Russia Gets the Blues / Edition 1

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Michael Urban chronicles the advent of blues music in Russia and explores the significance of the genre in the turbulent, postcommunist society. Russians, he explains, have taken a music originating in the "low" culture of the American South and transformed it into an object of "high" culture, fashioning a social identity that distinguishes blues adherents from both the discredited Soviet past and the vulgar consumerism associated with the country's Westernization. While adapting the idiom to their own conditions, Russia's bliuzmeny (bluesmen) have absorbed the blues ethos encoded in the music by their American forebears, using it to invert their social world, thus deriving dignity and satisfaction from those very things that give one the blues.Based on more than forty interviews with blues musicians and fans, nightclub managers, and others, Russia Gets the Blues reveals the fascinating history of blues in Russia, from the initial mimicry of British blues-rock to the recent emergence of a specifically "Russian blues." The gradual mastering of the idiom in Russia has been conditioned by the culture of the country's intelligentsia, a fact explaining why, on one hand, bliuzmeny feel compelled to proselytize on behalf of the music, to share with others this treasure of "world culture," while, on the other, they perform blues almost exclusively in English—which almost no one understands—and condemn any and all efforts to make the music commercially successful.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In a book of comparatively short length, Urban and his collaborator Andrei Endikimov . . . not only trace the history of the blues in Russia, but place them in their historical, political, economic, and sociocultural context."—Neil Edmunds, Russian Review, April 2005

"An elegant, accessible seven-chapter volume that invites the reader to explore the key personae and paradoxes that comprise Russia's world of blues. . . . Urban blends an analysis of the role of Soviet cultural elites with the hard times that these very elites have recently encountered as nouveaux riches capitalists have altered the supply and demand of art, literature and music to suit their hardly refined tastes. As they strive to remain true to the original, throughout the book blues performers reiterate their goal of educating the public about the universal appeal of a genre that, in its unrestrained expressions of plain and passion, eschews commercialism and celebrates freedom."—Fran Markowitz, Soyuz: The Research Network for Postsocialist Studies, November 2004

"This fascinating study clearly shows the previously unacknowledged edged role of blues to offer solace and hope in the turbulence of post-communist Russia."—Pamela Margles, WholeNote, February/March 2005

"Tracing Russian blues from the late 1960s to the present day, Michael Urban provides the first extensive account of its history and complex internal struggles. Blues culture in Russia—the First Moscow Blues Festival, the Arbat Blues Club, and the Dr. Blues Radio Show of the 1990s—is situated in a nuanced, comparative argument about the roots of slavery and serfdom, drawing on a range of cultural-studies theorists to foreground its connections to both alternative communities within the second world and to the global music industry. Both scholars and blues aficionados will find Urban's book an engaging read and an invaluable resource."—Nancy Condee, Department of Slavic Language and Literature and Director, Graduate Program for Cultural Studies, University of Pittsburgh

"This book riffs on the postsocialist blues, with a groovy blend of ethnomusicology, sociology, and politics. The 'Russian soul' gets a major makeover as Urban places Russia on the world music map for the first time."—Mark Slobin, Wesleyan University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801489006
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2004
  • Series: Culture and Society after Socialism Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Table of Contents

1 Why blues? 1
2 First encounters 28
3 Moscow blues : musicians and their music 43
4 Moscow blues : sites and sounds 70
5 St. Petersburg and the provinces 88
6 Identity and community 114
7 Politics 136
Notes 153
Index 173
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