Post-Soviet Fantasies and Protests

In the late 2011s to 2012, Post-Soviet Russia was filled with protests. These protests mainly seemed to be surrounding Putin, but also authoritarianism and the patriarchy and more. People dreamt of a new, better Russia than the current one and some dreamed of leaving Russia for some place better. When Putin sought to be re-re-elected after a four year gap, many people were upset. This type of reaction to Putin was not always the case like the song “A Man like Putin” shows, nonetheless it appeared people were not thrilled to have him back. As we have seen in class punk music is often the genre of music for protesting and this appeared to have still been the case in Russia. During this time period, a performing protest group emerged called Pussy Riot. It is debated on whether or not to call them a protest group necessarily, but that dives into the issue of authenticity and who has the right to declare something authentic. Pussy Riot sought to perform in very public places and record their performances so that they can upload their art for more people to see it. They sang against Putin and the patriarchy (and his connection to the church), pushing how men have seemed to dominate their country, as well as for the rights of gays and women. They sang loud, proud, face covered, bright-colored, and publicly. They performed on garage/jail house roofs to the Red Square to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Sometimes they were able to escape, sometimes they got reprimanded in varying degrees. The worse was after the performance in the church that resulted in three of the five remaining Pussy Riots in jail. Now for two of these three, they were released early from their two year sentence. It appears that they continued to perform as we can tell by “Chaika” that came out in 2016. However, this video strays greatly from their normal ascetic of visual art, as well as the music itself is much longer.

  1. Is Pussy Riot a punk band? What would make them a punk band and does anyone have the right to declare them one way or the other?
  2. In their song, “Death to Jails, Freedom to Protests,” they say that freedom is to the protests. Why are they saying this? What do you think it means?
  3. In “Words Will Break Cement” the author writes that this performance was not that successful. What are your thoughts on their approach?
  4. What are your thoughts on the videos of the Pussy Riots? Like the fact that the audio is pre-recorded.
  5. For some of the Pussy Riot’s performances the Russian police was seen ripping the masks off of the girls, beating them, etc. What does this show of the police force? Of the state of Russia?
  6. The Pussy Riots wore bright colors, masks, and danced in outrages styles throughout most of their performances. What is your take on their style and why they might have done this?
  7. What do the different songs show about Russia and its progression through time?
  8. In the video, “Punk Prayer,” one of the girls can be seen on her knees, praying, and crossing herself, (0.04, 0.15, 0.53). What is the significance of this? What is the significance of showing the church at the end? Why would they write a song praying to God for Putin to be taken away?
  9. Some of the things that are cheered for in the protests are feminists and LGBTs. What is your take on this?
  10. In “Russia, I’m a Patriot,” the characters in the video all appear to be dressed provocatively while wearing proper headdresses. What do you think is meant behind the costume work in this video?

Pussy Riot

I think that the punk genre is really fascinating because it gives freedom to its artist to express themselves completely unfiltered, in a way in which I think other genres do not. Pussy Riot is a perfect example of a punk group who catered to the fan base in Russia who wanted to see a change in their oppressive homeland. The Pussy Riot was an integral part of the protests happening in the country. I think that their group, in particular, brought people together, and helped to facilitate change by bringing music together with songs that were obviously provoking. The song “Putin Will Teach You How to Love” is a perfect example of a politically provoking song. The lyrics describe how Russian people are mistreated, mentioning the LGBTQ+ community especially, and how they are conditioned to “love” the motherland through fear and punishment. I think that “love” here is being used as synonymous with obeying. In the video, for the song, we can clearly see that Russian police officers are brutalizing the people, but in other shots, the singers are standing by the Olympic symbol and dancing with people in animal costumes. I think it would be interesting to discuss the significance of this artistic choice in class. Although I use the term artistic here cautiously because critics still debate whether Pussy Riot is an authentic punk band. I would like to get back to our discussion of authenticity but now in relation to Pussy Riot. Also, I think it would be fun to discuss what David Bowie would think of them.

