Zventa-Sventana revolve around two women, Tina Kuznetsova and Alena Romanova. Behind them - at least technically and managerially - stands Iurii Usachev, one half of pop wizards Gosti iz Budushchego (Future Visitors).
The band has been together since 2005 and produced an album two years ago, but the jazz roots of their performance are also felt in a number of "improvised" side-projects, especially for Kuznetsova. Multiple ensembles have brought multiple influences together in Zventa-Sventana: Russian folk music, electronic flourishes or other high-tech frippery - and the jazz.
Both recipients of a classical musical education, Kuznetsova and Romanova have taken part in several ethnographic expeditions around Russia, all in search of bona fide folk materials. Especially fruitful have been trips to the village of Puzovka, near Tula. As the band put it: "You've got to bring these songs out into the open. After all, they're part of our life, our mothers, grandmothers... all the contexts and conditions of how we live."
You've got to bring these songs out into the open
When performed on stage, these ancient numbers are modernized not only with synthesizers, but also with stringed instruments, piano, and sax. The result can be heard above in "Oh, Lord" (Oi, bozha) the opening track from their debut album, "Stradaniia" (Woes).
Putting their collaborative style into words, Kuznetsova and Romanova say they work to the benefit of "Russian folk songs that transmit a certain spiritual state. It's something close to us all. The songs summon a precious, rare sense of unity, а togetherness with something both timeless and native."
Those mystical musings are captured in the band's name, taken from the philosophy of Daniil Andreev. His spiritual theories, written under the Soviets but hidden away for many years, included the figure of Zventa-Sventana, a divine feminine world-spirit who is the dual manifestation of "the Brightest and All-Good."
A recent interview defined this markedly female emphasis as part of a new phenomenon: "folk-divas." This category included Zventa-Sventana together with Pelageia, Inna Zhelannaia, and Khelavisa. "ZV" believe the gender imbalance is explained simply enough: "Modern folk is only now starting to come together. I don't think it'll inspire any great interest among men. There aren't that many male folk singers in Russia, and those guys who do sing tend to go for other styles."
Modern folk is only now starting to come together...
When asked why folk fusions are so popular, Zventa-Sventana added: "Balalaikas and other unpolished forms of folk instrumentation have had their time. You can say that about any style - for example Russian romances of the 19th century. What would have happened to all that, if there hadn't been the Revolution, if there hadn't been all those uprisings... the genocide of our nation and our music?"
"We don't know how things would have developed. But you can be sure that electric guitars would have found their way into villages one way or another. Shepherds' horns and all that would gone off into history. And I was born in this century. Why should I hide in the past?"
"Folklore for me, first and foremost, is songs. I don't think that Alena and I don't need to perform in ancient Russian costumes. After all - I'm singing; I'm not performing a ritual!"
To mark the birth of these nascent fusions, free of balalaikas, dancing bears, or bearded gоblins, this is a reworking by Zventa-Sventana of a traditional lullaby.