The song NEBO SLAVIAN (Heaven of Slavs) and the accompanying album Seichas pozdnee, chem ty dumaesh’ (It’s later now than you think, 2003) by the (post-)Soviet rock band Alisa marks a new era in the creative work of the group’s lead singer Konstantin Kinchev (born 1958) with a stronger focus on the Russian-Orthodox faith and nationalism. It is also the last album, which features musicians from Alisa’s original Soviet line-up.
Alisa, founded in Leningrad in 1983, is one of the most influential Soviet groups. Starting as a rock band the band has musically continuously evolved into hard rock and heavy metal. While being a provocative enfant terrible during the Soviet years the group’s vocalist and songwriter Konstantin Kinchev slowly changed in the post-Soviet years – including baptizing himself in the Russian-Orthodox faith. Alisa’s 12th studio album Seichas pozdnee, chem ty dumaesh’ released in 2003 marks a major turn in Kinchev’s creative work. The Russian music journalist Denis Stupnikov writes that it became Alisa’s “first album, fully and wholly consistent with the spirit of canonical Russian-Orthodoxy” (Stupnikov 2006, my translation). Nashe Radio’s former director, Mikhail Kozyrev, also notes a shift in Kinchev’s lyrics coinciding with the work on that album – the lyrics, however, remind Kozyrev of patriotic Soviet poetry (“agitbrigada”) (cf. Kozyrev and Barabanov 2007: 28f).
According to Alisa’s website this album is “full of love to God, to Russia, and at the same time pain for her [Russia]. The album mirrors Alisa’s ideological direction, which is why not one song from that album got radio play” (Kinchev n.d., my translation).
One song that demonstrates both this love to Russia as well as the pain is NEBO SLAVIAN. According to Alisa’s official website the song’s lyrics were written on the train between St. Petersburg and Moscow on October 22nd, 2000. The song was performed live for the first time on the St. Petersburg radio station Nostal’zhi on December 15th, 2000.
The recording of the song as well as the album began during Spring 2003 and two studios were used: MGSU-Studio in Moscow (for drums) and Dobrolet-Studio in St. Petersburg (for guitar, bass and vocals). During the summer the tracks were mixed by Peter “Jem” Seifert at Topaz Audio Studios in Köln and mastered by Kai Blankenberg at Skyline Studio in Düsseldorf (Kinchev n.d.).
Prior to the album’s launch on October 15th, 2003 the single Bez Kresta (Without a Cross) was released on October 3rd, 2003. A second edition of the album with the track “Griaz’” (Dirt) and the bonus track “Smutnye Dni” (Troubled Days) added was made available in 2004.
The video of the song NEBO SLAVIAN ‒ co-sponsored by the Press Service of the Russian Navy ‒ was filmed in September 2003 and distributed with the album (Kinchev n.d.).
Kinchev’s religious zeal which has become more proclaimed since the late 1990s is also present on the album. His creative work parallels the revival of the Russian-Orthodox faith since the 1988 church millennium. In his songs and utterances Kinchev blends this Russian-Orthodox spirit with a heavy dose of Russian patriotism and ethno-nationalism. For instance, the term “Slavs” implies not only Russia, but also Ukraine and Belarus. In a fan’s question inquiring about why Kinchev sings about “Sky of the Slavs” since Russia not only consists of Slavs Kinchev gave the following answer: “This song is not about a blood analysis, but about the fact that we are all fellow believers, that is, united in the belief, united in the love to the fatherland, united in the pride of ones country and its history, united in the wish not to defile that that was created over the centuries and put an end to those who soil [heathens]” (N.N. 2002, my translation). At the same time Kinchev equates Russian (“russkii”) with Russian-Orthodoxy (“pravoslavnyi”) and he also has close ties to the church (N.N. 2004).