Bulgarian Women’s Choir

Early in the reading, Buchanan refers to the “oppositional constructs at work” throughout Europe from the most basic level such as industrial vs. rural, to “West vs. East,” “socialist/communist vs. democratic,” and more (8).  However, while the divides can be seen in Europe as a whole when comparing country to country, Buchanan points out how these “dichotomies” are at work in Bulgaria and are “abstractions” that citizens are working through.  Given Bulgaria’s history and transition from a 43 year long Communist government into a democratic member of the European Union, these contradictions are reflected not only in the people but in the music.

               The Bulgarian Women’s Choir, as described by its conductor in the interview, sings contemporary arrangements of medieval music.  The first choir was said to be assembled by a famous Bulgarian conductor in the 1950’s in which women auditioned from villages around the country.  Today, the coloring of their traditional clothing is symbolic of Bulgarian history of the villages they are from.  Their voices are reflective of the traditional singing style of Bulgaria – there are six vocal ranges presented in the group, the voices are natural, and the way they sing is different than that of a Western style.  Yet, in the first video, we hear them end with Oh! Susanna blending their traditional Bulgarian style of singing with a Western song. 

               Throughout the interview, we see the conductor’s desire to share with others their history, traditions, and style of music.  She displayed her knowledge and was gracious for the invitation.  However, at the end of the interview, the men repeatedly congratulate each other on their discovery (of music that has existed in Bulgaria since medieval times) and the risk they took in bringing the choir to the United States rather than congratulating the women on their success and risk they took. 

  1. Did you notice the difference between their guttural singing style and the open-mouth style of Western singing?
  2. What other differences did you notice between traditional
  3. Do you think the choir is effectively blending the contemporary with the traditional music?
  4. How has Bulgaria’s communist history affected the existence and style of groups like the Bulgarian Women’s Choir?
  5. How has Bulgaria’s transition from communism to democracy changed the music and the culture of the people? Do we see any Western influence?
  6. Why did the men describe each other as having “courage” or taking a “risk” by bringing the choir to perform?
  7. In what way do the attitudes of the woman interview contrast with the attitudes of the men?
  8. Given the class topic is breaking barriers, how do you feel these women are challenging gender norms?
  9. With the time period, why do you think the choir was all women?
  10. How would the choir have been perceived differently if they had not all been women?

(so sorry this is late, my computer decided to update for the past hour!)

Bulgarian Music

When watching both videos of the Bulgarian Women’s Choir I thought there were some interesting similarities and differences. In the performance of 1990 on the Tonight Show, the women seemed less polished as a whole, and their sound was much more traditional and folky. Also, the host of the show was polite in welcoming his guest, but he didn’t seem to be too interested or well versed in their music. Comparatively the 2017 performance seemed more seasoned, and the music was more upbeat. The host of the show also seemed to be personally familiar and interested in the group. He even stated that he had been waiting for quite a bit of time to see this group perform (0:11). In both performances though the women’s voices are so powerful and they blend beautifully together. I was quite surprised at how strong the Bulgarian Women’s Choir was when they sang. I also found this group to be fascinating because I believe this is our first all-female group. I’m hoping that in class we are able to foster a meaningful discussion on gender and its place in this topic. Specifically, the Bulgarian Women’s Choir is interesting because they are an all-female group that have also won a Grammy for their album. Not only is this group interesting because of its all-female make-up, but it also has political importance. Bulgarian musical groups like this began to be beacons of democracy. As Bulgaria was finding its identity and sense of nationalism after being occupied so many times in the past the countries musical identity was fostered as well. Musical performances occurred at many political events and youth music programs were created. With a country that has a history like Bulgaria’s the impact that music had on them was enormous. They went from being a very poor country to having groups like the Bulgarian Women’s Choir performing internationally. These developments are all part of the transitions that are discussed in “Performing Democracy: Bulgarian Music and Musicians in Transitions”. In class, I would like to discuss if these transitions are clear in the difference from the 1990 performance to the 2017 performance? And if so how?

