A Mobile Sense of Home: WOMAD Russia 2013 and Non Cadenza

Sasha Almazova of Non Cadenza (Saint Petersburg)

The Saint Petersburg jazz/soul outfit Non Cadenza is proudly announcing a new album in the world's most northerly city; it bears the same title as an introductory single, issued only two weeks ago. Both publications are called "Neprilichno," i.e., "Indecent." Lead singer Sasha Almazova adds a little context: "Despite the album's title, you won't hear anything improper or slanderous! The thing is that we live in an often absurd world - in a society where everything's either back to front or upside down. Things that used to be forbidden or considered indecent have now become commonplace. The same changes have happened in the artistic world, especially in music." 

Our music is deliberately performed [only] in Russian

A new interview with the Russian press has provided more detail: "If you take a look at Russian show business today, your success is probably determined by the number of ringtones you sell... Our story is totally different, however. We're closer to a lot of underground bands, really, in the best sense of that word. I never feel like we're truly successful, despite the fact we're constantly giving shows. I only ever feel like I'm giving 10% of my full resources! I just want to work more and more..."

Popularity, of course, depends upon the categorization of a recognizable, repeatable notion - fame is both qualified and quantified by something audiences want more than once. It requires a name. When it comes to branding Non Cadenza, the band insists on the peculiar designation "Russian soul."

Once more, Almazova steps forth with some helpful background information: "Why Russian soul? Well, all of us in Non Cadenza were raised on Western music. I mean Incognito, Ray Charles, or Earth Wind & Fire, for example. I myself listened to loads of female jazz singers. All that goes back to an African-American heritage. Whatever we produce is going to be filtered through our personal musical upbringing; the kind of singing I like best, the performance style that's dearest to me is soul. There may be lots of nods towards Western culture in our songs, but the music of Non Cadenza is deliberately performed in Russian alone. That's what we mean by Russian soul." 

Yarga Sound System (Petrozavodsk)

She continues: "You can't really define us as a bona fide jazz band - even if we've become renowned in those circles. But if you turn to the realm of pop music, people will say it must be jazz, because it's complicated! In other words, complexity immediately gets labeled that way. Whenever you hear a saxophone, that's 'jazz'! We don't seem to fit in anywhere - and that's why I decided we'd refer to ourselves as Russian soul!" 

We don't seem to fit in anywhere - and that's why I decided we'd refer to ourselves as Russian soul!

This use of non-membership as self-definition overlaps with another, simultaneous debate regarding the first WOMAD festival to be held in Russia. Founded in 1982, these events - dedicated to a "World of Music, Arts, and Dance" - have been associated with the pioneering efforts of Peter Gabriel and his colleagues: Thomas Brooman, Bob Hooton, Mark Kidel, Stephen Pritchard, Martin Elbourne, and Jonathan Arthur.

Over the ensuing 32 years, WOMAD has celebrated a wealth of traditional and fundamentally non-commercial performance arts at festivals in 27 nations. That list now includes Russia. "WOMAD Russia" just took place in the nineteenth-century, southern spa resort of Pyatigorsk, set among the Caucasian mountains. That address might suggest the proximity of troubled lands, such as Chechnya, and indeed the event did seem threatened by possible cancellation until a couple of large corporate and state sponsors helped to allay fears - or simply pay for security.  

Some of the attendees are already familiar to readers of FFM: Inna Zhelannaya, Pelageia, Yarga Sound System, Sergei Starostin, and Nino Katamadze. As the last performer in that list implies, many of these musicians came to Pyatigorsk from the edges of an erstwhile empire, where Russian is fading fast as a lingua franca. The branding of the event as essentially "Russian," therefore, is moot. Arguably the greatest distance was traversed by Zulya, a Russian-born exponent of Tatar music who has long been resident in Australia. She emigrated, in fact, in 1991 - the year in which the Soviet Union quietly fizzled out.

Zulya (originally from the Izhevsk region, now based in Australia)

Born in the Udmurt Republic and raised in Tatarstan, she assembled her own musicians after emigration. They now play under a collective name that mirrors Almazova's convictions about "complex," hybrid songwriting and the odds of mainstream success: "Children of the Underground." Their first collaboration persuaded Zulya, whose surname is Karmalova, 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." 


Zulya – Cradle Song (Alli-Balli)
Troitsa – Kotka
Zulya – Kubalagem
Pelageia – Ne dlya tebya (Not for You)
Yarga Sound System – Ptashki (Little Birds)
Non Cadenza – With a Final Breath

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