Radio Africa

It took many, many years to move towards the modern day Bodhisattva that is Boris Grebenshchikov, also known to his fans as BG. The person that mostly formed our musical and spiritual searches. The person that just completed the translation of Bhagavad Gita from Old Indian to Russian. The person that has translated numerous texts from Old English to Russian. David Bowie’s friend and source of countless knowledge - BG. A contemporary poet, quoted by Boris Akunin and Viktor Pelevin; very familiar with the Japanese, Druid and the Slavic cultures; a walking encyclopedia. A patriarch, ageing with style. Boris Grebenshikov, or BG could be described in many different ways, but today we will be discussing just one of his albums — “Radio Africa”. An album that turned 35, but is just as vibrant, up-to-date, and new. 

An album, recorded with the help of a couple of bottles of vodka. Because that was the conjuncture. 

An album, featuring the “paralyzed” piano of Sergey Kuryokhin and the saxophone of Igor Butman. The first one — one of the great contemporary jazz pianists (RIP), and the second — one of the leading names in the contemporary jazz scene. And as a little side note — those are the only two names from the Russian jazz scene mentioned on the Penguin jazz guide. 

The beginning — the year is 1983. Melody’s portable studio came to St. Petersburg to record symphonic music. But local “agents” pull some strings, and suggest that new music gets recorded. With a couple of bottles of vodka serving as a bribe to the tone technicians — the door has been opened. During the day, symphonic music gets recorded, and during the night, the available musicians from “Aquarium” come to record. It is complete chaos. And in order to finish up the album and secure themselves another 24 hours — they pull out a bottle of Armenian cognac. That is how this masterpiece was born, a masterpiece that transcends time. 

There is a certain type of music that does not age. Because anthems do not age. Or as the main character in the movie ASSA by Sergey Solovyov said — “He is a God, he exudes radiance”. 

In reality - the meeting with BG almost ten years ago in Kiev left us with a feeling of magic. He was there, and he was not, at the same time. You could not describe the energy. The image in our head includes a traveling exhibition of a massive blossoming golden lotus flower in the central square of Kiev, and a true fan of Aquarium, jumping all over the seats in the hall. Let’s not forget the restaurant/library, where the books are the most important thing. And on our way back at the airport — waiting in line with the members of Aquarium. Quiet and elegant. All under BG’s reign. 

The nicest thing about BG is that he does not make a fuss out of himself. He hosts a radio-show every Sunday, where he brings us closer to the music that he likes. “Aerostat". That is where you would hear Thom Yorke, Bach, Shostakovich, Slavic Orthodox chants, and many other things. And you would need to read up a lot at home, otherwise he would remain a mystery. 

And BG plays, every day. In villages and cities, in gardens and parks. At the Royal Albert Hall, in New York, Tibet, Japan… he just plays. 

Time shows that any distortions in the music and the art in the name of other goals proves itself unfruitful. 

The album could hardly be cut into parts, because it is a movie. Groundbreaking, clever, rebellious. There is no part we dislike. You can easily find the whole album online. But today we focus on David Bowie’s favourite part of Radio Africa - "Another One Fallen Down”. A song, featuring a choir of Tibetan monks. The translation here is symbolic, because behind every word there is a hidden book. 
“Artificial light colors on paper -
This is so funny;
I'm alone again, like a true new romantic.
Maybe I'm sentimental -
That's my whim ...
Ironic end for
Who was any other way for so long;
The geometry of the scrap in crystal spaces;
I'm going to sing like a synthesizer -
That's my whim ...
... Another, fallen down,
Halfway up ...
Archangel rider looks after me;
Forgive me for what I was singing for so long ...
Another, fallen down”

We should not forget that the year is 1983. And its the Soviet Union. Today we listen to BG’s poetry, a choir of Tibetan monks, Sergey Kuryokhin, and Igor Butman, recorded in a van for a couple of bottles of vodka. That is how the great jumps happen. 

November 2019
Photo ©МА