Paul Simon’s Graceland

The Apartheid was a political ideology that was backed by the National Party in South Africa. Though the original idea was for it to be a way for races to develop separately in an equal manner, in its implementation it can be more appropriately described as a hierarchy structure where races were grossly unequal. At a time where the rest of the world was starting to desegregate these laws appeared regressive to many other countries internationally, and a lot of backlash and controversy surround the Apartheid. During the 1980s around the same period as when Graceland was released some “reform” was happening to the laws in South Africa, but little actually changed. Also, this time period became the most brutal under the Apartheid because the government wanted to keep their power and ideology. Although Paul Simon found a connection to African inspired music, the influence of the Apartheid in South Africa is not directly referenced in the album Graceland that he wrote. Simon himself states in the article “Paul Simon’s Graceland, South Africa, and the Mediation of Musical Meaning” that he didn’t necessarily seek out the role of humanitarian trying to unite the races in South Africa. Louise Meintjes argues in the article that the power of his collaboration with African artists is impactful enough in combating social normatives that keep interracial and international collaboration from happening in music. However, my critique of this is that artists should have a certain level of responsibility to use their notoriety for social change whenever possible. In class, we discussed what level of responsibility artist should be required to have, if any, when we talked about Coldplay and the Clash. I personally think that Paul Simon could have done more to combat the social climate at the time, and the ambiguity of the album left something to be desired in my opinion. While I understand the limitations of the time, as mentioned by Meintjes, I still feel like the music isn’t inherently political to me. While listening to the music on the album I did hear subtle African influences in the sound. But, I wonder if anyone else in the class felt like the influence wasn’t as impactful as it could have been.

“A History of Apartheid in South Africa.” South African History Online. Accessed November 14, 2019. https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/history-apartheid-south-africa.

Meintjes, Louise. “Paul Simon’s Graceland, South Africa, and the Mediation of Musical Meaning.” Ethnomusicology 34, no. 1 (1990): 37-73. doi:10.2307/852356.

The Western Gaze – Kate Sullivan

As Louise Meintjes points out, “this idea of collaboration presented by the music is understood differently by various interpreters” (37). The concept of collaboration and how it ties in different people and styles and cultures illustrate the variability of any production and in this case, the variability of Graceland. Paul Simon’s Graceland was made in collaboration with many different American and South African artists, and the collaboration was on a large international scale. Paul Simon explicitly stressed that he created this album as a sort of cultural collaboration, “a cultural sociological point of view,” and not in fact as a political statement which his critics attempted to define the album by (39). Simon refused to say what political party he was supporting: “I cannot really endorse one in particular” (39). His inability to define his stand about South African politics allowed Graceland to be ambiguous and up to interpretation, and different groups used the album to their advantage.

            Liberal white South Africans saw it as a cultural bridge between South Africa and the United States even the world, while conservative white South Africans “embraced Graceland because of the changes (in their terms ‘improvements) Simon has introduced” to these traditionally African sounds (55). Black South Africans that supported Graceland saw it as an opportunity for South African culture to be spread around the world and allow South African artists to gain a foothold in the international music industry, but black South Africans that condemned the project saw it as cultural appropriation and saw Paul Simon as a “colonizer” of African sounds (50). Each group interpreted Graceland in their own fashion because their interpretations are shaped by their individual backgrounds and what they have been exposed to.

  1. In the song, “Homeless,” how is Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s sound mixed with Paul Simon’s?
  2. Do you think Paul Simon’s world tour organization was meant to be philanthropic or more for the image of Paul Simon himself?
  3. How did the album help white South Africans “construct a history for [their] local identity?
  4. How has peasant history and folk tradition helped mold national identity? How should white South Africans have used the peasant history and folk tradition to help mold their local identity?
  5. Why would the South African state support Graceland and play it on state radio?
  6. How was Graceland useful to conservative white South Africans?
  7. How did Paul Simon help the South African musicians that he collaborated with?
  8. What affect does the United States having control over the music industry have on music produced outside of the US?
  9. How does Graceland fit in with the rhetoric surrounding the cultural boycott of South Africa?
  10. Was Paul Simon a colonizer that exploited the South Africans that collaborated with him on the album?

