Saturday, September 15, 2012


Music is highly important to Belarusian culture. It’s said that every Belarusian can play at least one instrument. (The music major in me is thrilled!)

During the renaissance days, most musicians worked as a skomorokh, which basically seems to me like a cross between a minstrel and a jester. They would make their money by singing silly songs and doing comedic acting. The main instruments they used were bagpipes, buben (a type of tambourine), balalaikas (a three-stringed Russian instrument with a triangle body), domra (a type of lute with three or four strings), and/or a gudok (a three-stringed instrument played with the bow, usually as a drone).

Skip forward a few hundred years.  Several Belarusian composers seemed to find their niche in classical music, especially in opera and ballet; in fact, most cities have their own opera or ballet companies. The first work of any significance is the opera Faust by Antoni Radziwiłł (a very famous name in Belarusian history, many recipes carry the family name).

Rock music is really popular, and most rock music is subject to vast amounts of censorship from the Lukashenko administration. Many folk and rock musicians have banded together to keep the messages of freedom and their opposition to this government alive, yet many have to play underground for fear of arrest in certain situations. They also have trouble performing in Belarus and are banned from radio airplay, having to travel abroad in order to give concerts on many occasions.

I have found a few of these bands on Spotify and more on YouTube. One I fell in love with is Lyapis Trubetskoy, whose music is fun-sounding ska music – one of my absolutely favorite genres of music! (Because everything needs a horn section in the background.) I also found the album Agitpop on iTunes for $9.99, so I’m super excited to add it to my collection. This video is to the first song off of the album, catchy at it is, I have no idea what they’re really saying (but I can only venture to guess). AND, my Cyrillic reading skills are really terrible after years of not studying; I can only recognize a few letters here and there. The
"cut and paste" or "stop-motion" style (whatever it's called) reminds me of Monty Python. 

And this video caught my attention at the cameos of some of the world's best known dictators. Kinda weird, kinda creepy, yet with the smell of satire that takes a certain kind of person to find humorous (like me). I kinda like it. The song's catchy anyhow. I really get the sense that the focal point of their music is based on an anti-dictator sentiment and freedom. 

I also came across another group called Krama, which is more of an electronica group. Now my husband and I debated on its specific classification. There were times when I could categorize it as trance, but he thought overall, it fell closer to the minimalist category. I could also agree with that. It makes nice music to work to. This is my favorite song off of this album. 

One band that is actually considered Belarus’ favorite band is called N.R.M. Unfortunately Spotify doesn’t haven’t themselves together on this and didn’t have any of their music. But I did find several videos on YouTube.

While it didn’t originate in Belarus, ballet dance is really popular. As mentioned earlier, most cities will have opera and ballet companies operating and giving regular performances. This could be tied to its close ties with Russia and that ballet is popular in Russia as well. Most dance schools in Belarus not only learn ballet, but they also are skilled and learned in folk dancing as well. And many of these schools learn dances that are not only native to Belarus, but also to that region (including Slavic dances, Ukrainian dances, etc.). Folk dancing is directly tied to folk music, and many times, the two go hand in hand (literally at some points). Most folk dances, I’m venturing to guess from what I’ve seen on YouTube, have a quick tempo and a lot of energy and acrobatics. Many include men and women dancing together in partners, but with alternating sections where men dance and then women dance, and coming back together.

One folk dance I came across (and there isn’t much information on specific dances, but there are many YouTube videos about Belarusian folk dances) is Lawonicha, or Lyavonikha. From what I could gather on a translated Wikipedia page (from the Polish site), the lawonicha is a dance characterized by its 2/4 time signature. One of its characteristic rhythms is /4-eights / 2-eights, 1-quarter / 2-eights, 1-quarter/, also called a trzytaktowa term. That also leads me to wonder if it consists of three-measure phrases. If anyone knows whether or not this is a three-phrase dance, please let me know because I find it interesting if this is true.

Up next: the food!

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