This summer I by coincidence saw that a book had been published about russkii shanson or blatnye pesni. Heard prominently on the streets of Russian cities this music has until now been academically neglected and this is to my knowledge the first monograph on the topic. Titled “Das Regime und die Dandys – Russische Gaunerchansons von Lenin bis Putin” the author Uli Hufen gives a nice historical overview starting in Odessa at the end of the 19th century and ending with a concert from 2009 performed by the singer Garik Osipov in Moscow. Written in a journalistic prose the author draws on interviews with central actors (amongst others Rudolf Fuks, Kostia Beliaev, Garik Osipov, Stanislav Eruslanov) as well as historical documents and – of course – music, especially the lyrics.
The book is grouped around four central chapters – each dedicated to a central performer who each had a major impact on the genre: Leonid Utesov, Arkadii Severnyi, Kostia Beliaev and Garik Osipov. Following these artists the central stages are Odessa, Moscow and Leningrad where the author not only focuses on the performers’ biographies, but also describes in great detail the songwriting, production and performance process as well as the cultural and political context.
By giving a nice insight into how songs ascribed to Odessa coalesced to the genre russkii shanson the book not only provides a point of departure for further research, but also a more general overview of popular music production in the Soviet Union.