Abbie Abraham-Music Identity/Punk Rock

The 1970’s in Britain was a decade of instability marked by rising economic, political and social tensions. The Labour Party was not able to keep the promises made in the post war period, the economy of the UK was declining, racial tensions were immense, and riots continued to break out. Of course when there is tension and instability, there comes some form of radical opposition and alas the British punk movement was born. The punk movement was a way for youth to express their anger towards the system that had been failing them. Having little economic opportunity, the British youth took on a mentality that created a subculture of rage and aggression that was expressed through ripped and tattered clothing and bad behavior. With punk as the voice of the angry youth, the Sex Pistols emerged as a figure head to represent them. Using a basic rock style, the Sex Pistols added their aggression to it creating music that not even the Queen herself was safe from. This movement rejected previous mainstream rock claiming that The Stones and The Beatles are over, and the Sex Pistols created a new genre of rock with an added sense of danger. For a period of time, everything the Sex Pistols made was followed by controversy and negative headlines. Although, the bad publicity only enhanced their notoriety which allowed them to become bigger and later becoming icons of this era.

1.) What do you make of Julien Temple’s use of Shakespeare clips throughout the Documentary?

2.) The Grundy Show Incident (41:00 in the Documentary): why was it so controversial?

3.) How did this incident affect the Sex Pistols as well as the Punk Rock Movement? Did this incident hurt the Sex Pistols or Bill Grundy more?

4.) Regarding “God Save the Queen”, many people saw this song as an attack on the Queen and the Monarchy especially because it was released immediately after her Silver Jubilee or the marking of her 25 year reign, but song writer Johnny Rotten has been quoted “You don’t write ‘God Save the Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.”

5.)Why do you think the Sex Pistols would focus their attention on the monarchy rather than the government who was actually in charge?

6.) Although the use of the swastika was not used with the same meaning as Nazis, what do you think of punk rockers using this symbol?

7.) What is your interpretation of The Clash’s White Riot… is it really politically ambiguous?

8.) Punk didn’t necessarily endorse anarchy, but they often reference it in order to create a shock factor as well as to take a hit at authority figures. How effective was this tactic?

9.) Why was RAR so successful and why was punk considered the heart of it?

10.) Although Punk is often labeled as corruptive especially to youth, what are some of the positive influences it can have on society?

Punk Rock

In comparison to David Bowie, who was political more so as a person than through his music, punk rock emerged as a political genre of music. This was the case due to the struggle between fascists and anti-fascists in the 1970’s in Britain. With the 1970’s largely being a decade of instability in Britain, it seems as if punk rock was the perfect genre to convey these frustrations and uncertainty. The Sex Pistols, with songs like “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen,” were one of these punk rock bands that chose to demonstrate their political stances through their music. Though Bowie was still performing at the same time and even said in his interview that he believed in “himself, sex, and politics,” I wonder why punk rock artists like the Sex Pistols chose to make their music political while other rock artists like Bowie chose to not. Perhaps, this was simply the nature of punk rock music; as a genre of the working class, artists may have began making music in order to spread their political frustrations whereas artists like Bowie were simply artists. It just seems surprising to me that there were artists like Bowie making general music while there was such political unrest at the time, but that may be why punk rock was so short-lived whereas other rock music stood the test of time.

David Bowie – Marissa Whitby

Today we will be talking about a very famous person named David Bowie. This man is many things, I would definitely describe him an interesting person. He started his career in 1962 and ended around 2016 around when he passed away. He was mainly known as a Rock and Roll artist. He called himself and liked to think of himself as an actor, which was pretty accurate considering the different types of characters he created/performed as. His most famous character was Ziggy Stardust. This was portrayed in 1972 through his album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. This persona was the start to a successful career for David Bowie. He continued to come up with more and more personas as time went on; he made it his “thing” and he loved it. Some other personas he created were Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, The Goblin King, and The Blind Prophet. 

David Bowie was many things/personas but one thing that he did was he just went with the flow. Many people were making assumptions of him, saying he was being gay or crazy. Yet, none of this fazed him. He’s iconic for not really caring about what others say. All he cared about was doing what he loved. Bowie explained in an interview with Cameron Crowe that his fans need to understand his progression with music. What’s funny is that Bowie didn’t give the people what they were asking for exactly, but what he wanted to be his own person which makes him even more unique. Bowie either knew what he wanted and produced it, or just simply went with the flow. 

