The quietest sounds in today's selection come from the furthest location - Novosibirsk. Those distant, often frozen streets are home to singer-songwriter Darya Shakhova, who performs live as Darya Diez. Were we looking for some centralized source of biographical information, things might be difficult. Shakhova, when asked on one networking profile to upload a few words about herself, simply dispatches readers out into the ether. "Go anywhere that links may lead... to materials written by anyone with something to say!"
Nonetheless, despite that modesty and unwilling self-promotion, a few details can be ascertained. Shakhova has been playing both violin and piano since her childhood. After years of endless lessons, continued by parental will, she would enter Novosibirsk's Musical College and - simultaneously with that higher education - play live with an ensemble of her own making. Since 2011, however, most stage shows have been arranged for Shakhova in her newer role or guise as a solo performer - i.e., as Darya Diez.
These sounds remind me of the freedoms and beauty in an idealized world...
As the numbers of on-stage artists and colleagues lessened, the lyricism grew. Isolation started to breed introspection and foster fantasy. One observer has remarked: "These sounds [now] remind me of the freedoms and beauty you'd encounter in an idealized world." Reverie, however, does not guarantee calm. "The same songs can sometimes turn stormy, even crazy." Thoughts of a superior life come fleetingly and are (re)sought with considerable vigor.
Rather, though, than surrender to that abstract, impressionistic tone, it makes more sense to use an interview recently given by Darya Shakhova to the Siberian press. Here she describes the worldview behind her "extremely minimalist" output. "The arrangements are maximally simple, too. I [simply] play on whatever instruments I know." From an initial point of maximum, muted retreat, the sounds of confidence are tentatively increased.
Darya Diez (Darya Shakhova)
Her arrangements may indeed seem deliberately hushed or restrained, but Shakhova tries to maintain the widest and most liberal tastes possible. A broader palette is used to engender degrees of trust; increasing styles imply a wary engagement of broader audiences. "I like all music… except completely idiotic styles, of course... I even like quality pop stuff. If it's made with heart and soul, then you'll feel it. That means I like some of [Filipp] Kirkorov's work, for example. And [mainstream composer] Konstantin Meladze is a total genius, if we're talking about domestic pop. He writes such great songs. It doesn't matter who performs his work - it'll always be a pleasure to listen."
"Heart" and "soul" are the benchmarks of perfect interaction; the songs inspired by them leave the best impression. The world of which they (naively) speak, however, is fragile. For this reason, Shakhova then extends the importance of constant stylistic inclusion into a different realm altogether. "I hope my songs find listeners who want to hear them. The kind of people who'll discover themselves in my words. Because, at the end of the day, what am I writing about? About love. And love is God." Harmony, sympathy, and spirituality all dovetail - in an ideal world.
At the end of the day, what am I writing about? About love. And love is God
Once again, this snowballing romanticism comes from solitude. The best environment for Shakhova to compose is "when I come home from work, in the evening. You might simply feel inspired by the day's events - the things you've just been through. Those same events may have been problems or some cause for joy... You just try to relax and 'catch the signal'" of some incoming creativity. Noiseless solitude prompts musings on "beauty in an idealized world," something that's apparently impossible to imagine from 9 to 5.
This relationship between individual enterprise and sweeping romance - between detachment and freely imagined drama - can be found elsewhere this week, specifically in the impressive new material by singer-songwriter Nadezhda Novosadovich. Although an increasingly well-known figure in Moscow's concert life today, she is originally from the distant city of Astrakhan - roughly 1,400 miles from the capital.
Novosadovich, like Shakhova, was guided through music at a young age, but her experiences developed far from any classroom. Her parents performed in an ensemble that traveled far and wide across the late Soviet Union. These adventures, together with Nadezhda's own gypsy heritage, found early expression in her childhood verse and lyrics, which were performed on the Astrakhan stage. Her self-expression, in other words, has always been tied to public trust; her selfhood has been defined - and judged - under the bright lights of small stages. That's a tough environment for any youngster. Detachment from such clamor would prove appealing in time.
Her decision to take a youthful skill-set to Moscow was not initially successful. Novosadovich felt that neither her appearance, nor her desire to sing songs from a male point of view, were marketable options. Consequently, she found herself operating more as a songsmith than on stage. A retreat from live work - in the direction of a writing desk - proved successful. She has penned hit songs for a wide range of Russian mainstream pop stars; Russian-language versions of US musical films have also benefitted from her translations. The resulting compositional - and managerial - experience away from the public eye even led, happily, to a long-term working relationship with ageless Latvian chanteuse Laima Vaikule.
A composer, poet, playwright, radio presenter… in fact everything on earth!
Quietly - at home and in the background - the more lyrical, solo material continued to be written. In fact, since 2008 Novosadovich has been increasingly dedicated to the promise of a one-woman career. When her debut album was presented to the Moscow public a couple of weeks ago, she was showcased for new audience members as a "composer, poet, playwright, radio presenter… in fact everything on earth! She has been through countless roles." The path to social confidence and acceptance has been long and winding.
