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The Consulate of the Russian Federation in Goa presented a firecracker of a concert at the Maquinez Palace auditorium last Sunday evening.

The Russian folk troupe Russkiye Umeltsy (Russian Masters) spoke briefly to the press prior to the concert. The five-member ensemble (Ekaterina Suslova, singer; Pavel Lukoyanov, gusli; Evgenia Popova, accordion; Irina Kuznetzova, domra; and Alexey Vorobiov, bass balalaika) is now three years old. They are all highly accomplished exponents in their field, and graduates of the Music Academy in Moscow.

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The five musicians came together through the grapevine, to perform at a concert in Moscow, and felt such a strong rapport that they’ve remained together ever since.

Like most of their compatriots, their introduction to Indian music came through Bollywood. They were familiar also with the music of the late Pandit Ravi Shankar, but were eager to learn more about Indian music during their tour of the country.

The Russian traditional instruments were the attraction of the audience and press photographers alike. The triangle-shaped balalaika has urban legend attached to it: some believe that the three sides are meant to represent the Holy Trinity. The domra is a 3-stringed instrument belonging to the lute family. The gusli, a multi-stringed plucked instrument, is to with its sound typically described as ‘crystal’, loved through history by peasants and nobility alike. It bears a resemblance to our santoor, but unlike the santoor, the strings are made to sound by plucking them rather than by hammers. We were particularly fortunate to have Pavel Lukoyanov in our midst, as he is widely considered one of the world’s foremost exponents on the instrument.

The concert had a generous representation of Russian traditional folkloric and popular songs, among them ‘Dorogoy dlinnoyu’ (The Long Road, the melody of which is better known to us as ‘Those were the Days’), ‘Red Sarafan’, ‘the Cossack Song’, ‘Valenki’, ‘Katyusha’ and ‘Kalinka’.

The concert programme also explored music from other parts of the world: a Greek fantasy, Parisian café music masterfully played on solo accordion by Popova, a Latin American tribute, two tangos (Astor Piazzola’s Libertango, and La Cumparsita by Uruguayan composer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez), and a nod to Bollywood, with Bappi Lahiri’s ‘Jimmy Jimmy Aaja Aaja’ from the blockbuster 1982 hit “Disco Dancer”. Ekaterina Suslova stole the show with her verve and flair throughout.

We hope that there will be more visits from Russian musicians and performers through the auspices of the newly-installed Consulate of the Russian Federation in Goa.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 19 June 2013)

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