Two novel Russian musical sensations have been making waves in international media recently. Readers of this blog should already know one: Pussy Riot have been staging protest performances all over Moscow in recent months, as discontent with Vladimir Putin and Russia’s “managed democracy” has continued to foment. As Max Rivlin-Nadler posted last week, two members of the anarchist feminist punk band are still in jail, after being arrested for a guerrilla performance in the largest cathedral in the city. (Pussy Riot are anonymous and neither of the women arrested has admitted to being a member of the group. Both have small children, and both face up to seven years in prison for “hooliganism”.)

But as the heavy hammer of the Russian justice system continues to attempt to pound out dissent, another musical sensation is sweeping the nation — one with much more affection for the Orthodox Church. The Buranovskiye Babushki are a group of ladies between the ages of 50 and 76 from the village of Buranova in the Ural Mountain republic of Udmurtia. The group recently won the privilege of representing Russia in the 2012 Eurovision Song Competition in Baku, Azerbaijan and, according to Agence France Presse, they are saving their money to build a new church in their village.

The Babushki made a name for themselves through YouTube, singing covers of the Beatles and the Eagles in the Udmurt language native to their region.

Here is their rendition of “Yesterday”:

The Buranovskiye Babushki are a slightly tweaked iteration of the centuries old tradition of women’s folk choirs in Slavic villages, and according to Russian television, the group has existed in some form for over forty years.

Here is a group of women from the Omsk National Choir performing in the traditional style:

While Pussy Riot embody an emphatic rejection of all the entrenched systems of power so long in place, the Buranovskiye Babushki, a group of singing grandmothers, might be the most comforting possible pop sensation. Dressed in traditional costumes and handmade shoes, the Babushki  are as classically Russian as beet soup and birch bark, with just enough of a hint of contemporaneity to pass as pop singers.

Their latest hit, which they will perform in Baku, is called “Party for Everybody,” and shows the ladies making some linguistic concessions for the sake of pop-stardom:

But this isn’t their first step into mainstream fame. The grandmothers almost won the Russian Eurovision competition in 2010 with their song “Long Long Birch Bark and How to Make a Hat out of It”:

Eurovision is not an event I understand very well. It seems like the musical equivalent to the Olympics, with all kinds of expressions of national pride and international conflict playing out within the competition (for example, this year Armenia is boycotting the competition because it is taking place in Azerbaijan). I am not sure how actual pop-stardom translates into Eurovision success or vice versa, but past Eurovision competitors from Russia have been more along the expected lines. Pop icon Dima Bilan won the whole competition in 2008, and the legendary singer Alla Pugacheva represented Russia in 1997.

So maybe it is strange that these old ladies have become such a phenomenon, but on the other hand, it is impossible to watch them sing and dance and not smile.  The Buranovskiye Babushki bring a bit of joy to my heart, and I hope they will to yours as well.

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