misha Mishenko: "Piano" (2015)

Why might that be important? "I mention it because people who are busy with creative work... well, we're just like those beetles... or like other kinds of insects. They pay almost no attention to whatever's going on around them. Each of them is more focused on their own work, intuitions, self-awareness, and so forth.... You could call that a kind of madness, but personally I consider it to be absolutely normal."  

Elsewhere Mishenko has referred to this self-absorbed activity as "seminal steps away from social existence." One's most important and inspirational interlocutors lie in the past, not in the here and now.

Far from considering himself a victim of prior notions or antique traditions, Mishenko instead takes a very different view. "A writer is always trying to put his experiences and convictions on the printed page. He has no need to proclaim them aloud. A composer knows––at the end of the day––that he has expended the maximum energy possible, in order that things sound the way they should. You squeeze everything possible out of yourself––and then you're done! The most important thing of all is avoiding self-deception."

An eye cast towards one's predecessors helps to lessen the danger of arrogance and/or shallow artifice.

Songs inspired by a beautifully wasted youth

A no-nonsense credo begins to take shape: "Many creative people will say they're tired from too much work––or routine––yet personally I reckon that's nonsense! A human being is an endless source of energy and knowledge. All your have to do is know what you want... and strength will come to you immediately." The same concepts can be found among even the youngest outfits. Take, by way of proof, both Moscow's Cricket Captains and Katya Rogovaya from Kiev, aka K.A.T.Y.A. 

Cricket Captains were formed less than two years ago and still define themselves in terms of a fraternal, easy-going foursome: no surnames are required––Mikhail, Mal, Yuriy, and Vladimir. "Without any one of them, the band simply would not be the same."  Following a debut LP, "Cyclone Party," there is now a fresh EP to declare with the applicable title, "So Joyful." One intriguing phrase in the band's PR materials states this month––in no uncertain terms––that their songs have always been inspired by a "beautifully wasted youth"! Prior horrors generate future harmonies.

Songs––born of the past––also hope to outdo it. Even the new Cricket Captains' EP is defined in terms of "what went unsaid in the [prior] album... The five tracks in December 2015 are actually five tales of how fantasies take shape within reality. They're constantly interrupting the normal flow of events." They nudge normality beyond its prior, dull constraints. 

Cricket Captains

A little earlier, Cricket Captains' vocalist, Mikhail (Morgunov) stated: "That was more than an LP, it reflected an entire lifetime, in fact. It included the two years that all four of us spent together. We invested so much in that recording. It ended up being a crazy cocktail of sorts; it was made from arguments, love, shouting matches, our friendships––and the music, of course."

Major effort invested in the present, inspired by a "wasted" past, has all helped to clarify potentials of the future. As Cricket Captains came to the end of those recording sessions for a debut LP, they announced:

Each of us had come to realize something about ourselves...and the future

"Once the mastering was done, we then sat down and listened to the LP from start to finish. It was a key moment for each and every one of us! We were all so fatigued and––only then––understood the full seriousness of what we were experiencing. We had already listened to every track so often that abstracting ourselves from the sounds was almost impossible. It wasn't until 8AM that we opened a couple of bottles of champagne––in order to finally celebrate. Each of us had come to realize something about ourselves...and the future."

Concerted effort, guided by the anxiety of various old influences, has made it possible to see new potentials for tomorrow. 

And then, in Ukraine, we encounter Katya Rogovaya, known now as K.A.T.Y.A and previously as the vocalist of Indie-Ya (aka "Інді.Я"). Proclaiming a love of India, France, "vegetarianism, philosophy, and love," the earlier ensemble was founded in 2008. Yet again, inspiration was taken from the past. By way of illustration, the small catalog of Indie-Ya on one occasion drew directly from a Bollywood movie of 1969, when––from a Russian and Ukrainian point of view––dreaming, romance, and whimsy were coming to an end. The Stagnation was well under way––as a result of which, the Indian films that reached Russia looked ever more spectacular––and worryingly distant. Something was unsatisfying about local life––and so a new identity was needed. 

Katya Rogovaya, aka K.A.T.Y.A (Kiev)

Thus we started investigating I-Y-A (Ия), born––as above––of professional challenges (and a host of legal nightmares). A fresh start would bring an upbeat tone. Rogovaya says this month of her newest material, included here: "The common thread between these new songs is a narrative of human relationships. The lyrics are rich in symbolism––and spiced with metaphors, too! They've been inspired by all the complications of love, wordplay, nature, and mysticism––together with a woman's strength and weaknesses." 

Each of us had come to realize something about ourselves...and the future

Now as a solo artiste and free from the aforementioned legal entanglements, K.A.T.Y.A talked in one Russian interview this autumn of how life on social networks does much to accelerate this process––of past dissatisfactions promptings future novelties. In fact, it is often said––both in Russia and the West––that social networks engender both anxieties and even unhealthy levels of self-loathing. "Over the last couple of years, I've been deeply involved with socializing online.Young girls, especially those who are still growing up or immature socially... they can get wrapped up in all that. It can even pose a certain danger to them..."

Hopes are needed to counter the risk of self-hatred.

In another interview Rogovaya has attributed all new material by K.A.T.Y.A to "tales of social interaction. Everything forms a kind of novel, with each song operating as a chapter. I touch upon themes of romance, jealousy, and the complexities of virtual interaction." Prior failures or frustrations are moved into a digital realm, in the hope of considering a superior alternative. Thus aspirations emerge "at the end of the difficult year––both for me and for the band as a whole." 

Against the backdrop of these fruitful, yet frustrating interactions, it's both telling and pleasant to hear Rogovaya conclude: "I'm glad that I live beyond the city limits. The sky is full of stars, the air is fresh, and you can even hug the trees! You can write songs as you stare at the fir trees outside. I love being in a state of peace and quiet. I really don't like conflict." As erstwhile experiences and adventures create a desire to sing of better harmonies and desires, ones ability to gaze far beyond the city limits can only be a plus. 

Only failure gives rise to such fortitude.

Multiple personalities. K.A.T.Y.A: "Who I Was" (2015)

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