Kinchev’s religious turn combined with Russian nationalism remains consistent throughout the 2000s. On April 6th, 2006, Kinchev, Iurii Shevchuk (DDT) and other rock musicians met with then Metropolitan (now Patriarch) Kirill, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, and other members of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Patriarchate’s website states that Kinchev and Shevchuk, who were both baptized in the Russian-Orthodox faith, explained how their work differs from other popular music artists and how their lyrics are suitable to provoke thought in the listeners. Other issues discussed during the meeting included the possibility of orthodox sermons at rock concerts and rock music’s potential for missionary work.
This can also be seen in Kinchev’s vision of Russia’s united political and religious power expressed in a 2007 interview: “In general, I see future Russia in a symphony of power: In all decisions the secular power is supposed to receive the clergy’s blessing, the president has to walk hand in hand with the Patriarch, then also the power will be strengthened. In general, Putin currently holds a good position” (Kinchev, qtd. in Shugailo 2007 – my translation).
In a later statement in Kiev in 2008 he called for a return to the medieval Kievan Rus’ with Kiev as the capital (Kinchev, qtd. in Riabov and Lubenskii 2008). This provocative statement should also be seen in the light of Kinchev’s contempt of the Orange Revolution and Iushchenko-government which is also reflected in his creative work such as the 2008-song “Vlast’” (Power).
To sum it up, Kinchev’s creative work – at least during the last decade – fuses a strong patriotism (if not nationalism) based on a medieval conception of the Kievan Rus’ with a religious dimension – in other words, he draws on an ethnic (and Slavophile inspired) conception of a Russian national identity. This coincides with growing national and religious sentiment in the Russian population – spearheaded by Putin and his government: Both President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev as well as other members of the government and major Russian companies portray themselves publically as active Russian-Orthodox believers. NEBO SLAVIAN is a good example of this turn (cf. also Gazmanov Sdelan v SSSR).
NEBO SLAVIAN starts with a heavily distorted guitar rhythm accompanied by a straight 4/4 beat on the drum. Above that the keyboard plays a simple melody in e-minor sounding like a very synthetic double reed instrument. This might be an attempt at trying to imitate a shawm since Kinchev’s songs tend to orientate themselves towards medieval times (see above). The video shifts between the band playing in both a studio and a forest clearing and is intermixed with a pastiche of movie clips starting with Sergei Eisenstein’s Aleksandr Nevskii, footage from a movie about the Napoleonic war, the Second World War, and finally from a contemporary battleship of the Russian Navy – the unifying visual theme being how Russia and its predecessors successfully suppressed foreign invasions. This is aptly demonstrated in the clip’s opening quote “If somebody invades us with a sword, from the sword he will also perish. On that stands and will stand the Russian soil!” (original citation from the movie Aleksandr Nevskii, English translation by the author) as well as the refrain which at the end of the song is heard to the sound of marching soldiers seen piling up confiscated flags from Nazi-Germany:
We are whetted by the seeds of the horde
We are subdued by the Basurman yoke
But in our veins boils
The heaven of the Slavs
And from the Peipus shore
To the ice of Kolyma
All this is our soil!
All this is us!
(translated by Yngvar B. Steinholt)
The medieval motifs in Kinchev’s lyrics (in this case also the melodic phrase in the intro) and his frequent use of archaisms usually contain references to Russian history and tradition. This together with his references to the Russian-Orthodox faith has replaced his earlier fascination for a pre-Christian Rus’ (Yngvar Steinholt, pers. comm.).
In NEBO SLAVIAN there are references to the oppression of the Slavs (Russians) by the Mongols ([Golden] Horde, Basurman yoke) whom the Slavs ultimately succeeded in beating. While this song mainly refers to Slavs, the Slavs are strongly linked to the Russian-Orthodox faith (the Mongols were not Russian-Orthodox): The foundation myth of Russia, the Kievan Rus’, is closely linked to the baptism of Vladimir the Great whose baptism marked the introduction of the Russian-Orthodox faith to the inhabitants of the Kievan Rus’. This religious dimension is also valid for the Napoleonic war as well as to Germany’s invasion under Hitler – they were foreign invaders, who were not Russian-Orthodox believers.
