A Past Reconsidered: Miglokomon, Zulya, Crossworlds, and Avis

Zulya (Z. Kamalova) and the reconsideration of a 1924 silent classic

It's hard to imagine a Russian-speaking performer today who reflects that nation's ethnic diversity more than Zulya. She is an established and widely respected exponent of Tatar music who has long been resident in Australia. Zulya emigrated, in fact, in 1991 - the year in which the Soviet Union quietly closed shop. Born in the Udmurt Republic and raised in Tatarstan, she assembled her own musicians soon after emigration. They now play under a collective name that mirrors her convictions about "complex," hybrid songwriting and the odds of mainstream success at home: "Children of the Underground." Their first collaboration persuaded Zulya, whose surname is Kamalova, to place aside any dreams of an English-language career in primetime media. "I soon decided that so-called 'world music' was my forte. After all, I was a foreigner myself! I hadn't paid much attention to Tatar music before that; I also hadn't yet realized how important it would be for me." 

A third reworking of a prior timeline is evident in the springtime catalog of Lithuanian chanteuse Migloko (Miglė Vilčiauskaitė), who has now started to perform under the related moniker of "Miglokomon." Probably the most common phrase used to promote her work in prior years was: "A tiny girl with huge blue eyes and the longest eyelashes in the world." Relying on those descriptions, we seemed in the past to be closer to the heroines of wordless manga or babyish introspection than to the noise of our daily, adult drudgery. Respite was sought in youth.

Taking one step back from that juvenile imagery, though, a festival two summers ago in Lithuania advertised her as somebody who sings "against a backdrop of [adult] retro-melodies. Her voice may sound childishly naive, but her lyrics are more redolent of early stage schizophrenia." To some listeners, her trademark movements back and forth between a native tongue, English, French, and offhand free-styling would make that parallel with mental disorder reasonable enough.

I still think my songs are like nursery rhymes

Breaking all records with regard to banality, one Lithuanian journalist asked not long ago whether Migloko and Miglė Vilčiauskaitė are one and the same person, or simply different roles. "Is there any difference created by using different names?" she asks, before embarking a brief celebration of endless difference(s), specifically in the form of mental instability. "Despite all his jokes and black humor, say, a schizophrenic individual is still one person." 

It was precisely this unstable or kinetic aspect to the 2010 debut album that made it so appealing; а hodgepodge of jazzy styles, performed in various languages, none of which are afforded any "academic" respect. Concrete thoughts, lines of rational debate, and even clear enunciation were all handed over to a playful runaround through disparate influences. The most common parallels drawn by Vilnius magazines have been with Amy Winehouse and Elvis Presley(!), whereas a more logical choice would surely be Lily Allen or Little Boots, for reasons of age, appearance and aesthetic.  

Miglokomon (Miglė Vilčiauskaitė): "Power Egg" (2015)

The tedium of today is swapped for endless imprecision. Change becomes an antidote to moribund stasis. "I didn't realize I was an exceptional songwriter. I still kind of think my songs are like nursery rhymes - little [fickle] ditties that I write for myself..."  In a world of strict rubrics and narrow generic constraints, nursery rhymes and directionless ramblings can be very powerful indeed.

A round of applause for inconsistency and contrariness.

At a recent arts festival Groningen, Migloko was asked how her childlike imagination operates outside the studio. She immediately grabbed the interviewer, and involved her in a slow spinning dance on stage. The two women were soon bound together by microphone cables, which - said Migloko - represented "eternity." She then launched into an impromptu song on the workings of timelessness, as seen from the viewpoint of a fused, singular body. Fantasy is always ready to challenge the dead weight of fact; improvisation provides an exit from inevitability. The best tools for managing that escape come from childhood, a time when unfettered thoughts enjoy the greatest liberty. 

These common threads of retrospection, wistfulness, and some desirous corrective to actuality all appear - slowly - in the discography of Avias from Minsk. Any discussion of imaginative liberty from Migloko, say, is presaged in earlier Avias PR materials by an emphasis upon the opposite; there's a tendency to outline the band's formative years in the hands of destiny. In other words, from these Minsk performers we learn that any biographical ups and downs, be they private or professional, are always fated. And so, according to the same logic, individual, voluntarily expression will grow harder over time, because fate slowly reveals its (grander) designs.

As time goes on, volition starts to look increasingly unimportant. Hope begins to take a serious battering. There is, however, a solution - one hinted at by Crossworlds.

