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Music / Otava Yo

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Otava Yo are a Russian folk rock band formed in the Leningrad/St Petersburg region in the early 2000's, specialising in reinterpreting old Russian ballads and folk songs, or else taking out-of-favour Soviet-era songs and reworking them for a post-Soviet Union age. To date they have released seven LP's and are developing a growing fanbase outside Russia. The band have also won plaudits for creative excellence in the production of videos for their keynote songs, winning Best Music Video awards at prestigious contests in the USA and Britain. The seven core band members are musically versatile, some being able to play multiple instruments, and the band's sound is based on a combination of electric guitars, acoustic stringed and traditional Russian instruments. The group emerged from an older Russian folk collective called Reelroadb, augmented by instrumentalists who had learnt their craft as street buskers in Leningrad.

Core members:

  • Alexey Belkin – vocals, bagpipes, gusli, zhaleika
  • Alexey Skosyrev – vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar
  • Dmitriy Shikhardin – vocals, fiddle
  • Yulia Usova – vocals, violin (2011–present)
  • Lina Kolesnik – vocals, violin (2019–datenote 
  • Petr Sergeev – bass drum, darabouka
  • Timur Sigidin – bass guitar (2009–ca. 2019), replaced by
  • Vasiliy Telegin – bass guitar (ca. 2019–present)
  • Denis Nikiforov – drums (ca. 2019–present)

Former, ocassional, members and band associates:-

  • Svetlana Ben, vocalist
  • Jaungur Djushviili, percussion and drums
  • Volodmya Lazerson, Scottish bagpipes and woodwind
  • Natalia Vizokikha, violin (2003-2011)
  • Natalia Nazarova, cello

такие тропы!

