Some of you may know I have been spending a lot of time in Siberia Russia teaching, writing, and performing. Russia has 8 time zones and over 200 nationalities. This country is nothing without paradoxes such as Putin getting a divorce the same year he declares to be the “Year of the Family”, and the winter Olympics being held in Sochi, a summer get-a-way destination for Russians. However. I want to tell you about something I just witnessed that you may never hear of… but it’s the biggest rock and roll story in Russia since Pussy Riot.
The Russian version of “The Voice” just completed its second season. I watched both seasons as I find the big dude in the aviators, Alexandar Gradsky, (the first Soviet “rock star” who is also classically trained as an opera singer, of course) to be pretty interesting. The blonde female judge is a famous Russian folk singer, the queeny dude is a pop singer, and the sexy guy with the open shirt is a famous “sexy guy with open shirt” Russian singer/composer too. Not to be trite, they are all accomplished artists.
Anyway this woman Nargiz Zarikova came on and changed the game completely singing and connecting in a way that couldn’t be stopped week after week. She sings like her life depended on it, everyone else in the competition sang like musical theater.
This was her audition, singing Still Lovin You by the Scorpions:
I was like “Oh hell no!”
First of all she is from Uzbekistan (formerly part of the Soviet Union and an outsider by Russian standards) and the daughter of a famous musician but the Russian political control of the stage led her to leave Russia to find performance opportunities in the USA. (She lives in NYC now!)
Second, women don’t look like her in Russia really, especially on the national stage, and this show is broadcasted on the “first channel” which is Putin’s network so this is BIG from my perspective.
So she comes back to Russia, auditions for The Voice, the judges are fucking speechless, then week after week she freaking KILLS it with absolutely no competition.
She Kills the Ballads (Russians are sentimental as the day is long):
And the Rock Anthems:
I’m reading posts on blogs in Russian where people are writing things like “When you sing, I feel freedom for the first time!” and “When you sing, I feel like something will change.”
Yeah. Dangerous stuff …
… and all of this is happening legally, with the whole country watching, on Putin’s channel!
You KNOW the Kremlin was thinking WTF because the winner of The Voice competition has “Miss America-like” duties for the year, appearing on behalf of the nation at the Sochi Olympics and other official events sponsored by the state.
I think she knew they were gonna not let her win, so for her final tune before the “vote tabulation” (let’s face it, these competitions seem fixed in every country) she went out like this:
(“The Show Must Go On” might still be on the Russian music charts, as they fucking love this Freddie Mercury song here.)
In the end, they chose a blonde, blue-eyed 25-year-old operatic baritone from Belarus. A safe Russian choice, while some continue to argue that the decision should have been made for the best singer, not to preserve Russian culture.
All is well… or is it….
I check her FB page, and it looks like she might have started a revolution from the inside.
I fucking love this stuff. I love music that connects and transforms, heals and changes things. Honestly I can’t see Nargiz singing to Putin, and I know Putin is breathing a sigh of relief perhaps… but I believe she really started something as the unstoppable runner up in the competition.
Look for her in NYC!
LaFrae Sci sits on the board of directors for Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls; she was one of the founding members. She’s also a faculty member of the Middle School Jazz Academy at Lincoln Center. Lately she’s been teaching orchestral jazz in Siberia, a program so popular both the U.S. and Russian governments are helping it grow. For Sandra Bernhard’s musical comedy show, The Bad And The Beautiful, LaFrae became the first female drummer and musical director in Broadway or off-Broadway history. In 2009 she spent five weeks touring Romania, Albania, Monte Negro, and Bosnia sponsored by the state department and Rhythm Road (formerly known as the Jazz Ambassador program) with the Eli Yamin Blues group. A jazz, rock and session drummer, road dog LaFrae has played with Melvin Van Peebles, Bumblefoot, Burnt Sugar, Irene Cara, Hot Caramel, Lucid Nation, Mung Jung Bushi, and many more. At a concert in Poland she once had tens of thousands of audience members sing her happy birthday. In 2013 she performed for President Obama at the White House.