The themes for this album grew in calm pauses between noisy tasks. Left alone in peace and quiet, creative potentials slowly grew to fruition, amid Moscow's deafening demands. Solo work allowed for an unfettered imagination. Some of the comments recorded at Novosadovich's launch party capture this connection between creative solitude and plenitude rather nicely.
"This is a woman who hurries to live!" said one of Novosadovich's on-stage colleagues. That phrase, for many Russians, will recall the (rather sad!) example of Pushkin's romantic hero, Eugene Onegin, but it at least draws a clear line between solo songwriting and a snowballing desire. The same phrasing echoes the "stormy, even crazy dreams of an idealized world" that we've seen develop in a Novosibirsk apartment. Social absence makes the heart grow fonder of certain ideals.
The sentimentally maximalist aesthetic of a miniature project was announced by Novosadovich from the stage: "Celebrate this new CD for me. Do me proud! I'll sing - and you can start drinking - but not the other way around!" Approving of that committed work ethic, another of the visitors in the Moscow audience declared: "The main thing is that [this or any] music corresponds to your life." The professional, carefully crafted and starry-eyed stories of one stubborn romantic have clearly found a wide resonance.
The main thing is that music corresponds to your life
As if slightly wary of boundless reverie, the Moscow band Grisha Liubit Grushu tag their own songs as "romantic kitsch." Together for almost four years, these three musicians - Zhenya Belaya, Mitya Repin, and Grigorii Golikov - have been playing live since 2010 and are now announcing a debut album: "Vse Den'gi Mira" (All the Money in the World). One early review has suggested how the romanticism of "GLG" relates to that of Novosadovich: it pulls back from noisy, often indecent actuality in order to imagine something better. "Pushing against the misery and tastelessness of our surroundings, these artists are obliged to romanticize everyday existence and find beauty in places were it really shouldn't be."
Darya Diez's "idealized world" reappears here - it's just a lot harder to find.
Grisha Liubit Grushu (Moscow)
What results is an attempt to save small, desirous voices from civic hubbub. Support is voiced for what that same early review called "the little people of a big city. They may seem dull and uninteresting at first. But GLG reveal the emotional profundity of these [everyday] folks. We see their fears and suffering; we [finally] appreciate their love and sense of isolation. We recognize their universal woes... and simple human happiness, too." The easy-going attitude of Western pop seems to have fallen away. The stormy emotions we heard from Darya Diez are reiterated. Championing the cause of "heart and soul" in a heartless environment is never easy.
Thankfully we start with a light-hearted explanation of the band's name, which apparently grew from a vandalized version of lovers' graffiti. Golikov himself once scrawled upon a Moscow bridge that he loved a girl called Ira; with the deft (and uninvited) change of a few letters by a stranger, that phrase immediately became the ensemble's nonsensical moniker.
Just as that naive, heartfelt sentiment tried - unsuccessfully! - to survive a social intrusion, so GLG would like to use their songs to "romanticize" some everyday heroes, battered by similar rudeness. Little people in these songs are imagined "anew." They're liberated from the real - and rough - world. The musicians themselves in the Afisha interview draw a related parallel with the way that peasants have been depicted in Russian folklore: nineteenth-century reality was extremely harsh, but romantic songs and fantasy of the same period together wove a much prettier picture.
For that reason, and somewhat surprisingly, Belaya says that GLG is a project based "more around ideas than music." This recourse to folklore as a way to save dignity and dreaming is also evident in the career of Minsk outfit Morfe'. Founded by Armenian percussionist and composer Hovhannes Avanesyan, Morfe' is committed to a "synthesis of folk, jazz, and avant-garde" trajectories. These are collectively mapped out - via the "profundity of folk music" - by colleagues Anatoly Taran (accordion), Andrey Minkov (clarinet), Vova Beher (drums), and Alexander Efimov (double bass).
Together these extremely gifted artists have graced various stages not only around Belarus, but also in Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Finland. A debut album has just transpired as a result of those widening efforts, "Ziziaq."
There's an ocean of music around us!
In a recent interview, Avanesyan listed all the folk conventions and national customs that are used throughout Morfe's discography: multiple traditions, each rich in fantasy, are employed in order to counter the failings of normal experience. Avanesyan, according to a related logic, declares the worst possible fate a musical collective can endure is surrender to the (paltry) values of that same quotidian existence: "Anything that's hackneyed, worn out, or irrelevant." The aesthetic values of songs, apparently, reflect the characters of which they speak. In order to avoid - and improve upon - such woeful grayness, folkloric romance is revisited and reinvoked, over and over again. "There's an ocean of music around us!" It may be old and forgotten, yet it proves itself richer than anything contemporary.
Nothing, holds Avanesyan, lifts the biographies of small, insignificant figures beyond humdrum better than timeless folklore. And so Morfe' turn, in the words of one Russian-language radio station, to "mystical melodies that are combined with the rhythms of the modern world." Folkloric narratives of magical transformation, full of minor characters and major (happy!) wizardry, make the possibilities of some "unknown, distant atmosphere" seem a little more likely. As the title of Darya Diez's album suggests, it's all a matter of "probability." Quiet, secluded romantics have greater faith in the likelihood of dreams. Nobody tells them otherwise.