  • All Drummers Are Animals: Petr S cultivates an air of other-worldly "strangeness" as if he's two or three steps behind everybody else and has to run to keep up. This aura of being the weird one is played in so many videos that it can't be there by chance or accident; if anything strange or perhaps Fortean occurs in the videos, it will occur around Petr. (His apparently developing a third hand to play a complex drum-beat, for instance, as in Cossack's Leginka)
  • Anachronism Stew; Happens a lot in the videos. A Soviet-era bus complete with inspiring pictures of Lenin is still picking people up and taking fares in modern St Petersburg; and several different Russias drawn from over a century collide and mix in Cossack's Lezginka.
    • In Timonia, the setting is a rural estate administered by an eccentric Baron. This and the period costumes suggest it is pre-1917. But the estate has modern tractors hauling carts.
  • Arcadia: A recurring setting for the music, and accompanying videos, is a timeless Russia where people are either pre-revolutionary village muzhiks, or else have gone back to the land to recreate a simpler older Russia. The video to Иванушка-рачек (Ivan the Crayfish) is set in an idealised Russian summer with an extended peasant family living barefoot on the land and dressing in a way that hearkens back to over a century ago. The video evokes the idea of "Rodinia" - Mother Russia, sustaining and nurturing.
    • Alexei Belkin says the theme of the videos is one of visually creating an idealised Russia that is a fantasy, a "non-existent ideal world", which he describes as a half-remembered world of childhood.
    The courtyard of my childhood, an ideal world to be shared".
  • Bilingual Bonus: Otava Yo is Russian for aftergrass, defined as the first new growth to appear in a field after the harvest has been brought in and the stubble burned off. It also has a colloquial meaning of "aftermath".
  • Checkhov's Kazoo: There is a custom in live gigs where a variation on a theme of Chekhov's Gun comes into play: If a kazoo is on a musician's neck during a concert, it must be played.
  • Clothesline Stealing: An incidental detail in the video for Sumetskaya, set in a peasant village in the country, involves Yulia Usova being distracted from hanging out her washing, enabling a furtive-looking Dimitri Shikhardin to sneak in and steals what looks like women's clothing items from the line, then looking both ways and sneaking off.
  • Dance Line: A seriously big one emerges in the video for Посеяли девки лён ( Maidens Have Sown the Flax)
  • Dumb and Drummer: The general weirdness that is Petr Sergeyev.
  • Eerily Out-of-Place Object: Not that eerie, but Scottish fans in particular can be pulled up short by the sight of Alexei Belkin in Russian traditional garb - playing the bagpipes. This is not the first musical instrument that outsiders would associate with Russia and Russians. Russian fans tolerate the jokes about "evidently a MacDonald on his mother's side" or "Clan Campbell Cossacks" with weary patience, then point out the bagpipes, or an instrument like them, can be found universally and are just as much Russian as Scottish. note .
  • Emotionless Girl; Yulia Usova's other default face when she isn't smiling.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: Alexei Belkin's bagpipe solos.
    • In fact, an associate of the band, woodwind player Volodya Lazerson, is credited with bringing the Scottish bagpipes to Russia and introducing them to Russian folk music.
  • Folk Rock: A Russian version, reviving old Russian folk-song in an idealised vision of city and country, or else repurposing the better Soviet-era songs with reworked lyrics and a new focus. Some of the songs, such as the ''Finnish Polka" anthem used to close every live performance, verge on Folk Metal.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: Otava Yo are as Russian as you will get - but when members of The Pogues joined them onstage and Alexei Belkin started to sing Irish folk songs in a strong Russian accent - it got surreal. The band do tend towards the Celtic end of Europe and are not shy to throw in something Irish or Scottish.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: The song Girls Returning From A Pilgrimage, in which Ignashka The Thief does this to Vasilisa and her friends and gets a sound beating for his impudence from Vasilisa The Bloody Annoyed.
  • Good Old Ways: The videos and songs set in a timeless arcadian Russia of at least a century ago.
  • Homing Projectile: In the video to The Street-cleaners (Дворник) there is a duel between the main protaganists played out as if it were an old silent movie. The bullets fired hit everybody but the intended targets. The bullet's point of view is followed in slow-motion; one shot veers away from hitting one of the street-cleaners after it apparently reads a caption hanging in the air saying "Vegan". It appears to deliberate in the air for a moment, then swerves off and presumably takes out a meat-eater.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: In the video to Cossack's Lezginka, a girl from the middle 2010's, exploring a ruined mansion in the Russian countryside, finds a full length mirror. To the perplexity of both herself (and her mirror image), she sees herself - in the costume of maybe a century earlier, and heavily pregnant.