Miglokokom at the recent album presentation

Quoting from Avias' own biography (and with a little editing), we might unearth the following admissions and declarations about the workings of time: "Early in the summer of 2010, four young people came together through a twist of fate. They planned to work hard towards a great and common goal. None of them knew what the future would bring, nor could they indeed predict anything. (To this day, they're unable to do so!) Nonetheless - little by little - the musicians' plans are starting to mature. And, simultaneously, their [professional] activities are starting to take shape - so their levels of interest are increasing, too." Here, though, the same bond transpires between (struggling) free will and (ascendent) fate.

The members of Avias talk of unflagging effort, big plans, and growing interest - yet still they add: "There's no such thing as a 'lucky accident' in life. All 'coincidences' in time and space occur because they have been predestined." If so, then the significance of concerted effort certainly seems moot. Diligence grows - sounding louder as it does so - but private plans fade quickly in the grip of providence.

All the way from sadness and depression to hope, easy-going fantasies, and an experience of love

Now, in July 2015, the Belarusian press is reporting on a new Avias mini-album, "Acoustic," in a different tone. We begin with some traditional references to this quartet's interest in "hopelessness or the futility of dealing with the world." Such were the overriding themes of 2013 and the early Avias LP called (in translation) "Trash." "My entire life is rubbish," said one band member: "Music, literature, cinema. It's all garbage." A local folk tradition is then discussed, according to which the trash of a recently deceased individual must be left untouched in that same residence, lest something moribund be thrown out into the world. Bad luck is infectious.

And then, last year, came the second LP: "Colors." Now, at least, the grim tones began to alternate with something called "the essence of diveristy." Journalists in Minsk interpreted that to mean "a variety of emotions common to everybody - all the way from sadness and depression to hope, easy-going fantasies, and an experience of love." Still the ongoing influence of Seattle 90s' rock was manifest: the slacker pose or sulky aesthetic of grunge was forced to shoulder low, yet burgeoning levels of happiness. 

Avias (Minsk): "Acoustic" (2015)

And now, all of a sudden, that same jollity becomes more pronounced in July 2015. Frontman Roman Sukhotsky says: "Our primary goal this time around was to make the LP a little 'poppier' and generally softer in tone. Especially when it's compared to our [more raucous] live sound." Sukhotsky speaks of one representative track on "Acoustic" as being "structurally simple and harboring a life-affirming mood. It touches upon various issues: the passage of time, love, our illusions, and solitude." 

A community project to harbor a life-affirming mood

It would appear that a primary influence in this shift from fatalism to incipient self-determination comes by way of what Avias call "community" effort. The selfishness or loneliness of modern enterprise is balanced with a return to pre-adult systems of empathy and understanding. Teams can dream of that which often escapes or eludes individuals. Sukhotsky, in more direct terms, speaks of the new Avias album "Acoustic" being made with many friends as a "community project." Support and collaboration were offered by neighbors. They included several outfits well known to FFM, for example Re1ikt, AkuteThe Toobes, and Russia's Moi Rakety Vverkh. The more, the merrier - quite literally.

And so - all across the new and geographically disperse recordings from AviasZulyaMiglokomon, or Crossworlds - a fleeting sense of liberty is gradually discerned and fostered. Freedom is found in several locations, some of which are real, while others are imagined. None, however, are found in the here or now. Hope always lies elsewhere. Zulya, for example, reconsiders the romance of early Soviet culture and silent science fiction; the two members of Crossworlds look back even further, to the harmonies of a pre-industrial Ukrainian landscape. Miglokomon in Lithuania turns to her childhood for a freedom from adult burdens and the dead weight of common sense or convention.

For Avias the solution seems simplest of all; a Belarusian discography renowned for melancholy and a Seattle grandeur eventually lightens in tone, thanks to the institution of "community projects." Friends and colleagues - on a micro-social level - help to reconsider and replace the lumpen, macro-social metaphors of fraternal effort that failed over twenty years ago. A disappointing past is rectified with a past reconsidered. 

Avias and the general readiness to get moving


Migloko – Boom Child 7x7 (as Miglokomon)
Migloko – Golden Paya (as Miglokomon)
Avias – Mezhy (Borders)
Zulya – Saniya (as Starship Z)
Crossworlds – Searching For You
Avias – Tak ili inache (Anyway)
Zulya – Top this Ship (as Starship Z)

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