Alisa thus draws on a glorified Russian (medieval) past and the Russian-Orthodox heritage, while remaining ambivalent towards, or avoiding altogether, the Soviet era. This is similar to the 19th century Slavophile’s search for the pre-Petrine roots of Russia unspoilt by Peter I’s European-inspired reforms. The desire for a lost home is also reflected in the growing number of people actively calling themselves Russian-Orthodox and participating in religious activities. In some sense, however, Alisa and Oleg Gazmanov (Sdelan v SSSR) also embody continuity from the Soviet time, Kinchev and Gazmanov both started their careers in the mid 1980s.
Alisa went on tour in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus after the album’s release to promote the album and the groups 20th birthday. According to Alisa’s website the album was boycotted on the radio and there was very little TV-rotation of the videos (Kinchev n.d.). As mentioned, a second edition of the album was released in April 2004 with the song “Griaz’” and “Smutnye Dni” added.
The song has become one of the stadium songs sung at the St. Petersburg soccer club Zenit’s games by the club’s fans – on August 17th, 2013 even together with Kinchev during the game Zenit against Anzhi (N.N. 2013). Furthermore, the Russian female group Fedorino Gore has covered the song. While their version has a different vocal harmonization (sung by 4 female voices in harmony instead of a male voice) as well as two short phrases seemingly from Modest Musorgskii’s “Pictures of an Exhibition” it stays very close to Alisa’s version.
Kinchev’s religious zeal is not lost on his listeners as the following comments by two fans show:
Denis: “From the last albums many don’t understand those lyrics, because Konstantin Evgen’evich [Kinchev] hit himself with religion and he writes lyrics on the basis of that Russian-Orthodoxy. He might be totally into it all, but for the fans…”
Anton: “…some songs are incomprehensible.”
Denis: “For the young, they understand him from his old songs, albums, which were released earlier, when the lyrics were written about, their idea was that everything is forbidden, but we still play and sing.”
Anton: “And now: Russian-Orthodoxy, religion.”
(Vashkevich and Lukanin 2006, my translation)
It also is expressed in fan memorabilia, which includes the Russian-Orthodox cross and banners reading “Alisa – My Pravolsavnye” (We are Orthodox) – “Pravoslavnye” is also a song on Alisa’s album Solntsevorot (Solstice – Alisa 2000).
Kinchev’s creative work during the last decade has fused a strong patriotism (if not nationalism) based on the medieval conception of the Rus’ with a religious dimension – in other words, drawing on an ethnic (and Slavophile inspired) conception of a Russian national identity. The album Seichas pozdnee, chem ty dumaesh’ with NEBO SLAVIAN marks the beginning of this new creative phase in Alisa’s work and at the same time the completion of Kinchev’s transition from an enfant terrible within the Leningrad Rock Club of the 1980s to a devote Russian-Orthodox believer. This coincides with the end of a creative collaboration, being the last album with members of Alisa’s original line-up: Misha Nefedov and Andrei Shatalin left the group in December 2003.
Vocals: Konstantin Kinchev
Guitar: Andrei Shatalin
Guitar: Evgenii Levin
Bass & backing vocals: Petr Samoilov
Keyboard & backing vocals: Dmitrii Parfenov
Drums: Misha Nefedov
Music/ Writer/ Songwriting: Konstantin Kinchev
Drum Recording: T. Danilina, S. Bol’shakov (Studiia “MGSU”, Moscow)
Guitar, Bass, Vocal recording: Evgenii Levin, A. Martisov (Dobrolet Studio, St. Petersburg)
Programming: Dmitrii Parfenov
Mix: Peter “Jem” Seifert, assisted by Reinhard Kobialka (Topaz Audio Studios, Köln)
Mastering: Kai Blankenberg (Skyline Studio, Düsseldorf)
Producer: Konstantin Kinchev
Label: Prodiuserskii tsentr Igoria Matvienko
- Alisa. “Nebo Slavian”, Seichas pozdnee, chem ty dumaesh, 2003, Prodiuserskii tsentr Igoria Matvienko, vol. 103.3, Russia (CD).