  • Nobody Notices The Bass Player: Timur Sigudin was an inobtrusive presence who stood or sat at the back, or to one side and just got on with it, a role inherited by Vasiliy Telegin.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: the video for Ой, Дуся, ой, Маруся (казачья лезгинка), or the Cossack's lezginka, is seen from the point of view of an old man reliving his younger days. The song is a nostalgic call-back to an older Russia with the band and its associates alternating between modern dress and traditional costume; an old man restores a WW2-era Ural motorbike which is driven away by Dimitri S and Vassily T, who don WW2 tankers' helmets in lieu of crash helmets. Then the video goes back further in time suggesting a period even earlier than the Soviet Union as two girls explore a derelict pre-Soviet wooden church, allowed to crumble into ruins. The two girls plus Yulia U are seen in traditional costume offering hospitality - then they fade like ghosts as a house door swings open behind them revealing not the building interior, but the open sea beyond the house. As the song fades and ends, the scene changes to the old man who is playing a worn and scratchy vinyl record on an old-style phonogram; the final choruses are heard repeating in a distant, muffled, scratchy way, suggesting he is alone in his workshop replaying his fading memories of a long time ago. The melancholy remains.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The video for the song Что за песни (What Songs) has an eerie, haunting, other-world association about it, beginning in relative normality and introducing more and more surreal elements. The young man on a long bus ride is seen to drop off to sleep and wake up several times, suggesting he is only dreaming of the beautiful girl who keeps appearing and dissappearing. As well as the repeated nightmarish elements that keep preventing him from getting closer to the girl. The suggestion is that he is trapped in dreams-within-dreams, nested Matryoshka Objects. However, he is certainly wide-awake for the denouement, at the side of a lake in the cold drab light of dawn.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: An award-winning song and video that drew attention to the group outside Russia involved a young man who becomes obsessed with a beautiful girl who he pursues, discovering at the end she is not human - she is a rusalka, a freshwater mermaid who delights in luring young men to their deaths.
  • Scatting: Dvornik (the Snow-Clearer) has closing lines to each verse plus a chorus that depend on nonsense syllables and raspberry blowing.
  • Shirtless Scene: The video for Sumetskaya features village men in the rural hinterland of Pskov (near St Petersburg) dancing, performing feats of strength, and play-fighting with and without their shirts on, while the band play music for them.
  • Slapstick: the video for The Street Cleaners is set in St Petersburg sometime pre-1914, and is deliberately presented as a silent movie comedy short, in which a Love Triangle plays out while the band take on the roles of lowly snow-shovellers watching and acting as a chorus on the action. Many indignities happen to the female lead.
    • Timonia is a gentle giant who is manservant to an eccentric Baron and who has to do just about everything on the estate. As he is also a bit clumsy and hamfisted, accidents happen.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Fiddle players Yulia Usova, followed by her then-temporary successor Lina Kolesnik, each stood out as the only woman among five or six men.
    • Averted in Timonia - Yulia and Lina are both playing with the band in this video. From the band's anniversary concert in May 2021, Lina and Yulia are regularly performing together with the band, looking as if Lina is now a permanent member.
    • And in the 20th anniversary concert in July 2022, Alexei made a point of announcing Yulia and Lina as co-equal members of the band. Dimitri S has also quipped that the line-up of the group now has his worst nightmare in it - two lady violinists so good they show him up as merely an enthusiastic amateur.
  • Standing Between the Enemies: The video for Дворник (Dvornik, The Street-Clearers) is played out as a silent movie comedy, set in St Petersburg in sometime pre-1914. A rather fussy and prissy woman is courted by two love-rivals, who eventually fight a duel over her. As all the bullets go horribly wide of the intended mark and slay all the snow-clearers working around her, she bravely steps between them, raises her hands to them and declares "Enough!"
  • Street Musician: The band started this way, playing in the streets of St Petersburg not so much for the money as for the practice and to hone their skills as a group. And for the sheer pleasure of playing. The only member of the band with a formal musical education, Yulia Usova, recalls that in her last year as a student at the prestigious Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory, she took her violin out with her and asked if she could join in. note 
  • Telephone Polearm: The Russian version of caber-tossing is demonstrated in the video to Sumetskaya.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: Largely averted. Even when their live gigs mean that everybody gets up and dances. The video for Sumetskayanote  features young peasant men engaging in dancing and play-fighting, accompanied by the band's music, and only once gets anywhere near the kozachok. On the other hand, there is the live version. Which has an unseemly amount of squat-dancing.
  • Travelogue Montage: the band's videos make great use of the countryside and scenic beauties to be found in the St Petersburg area, as well as the city itself.
  • When She Smiles: Yulia Usova in "serious mode" displays a face which to outsiders is the epitome of dour poker-faced Russian-ness. Then her joyous pinball smile lights up.
  • Women Are Wiser: In the video for ''Dvornik" (the Snow-Clearer), the hapless lovelorn student whose coat is set alight by a carelessly-flicked-away cigarette runs screaming in panic. He bowls over two snow-clearers, who shake their fists in anger and give chase. Other snow-clearers join in the chase. The one woman in the snow-clearing team (played by Yulia U) sees instantly what the problem is and blows her fire-alarm whistle. She also evades most of the trips, slips and pratfalls, and when the men are floundering, beats out the fire with her broom.