Digest of Russian media
‘It Was in Russia, That Means It Was a Dream’ – Russian Musicians Navigate Exile
June 18, 2024
The new album by Russian singer Elizaveta Gyrdymova, known as Monetochka, has inspired thousands of Russians to share their memories from before the war and in emigration. Shortly after its release in May, several songs, including the one titled “It Was in Russia,” quickly reached the top 10 on the Apple Music chart in the country.

“It was in Russia, that means it was long ago. It was in Russia, that means it was a dream,” Monetochka sings.

Like hundreds of thousands of her compatriots, Monetochka left Russia two years ago, right after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The sentiments expressed in her new song have resonated with many on social media. Fans translated it into English and posted countless videos with scenes from the past, which have garnered tens of thousands of views.

They feature archival footage of Alexei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov speaking at rallies, as well as events that indeed appear as a dream – completely inconceivable in today’s Russia – such as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky doing standup on Russian television for a 2013 New Year’s show; world celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Linkin Park, Billie Eilish and Rammstein, visiting Moscow; flight boards at airports with direct flights to Europe; and trains traveling from Russia to Ukraine.

Gyrdymova explained in an interview with TV Rain that she was surprised by the audience’s reaction: “I did not expect that it [the song ‘It Was in Russia’] would be so sad for everyone, that everyone would cry and hurt so much from it. I saw hundreds of TikToks where people are literally crying to it. But I wrote it with a feeling of acceptance where resentment and bitterness finally turned into pleasant nostalgia and these memories.”

Many Russian singers in exile have written new songs about Russia with political statements. In May, the popular rapper Oxxxymiron released a track called “The World is Burning” after being declared a fugitive by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

“In these times, the problem isn’t just jail time. They’re holding a gun, but honestly, bro: are you ready for war? I asked: are you ready for war? — No, maybe not…,” raps Oxxxymiron.

The track’s cover features a wanted poster of the rapper with “none” written in the nationality line. Following this, Oxxxymiron announced a new album titled Nationality: None.

The rapper has made political statements in numerous tracks over the past few years. One of the most popular is “OJDA,” depicting life during wartime and repression.

In this track, Oxxxymiron sends “greetings to the SK (Investigative Committee – RP) and the Prosecutor” and declares, “on our flag, there’s white snow and a blue river,” referring to the oppositional white-blue-white flag, which lacks the red stripe of the official Russian tricolor, associated by Oxxxymiron with blood and war.

Another well-known Russian artist, Noize MC, who also left the country after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, released a song in English this March, in which he criticizes the accusations of treason made on social media against musicians who leave Russia.

“Stop sinking; just think of your income, my star! Overseas, you’re gonna linger in a stinking backyard. No one needs you with your lingo in the Anglophone land. Better cling to the things that you truly understand,” sings Noize MC.

He also released a track titled “Cooperative ‘Swan Lake’,” which includes the line “I want to watch some ballet, let the swans dance,” referring to how looping videos of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake were broadcast on Soviet state TV during the 1991 putsch that led to the collapse of the USSR.

Earlier this month, Noize MC and Monetochka shared the stage with Ukrainian singers Luna, Ivan Dorn and Dakooka at the Music 4 Life festival in Warsaw. The organizers promised to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Gen.Ukrainian charitable fund, which offers psychological support to children affected by the war.

“I thought it would be somewhat sadder,” said festival-goer from Belarus to the Russian media Meduza. “I prepared myself emotionally to cry a lot, but I feel like the energy of the people gave more positivity and some hope for the better. After all, so many people are united by the idea that someday everything will be OK.”

Russian musicians in exile also took part in a concert on Alexei Navalny’s birthday on June 4 in Berlin, with all proceeds going to support political prisoners in Russia. According to Deutsche Welle, “a 300-meter line” of spectators formed outside the concert hall, while Navalny’s team reported that RUB 2,500,000, or around $28,000, was raised at the concert.

Novaya Gazeta Europe spoke with attendees and discovered that some had traveled from Russia just to listen to their favorite artists.

“I could not not come,” said Olga. “I know I will be crying the whole concert. The coiled spring inside me will not let go. I thought I would be able to relax, feel safe. But no.”

Novaya Gazeta Europe also interviewed Russian musicologist Anna Vilenskaya. In her opinion, political statements in music help people with similar views to cope with emotional stress tied to the war, regardless of whether they are in Russia or abroad.

“Everyone sits at home and thinks, ‘I am alone, I have 10 friends who share my views, the rest of the world is against me.’ If these people receive music that unites them with other like-minded individuals, they become calmer, more relaxed,” said Vilenskaya.

She added that though music alone is not a tool capable of stopping wars, it helps “overcome isolation, barriers and solitary grief, and move to action,” and that, in her view, this can lead to change.
  • Sofia Sorochinskaia

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