- Alisa. “Nebo Slavian”, Seichas pozdnee, chem ty dumaesh, 2004, Prodiuserskii tsentr Igoria Matvienko, vol. 120.3, Russia (CD).
- Alisa. Solntsevorot, 2000, CD-Land, CDL217-00, Russia (CD).
- Alisa. Puls’ Khranitelia Dverei Labirinta, 2008, CD-Maximum, CDM 1107-2774, Russia (CD).
- Fedorino Gore. “Nebo Slavian”, Fedorino Gore, http://www.fedorinogore.ru/audio/1 [07.09.2014], n.d..
- Kozyrev, Mikhail and Boris Barabanov: Moi Rock-n-Roll – Black book. Vol. 1. Moscow: Gaiatri 2007.
- Vashkevich, Denis and Anton Lukanin: Interviewed by David-Emil Wickström. St. Petersburg (Russia): 30.01.2006.
- Wickström, David-Emil: Okna otkroi! – Open the windows! Scenes, transcultural flows, and identity politics in popular music from Post-Soviet St. Petersburg. Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society. Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag 2011.
- Wickström, David-Emil and Yngvar Bordewich Steinholt: Visions of the (holy) Motherland in contemporary Russian popular music: Nostalgia, patriotism, religion and russkii rok. In: Popular Music and Society 32/3 (2009), Popular Music in the Post-Soviet Space, 313-330.
- Kinchev, Konstantin. n.d: Istoriia. Gruppa Alisa. URL: http://www.alisa.net/istoriya.php [18.07.2014].
- N.N. 2002: Alisa – Voprosy. Gruppa Alisa. URL: http://www.alisa.net/voprosy.php?action=main&disk=7 [01.07.2014].
- N.N. 2004: Alisa – Voprosy. Gruppa Alisa. URL: http://www.alisa.net/voprosy.php?action=main&disk=10 [01.07.2014].
- N.N. 2013: Konstantin Kinchev na matche ‘Zenit’-’Anzhi’ spel pesniu ‘Nebo slavian’ vmeste s fanatami. Fontanka, 17.08.. URL: http://www.fontanka.ru/2013/08/17/051/ [07.09.2014].
- N.N. n.d.: Seichas pozdnee, chem ty dumaesh’. Gruppa Alisa. URL: http://www.alisa.net/diskografiya.php?action=main&disk=disk03 [01.07.2014].
- Riabov, Mikhail and Andrei Lubenskii. 2008: Kinchev prizval vydat’ dochek Putina za britanskikh printsev i vossozdat’ stolitsu Rusi v Kieve. Novyi Region – Kiev, 23.02. URL: http://www.nr2.ru/kiev/165835.html [28.03.2008].
- Shugailo, Tat’iana 2007: Kinchev trebuet rasstrelivat’ gomoseksualistov: ekskliuzivnoe interv’iu lidera gruppy ‘Alisa’. Ezhednevnye Novosti, 22.02. URL: http://novostivl.ru/old.php?sstring=&year=&f=ct&t=070222ct05 [14.05.2009].
- Stupnikov, Denis 2006: Lazareva subbota russkogo roka. Pravaia.ru – pravoslavno-analiticheskii sait, 19.04. URL: http://www.pravaya.ru/dailynews/7420 [12.02.2008].
About the Author
All contributions by David-Emil Wickström
David-Emil Wickström: “Nebo Slavian (Alisa)”. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/neboslavianalisa, 04/2015 [revised 10/2015].Print