  1. Do you think David Bowie would have been as famous as he was if he was just like any other rock singer?
  2. Do you think he was well respected considering the way he perceives himself?
  3. How did David Bowies queer sexuality and characteristics affect peoples perspective of him? Did this affect his fan base, or his life outside of these characters is? 
  4. Since Bowie claims he is an actor, do you think he was playing the role of Ziggy Stardust or is he Ziggy Stardust?    
  5. After reading about some of the characters David Bowie portrayed, do you believe some or all of these characters made up a little bit of him as a person? 
  6. How does he tell a story through his songs differently than other rock bands or musical artists? 
  7. Throughout Auslander’s article, how does Auslander describe David Bowie’s performances in theatrical ways? How does this translate after seeing it onstage? In the show, it shows David Bowie being a little funny and theatrical in a scene at 1:06:49; after reading the article and seeing him through this performance, do you believe he was an actor, performer, artist, or all of these?
  8. How was lighting used as a special effect in his shows? Do you believe this was effective through his show? Some specific places light was used dramatically were in,18:40 37:33 , 48:12, 1:01:47. Specifically in the Auslander article he talks about a moment that happens in 35:34 of the show.
  9. In Auslander’s article, he talks about Ronson and Bowie’s relationship. In the show, there is a clip at 50:55 to 56:12 that is talked about in Auslander’s article. What characteristics are they presenting? Does this show any characteristics that Bowie is perceived as having? What type of characteristics does Ronson show? How did this effect Ronson’s character on stage? 
  10.  After reading the interview by Cameron Crowe, I noticed that Bowie wasn’t really complying during the interview. He would either give very blunt statements or completely redirect the topic to something not as similar as what the interviewer was asking him. If David Bowie was going to be noncompliant why did he agree to do the interview in the first place? Why do you think he was being very incompliant?

David Bowie and Glam Rock

David Bowie and Glam Rock created a platform for music to be experienced in a different way than had been previously seen within “mainstream” music. He believed that every performance was a way to express himself, and he relied on various personas to make his music come alive, rather than solely performing as himself to an audience. As we saw in the video “Ziggy Stardust” he experiments with various makeup looks and costuming for his musical performances. I found it interesting that Bowie’s Glam Rock performances seemed to be so well received by the audience in the “Ziggy Stardust” video. I think my surprise came from the fact that my understanding of Rock and Roll was always that it was for younger generations of people who wanted to “stick it to the man”, to use a colloquial phrase. However musical theater, at least to me, was always perceived to be for wealthy people of an older generation. In the book Performing Glam Rock, the author Auslander states that musical theater and Rock and Roll had a tepid relationship beginning in the 1960s. As we had discussed in class before, Rock and Roll became an outlet for expression regarding the problems in the world, especially for the younger generations. Whereas, like Auslander states, the musical theater had longtime reflection a conservative political view that often aligned with political leaders’ ideological propaganda. So, for me to see these two things come together and be so popular it was very interesting. Now Bowie did gain some criticism because people from the rock scene didn’t buy his authenticity as a rock artist. Reading that people critiqued his music because they didn’t believe that he was dedicated enough to Rock and Roll music is where the connection to the other content from class solidified for me. Throughout our discussions, we have been trying to pinpoint how these different genres of music resonate with people politically, and even in some cases try to decide what “good” music is. Where Bowie is concerned I feel like people were trying to do the same thing to his music, but he wanted to create a piece of artwork that wasn’t supposed to be anything but entertaining. He even says that “what I’m doing is theater and only theater,” meaning it was meant to entertain an audience and allow him to take on other personas that weren’t is own. This does not mean that his music did not elicit any sort of political ideals. Bowie’s music, as well as his interactions with the media, spark discussions about sexuality, gender norms, and self-identity, unlike anything that was really seen before. In his interview with Playboy that is quoted in “I Have No Message Whatsoever,” Bowie discusses his sexuality, and how people have these many misconceptions about bisexuality. He also discusses how gender norms became apparent when he went to the U.S. and everyone just assumed he was gay because he had makeup on. I found this particularly interesting because in class we have seen gender appear before, but it was only in terms of binary genders and their corresponding gender norms. Where Bowie uses the term androgynous alluding to the possibility of gender as a spectrum. He even states that he was really the first person to start these conversations with an open dialog. It was fascinating to see the progression music has made from where we began to this current time period circa the late 1900s. I think it would be interesting to discuss these ideas that Bowie raises about gender and sexuality. Also, I’m curious to see if others in the class had any thoughts on the role of media and technology in Bowie’s Rock and Roll career.