Sep 14, 2008

Siberia reborn

(Image from Tribute website, Russ)

Have you ever felt a ghost nearby?

Well, you may have sworn there was somebody right behind you if you'd attended this last Saturday's showcase of the songs of Yanka Dyagileva channeled by Alina Simone at Funky Church; an evening possibly best summed up by a band-member as "psychedelic spookiness." Let's set the scene:

Funky Church ( is... properly monikered. A one-hundred-year-old or so structure, this space has gone through many different incarnations - the latest being a home and occasional lo-fi music venue. It offers domed wooden ceilings, dim and warm lighting, and a stage on a rug-covered loft backed by stained glass and stuffed with pillows and chairs, with a door to balcony and real-to-god belfry.

It was a four-band line-up, with three local acts (Jacob Golden, Down South Sallie, The Battle of Land and Sea) and a Ukrainian-born, Massachusetts-raised singer/songwriter named Alina Simone, playing stripped-down tracks off her cover-album Everyone Is Crying Out To Me, Beware. Singing in Russian, her set-list offered interpretations of the work of Siberian folk-punk cult icon Yanka Dyagileva. Characterized by howling agony and lo-fi recordings (only ever produced on mixtape until well after her death), Yanka's music spoke out to the last soviet generation, bringing together the desperation of the taiga and its rich culture, whispering of uncertainty as the union splintered. This artist's career only lasted four years and 29 songs, cut-short by her suicide in 1991, but has gone on to inspire a new country of musical artists and the disaffected.

The spookiness of those original home-recordings reverberated kindly through the set and space all night: artists were practically silhouetted against a single lamp, speckled time from time by the reflections of a swaying disco ball, while a mysterious, unfelt breeze kept lampshades rocking and scattered set-lists and lyric notes. It seemed as if an ice-whipped breeze had somehow been transplanted into this late-summer evening through all those years and thousands of miles after brushing Yanka's face for the last time in the woods.

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