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Toward Russia With Love
A little while back I invited you along for a musical trip with me along the exotic, exciting Silk Road of legend, which stretches across the majority of the broad and mystic continent of Eurasia. In the meantime I have been traversing the route so that I could return and function as guide for your jaunt. It's taken me a while to get there and back, as I wanted to check out every instrument and ethnic group along the way – and, boy, is it a vast expanse, covering eight Federal Districts of the modern day Russian State – downsized from its USSR days, but still the largest nation in the world – bordering Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (both via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Khazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea. It also borders Japan and the US via the sea.
Wow, can you imagine a country that stretches from Poland to Alaska and contains so many ethnic groups, ranging from various Turkic peoples (primarily the Muslim Tatars) and tribes, to native peoples that seem similar to our Native Americans, to Russians? It's difficult even to imagine, so diverse is it – that's the thing. Everything you thought about Russia will be thrown out the window once you get to know it better (or at least that's the way it as for me). It will no longer be this vast, empty spot on the map one knows virtually nothing about, but a region with rich, tragic history filled with brilliant minds, cultures, and of course music.
So the first thing is to try to get an idea just how big and varied a place it is we are trying to visit and get a handle on – how Asiatically jumbled; how Orientally complex.
One thing that does seem clear is that where Europe ends and Asia meet is very unclear, and the borders traditionally given seem arbitrary – perhaps designed to make Europe seem larger than it is – but in any event the border is not really the Urals. Somehow or other, given all that most of us have never really known about Russia, I myself have come away with the impression that Caucasus Muslims are similar to people in the Middle East and that Central Asians are Europeans. But it is more complicated than that – there are parts of 'European' Russia that seem very Asian, such as the almost completely Bhuddist Kalmykia Republic, and urban pockets of Asian Russia in both Siberia (where there are wild tigers roaming around) and the Far East that seem very European.
Then, over and above the original ethnic cultures, there are hybrid ethnic cultures comprised of some mixture of originals (such as where the Euro Finns and the Asian Tatars in the Northwest of Russia intermingled and became their own culture). Despite the fact that a Federal District may be an Oblast or Republic, ethnic groups have been moving around all over Russia and intermixing all over Russia for a very long time now.
In fact, because of this, it is very tempting to call Russians 'white Asians.' Additionally, the native peoples of Russia have a lot in common with our own, American native peoples (note the overlap in both cultures of Shamans/medicine men, and their vision quests, dress, and instruments, not only among the far-Northern Inuit, close to Russian space, but also among the tribes that live in the continental US and non-arctic Canada).
Louisville has at least three Russian musicians living here: gypsy guitarist Misha Feigin (who was once big in the Soviet Union and tours Europe and Russia still (catch him with Appalatin and Dream Job at Uncle Slayton's); Alim Naestev, a world-renowned jazz guitarist, who bases himself in Louisville but does not perform here; and the supremely talented classical guitarist Olga Kondylykova, who (and let's get this lady some more exposure) teaches children at her home. I had the privilege of seeing Olga's handmade music composition books and teaching manuals, in one of which she matches each song with the mood of a Marc Chagall painting.
Another Louisville connection with Russia is that we are sister cities with Perm in the Perm Krai – on the surface of it, it appears that we have nothing in common with Perm, until one realizes that Perm looks like Louisville from an aerial view and is also, like Louisville, a business center right below a river.
This piece is only titled 'Toward Russia (With Love),' because – given the immense scope of our undertaking (in which I heartily hope you will accompany me) it will take some space to take you all the places I want us to go. All I can really hope to do here is give you this introduction – and just a bit of description about what our itinerary will be. These sections, plus an expanded introduction will online at http://www.louisvillemusic.org/terrabeat/ ).
The eight different sections (corresponding to the eight different Districts of Russia) will be: the North Caucasian Federal District, Southern Federal District, Central Federal District, Volga Federal District, Northwestern Federal District, Urals Federal District, Siberian Federal District, and Far Eastern Federal District.