Time to make hits

Belarusian Pesnyary state ensemble releases new album called Happiness, including songs inspired by early verses of Belarusian classical writer Yanka Kupala

By Kirill Yevstigneev

Vyacheslav Sharapov is the band’s director and artistic leader, responsible for the move.

Vyacheslav, what kind of songs do you rate most highly?

I prefer those which stand the test of time, remaining popular over the years. I think we lack artistic councils now, which were common in the past. As a result, our modern broadcasting is filled with works which are rather repetitive, with no redeeming features; they lack thoughtful lyrics or memorable melodies. They are like nails being knocked into the brain! Belarus has no radio stations which choose their playlists via aesthetic censorship.

Which of your pieces touch listeners’ hearts do you think?

In the first thirty years of ‘Pesnyary’ existence, until 2000, the repertoire included 30-40 songs which were timeless, suitable for any audience and in any place. During our fourth generation, we’ve produced about five such songs: our version of Oginski’s polonaise, ‘Knyazhna’ (Princess), ‘Litvinka’ (Lithuanian Woman), ‘Lya Zamkavai Gary’ (Near Zamkovaya Hill) and ‘Zhnyaya’ (Sickle-Woman). Frankly, we didn’t aim to create songs which would be immediately appealing, preferring to perform old songs, without recording any new ones. It seemed that we could do this for a long time. We don’t compose songs to tickle our vanity, seeking applause. Rather, when we enrolled new young artistes in 2003, our major task was to set up a band which would be able to play and sing live, continuing the work of our predecessors and making a worthy stage show.

People will definitely search for hits in your Happiness. Did you create the album to be a compilation of songs united by a common idea or mood? Or is it a global concept?

Of course, the album aims to show our best artistic skills and we wanted it to be stylistically diverse. We also wanted to show that Kupala’s poetry is diverse when accompanied by music. The disc has some jazz pieces, in addition to those performed in Latino style, alongside modern classics and rock. It combines classic poetry with diverse genres of music. After releasing a national album, we’ve begun recording songs which we think audiences will enjoy singing along to.

There are some possible hits — such a Zhnyaya...

You are probably right. It must be a revelation for many Kupala lovers that ‘Song of a Bell Ringer’ — previously seen as a revolutionary anthem — is rather a rollicking song about a strong young man when performed by us.

Aren’t you afraid that Yanka Kupala’s passionate fans will oppose your arrangements? For example, a guitarist plays Santana in your Forest Lake…

This song was composed and arranged by Roman Kozyrev. Like other musicians, he freely expresses his ideas. Audiences can decide their own opinions. During our Minsk premiere, we measured the duration of audiences’ applause and saw the longest after this song. The same situation was observed in Brest.

It seems to me that our programme has four potential hits: not smash-hits which remain popular for only a short time, but songs which will endure. I think it’s high time that ‘Pesnyary’ composed such songs.

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