Category Archives: Russia

Black Raven

You won’t find a single word of English in it, but here’s an English question: what feeling does this Cossack song convey to you?

You don’t need to understand Russian  to play the game. Empathy is a universal:

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From the Contrabands to the Caucasus

It’s rare for a song to travel, untranslated, across continents, races and centuries, and to find itself widely cherished and beautifully sung in its new home. It’s extra surprising when long distance success is powered by one tiny word: go. In two different disguises.

Short, commonplace words are easy to misjudge when you sing in a foreign language. You can tip a whole song off-balance by putting too much or too little shape and stress into the little words.

I’d like you to try an experiment. An experiment with go.

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Choices: Boney M, Eartha Kitt and Ken Boothe

Each English word carries a world within it. A world shaped by time and human tongues. Love has been whispered into its perfect soft shape by centuries of human emotion. Say the word love out loud and feel it move slowly within your mouth.

The word love rolls back, from its first, warm, wide shape, back along your tongue, slowly, roundly, into the centre of your mouth. Love rests there, in the middle of your mouth, for as long as you wish. You hold it, then it leaves with the warm breath of its ve.

All words have a physical life. You enact each word when you sing it.

Now say the word sex. The word is short, quick and to the point. A sharp at the beginning, a fixed-length at the centre and the axe chop of an efficient, definite to end it all. Sex never reaches the warm centre of your mouth. It’s a word formed and finished just inside your front teeth. A blurt of sound. Over in the blink of an eye

The word love feels smooth and warm in your mouth; sex feels crisp and businesslike. The physical sensation of each word captures the difference between them. The word love was born in the mouth, to give shape and sound to tenderness. In all languages, the word for love is cosy enough to soothe a newborn baby and powerful enough to bind a mate closer.

In song, words are laid bare. Love is a generous word. It has a sense of humour. Rasputin can be Russia’s greatest love machine and it makes us smile. Russia’s greatest sex machine is a different imagining:

Continue reading Choices: Boney M, Eartha Kitt and Ken Boothe

The Human Antennae: how listening to Russian will help you sing Better English

When you listen to a new song for the first time, you listen hard. You listen for the Important Words, the ones that carry the emotional message.  If the singer is doing their job properly, even when the song is in a language that you don’t speak, you will still pick up the extra emotional charge of certain sounds within it.

Try this: here’s one of my favourite songs in Russian. Yes, Russian. Don’t be scared.  The singer makes the emotional charge available to you, as one human being communicating with another. Like a foreign language exchange student who goes home with a whole new stock of English swear words, you will feel the emotionally charged words leap out of the soup of unknowns.  Honestly. Have a go. Which word or words jump out at you? :

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