In the city of Samara is a female choir led by Dmitrii Kolevatykh: Roundelay. In the past this large outfit has been defined as follows by its one male member and ideologue: "Roundelay is a really democratic collective. We're all friends and I write the music. I tend to offer some guidance for the textual ideas, and my girlfriend also helps out. But... if somebody else wants to write a song and develop a special idea, we all support it. We set up general rehearsals and extract [from that idea] whatever's interesting."
Samara is at home to at least sixteen very talented people (Big Village)
This sense of emotional support is especially important in a large collective. The more people are involved, the more they need to feel included. Kolevatykh adds: "It goes without saying that certain problems emerge when you've got so many people in a band. The more participants, the more individual scenarios or lifelines you'll find among them. It's considerably easier to gather four people than ten or fifteen! Our choir members often get stuck in traffic jams [en route to rehearsals]... They might, conversely, just drive off somewhere, or do something entirely different. You must, somehow, hold all these lifelines together. That means being attentive to each and every person."
Roundelay were kind enough to answer some questions for us yesterday - and thus contextualize the appearance of a debut album, "Russian Melodies." It seems that the choir will soon be growing in size - and the most recent images, as we see below, would suggest that process is already underway. "The group will be adopting something of a more folkloric sound. We'll be adding male voices, together with strings and wind instruments. My other project 'Eva2' is also getting involved; they'll help to amplify our melodies and harmonies - while simultaneously giving our music greater clarity."
Roundelay, with Dmitrii Kolevatykh center stage, holding guitar
The "Russian Melodies" LP was apparently put together without major problems, but a certain perfectionism made matters tricky, nonetheless. "It did take a long time and each composition was built with great attention to even the tiniest details. As for the technical aspects of our studio work, we'd like to thank Krasnodar's Yevgeny Shukin [aka Feldmaus and Wols]. He really got a sense of what we wanted and blessed the LP with a genuinely special sound."
There are some wholly national traditions in what we do
Roundelay have been careful to position themselves as a synthesis of "European culture and a general Russian spirit. Put differently, we use various tricks and devices that have entered Slavic music from the West, but everything's interpreted in a particularly Russian vein. [So despite that debt to an internationally recognizable performance mode], it's easy to discern some wholly national traditions in what we do."
Somewhat surprisingly, given that potentially wide appeal, label support has not been forthcoming - until now. Kolevatykh himself admits: "I've yet to encounter a label or publishing organization that could include our work in its roster, but there's actually a silver lining in all that. It means we've developed a unique niche for ourselves."
That same uniqueness is felt historically, too: "For those of us who were born here in the late '80s, there's a discernible gap between our favorite music and the taste of anybody raised on the Russian rock of Bi-2, Splin, Chicherina, and so forth. There aren't many musicians or songwriters at the moment who reflect our contemporary, domestic culture. We certainly feel a demand from Roundelay's audiences to express that modern, local experience in our material! We're very keen on interpreting and vivifying those moments of our [shared, regional] childhood when we'd pretend to be Cossack rebels or sing around campfires in the evening."
The local press is undoubtedly enthusiastic, both in Samara and beyond. They have also given Kolevatykh a chance to describe the band’s genesis. “The idea of forming a group came to me one autumn evening in 2011… I gathered lots of acquaintances in order to sing in a choir. Some people already had that experience, while it was totally new for others. During the selection process, we really got to know the applicants and sometimes quickly understood they weren’t suitable. Conversely, some people were so perfect that – right away! – they’d ask about the first rehearsal date.”
“There can be long gaps between our releases, but there’s nothing surprising in that. Everything depends on our collective timetables. Things have to be convenient for everybody. But when it comes to live shows, things are more in the hands of concert organizers. And we’re up for anything!”
“There’s absolutely zero jealousy or competition between members of Roundelay. Quite the opposite: it’s really cool that everybody has their own private space for self-expression. That’s something I totally support, too! The new album is explicitly called ‘Russian Melodies’ because our music has the kind of harmony that reflects Russian culture’s contemporary state. It’s something close to our shared outlook. In fact, the actual language we’re using is of secondary importance.”
A potential harmony, be it real or metaphorical, is more important than one’s vocabulary. It's a happy state of shared responsibility or trust that's apparently lacking in the outside world. A long-lost ideal, even, one best voiced by a large group of friends and neighbors.
A current Roundelay avatar, keeping modernity at bay