Otava Yo (Отава Ё) Do You Love
Review by Andrew Cronshaw
In 1999 Alexey Belkin formed Reelroad, a band playing a rough energetic Russian take on mostly Irish music, at home in St Petersburg and also touring in the USA and elsewhere. They began to apply the same rumbustious approach to Russian village folk music, and Otava Yo emerged in 2003, first as a quartet of Reelroad members, then adding a second fiddler and bass guitarist.
They made entertaining videos in a village setting, and played in their trademark earflap hats and white vests at WOMEX in Santiago de Compostela in 2014, but I confess I was dubious; they seemed to be grabbing the music and visuals of the village and bashing out the music without going deep. They went down very well with audiences though, getting them up and dancing.
But I saw them live again this year, at Musafir festival in Ufa, Bashkortostan. The set still had great energy and the hats (and the vests, but under jackets Ė November Ufa is chillier than October Spain), but with much more musical subtlety than Iíd seen back in 2014, and the reception by the local Ufa audience and Musafir Forum international delegates was jubilantly, dancingly enthusiastic. At breakfast in the hotel the next day I was moved to go over and congratulate Belkin.
This CD is a good representation of that. The bandís gigging experience and deeper immersion in their material is reflected in the increased adeptness of arrangements and playing. The vocals are generally group, with instrumentation thatís a mixture from Russia and elsewhere: gusli (Baltic psaltery), fiddles, panpipes, Russian rozhok (wooden trumpet), various flutes and whistles, Galician gaita, electric and acoustic guitar, bass guitar, percussion, drums and more. For the CD theyíre joined on some of the nine tracks by balalaika, banjo and a bunch of other singers.
"Once Upon A Time..."
All the nine songs here are traditional, though the booklet doesnít give sources; it would be good to know if they come orally from living tradition - and if so where and from whom - or from collections. The opener, "Once Upon A Time On A High Hill," is a beat-skipping drinking song from a guest-augmented vocal chorus with chugging panpipes, followed by a jolly love song in the sort of minor scale 4/4 thatís popularly associated with Russian folk-song, and a mainly waltz-time-swinging song about making brooms in the village of Ryazan and selling them in Moscow for drink-money. Delicate picking of gusli and guitar with smooth entwining twin fiddles supports a pretty song about a young man, a young woman, a flax wreath and a kiss.
Thereís the tale of a lordís servant asked to make tea but, not having encountered it before, adding pepper, chives, parsley, flour and oil, and boiling it twice, resulting in being physically chastised by the lord and losing his bonus of five rubles, and, confused, thinking that the reason for the lordís displeasure was that he hadnít added salt.
"Do You Love?"
Dunya, out of love with his cheating wife and in love with another, is encouraged to run away with the Cossacks. ďDo You Love?,Ē the title track, is a winding-melodied recitation, featuring sweet violin, distorted electric guitar and bagpipe, of the members of his family a man loves, is followed by a song, in an up-tempo rhythm similar to Finnish reki-song, about a drink-fuelled fist-fighting compulsion ending up in jail, and into the calm closer, the bandís strings and bagpipe surging to almost orchestral, about the various users of parts of the ruby rose bush that grows beside the road. - Andrew Cronshaw