Electronic Music, Russian, World
Yammy Music YMCD 2015-001, available on iTunes and Bandcamp
Reviewed by Peter Winkler, October 1st, 2015
OK… take a look at the genre classification (electronic Tatar music with sci-fi themes) and tell me this album doesn’t intrigue you. The Republic of Tatarstan is a region of Russia about 800 kilometres east of Moscow. It lies between the Volga and Kama rivers and extends east to the Ural Mountains. Zulya Kamalova is Tatarstan’s chief cultural export to Australia.
Zulya, having moved to Australia in 1991 is an ARIA Award-winning singer songwriter who has made a career performing Russian and Tatar music to Australian and international audiences. She is an intrepid explorer of world cultures and while she sings in her native tongues her music spans the globe, creating wonderful blends of traditional and original Tatar songs with a myriad of different instruments and styles. Her previous albums have surrounded her gorgeous voice with acoustic instruments ranging from the expected accordion and brass to the unexpected African kora and kalimba, Indian tabla and didjeridoo. She often performs and records with her excellent band The Children of the Underground.
So, while I’ve come to expect the unexpected from Zulya this new album Starship Z Kosmostan really took me by surprise. It’s a concept album that literally takes Tatar music to other planets. In collaboration with Ukrainian producer OMFO (very well know in Russia and Europe with projects like the Trans Balkan Express and pieces on the soundtrack of the Sacha Baron Cohen movie Borat) Zulya has created a Ziggy-Stardust-like Sci-Fi music extravaganza. They worked together (on line of course) for nearly three years to create this extraordinary album.
It seems from the credits that the only acoustic instrument in this planetary soundscape is the Bayan (Russian button accordion) played by accordion virtuoso Aydar Gaynullin. Otherwise all sounds come from the computer generated genius of OMFO reminiscent of the seminal electronic music of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. So while the music on Starship Z is very modern, paradoxically it also has a pervasive retro quality.
The Bandcamp website (see below) through which this album is marketed both in CD form and in downloadable MP3s goes into quite some detail with the narrative behind this project, the Tatar lyrics of the songs and English translations. It’s a pity the CD doesn’t include this information. I guess interested listeners can go on line to see it all. Suffice to say the story is fascinating with female cosmonauts, evil dictators, Marxist Red Army soldiers, expeditions to Mars, an empyrean love story and the great power of Tatar song.
The lyrics are poetic and quite beautiful :
You asked me darling late last night
If in the morning I would fly with you
The stars are calling from the distant skies
The Universe is waiting for our flight
And like all her albums no matter what the accompaniment there is Zulya’s sublime, silky, ethereal and enthralling voice. I love her voice. On this album she sounds like a cosmic mermaid from the shores of the Caspian Sea.
In 2012 Zulya was declared an Honoured Artist of the Republic of Tatarstan. She should also be similarly recognised in Australia.
I genuinely doubt you’ve heard anything quite like Starship Z before. I’m standing by for what this enigmatic and mercurial artist has in store for us next.
LOOK AND LISTEN
Zulya’s website has lots of photos and videos of her wide ranging career: http://zulya.com/
A video of one of the songs from the Starship Z album:
A beautiful remix of ‘Stop This Ship’ by German composer and producer Atom TM :
Zulya’s Youtube channel. Videos of her previous projects:
Zulya with her band The Children of the Underground Youtube channel :