Young, beautiful crowds of affluent Muscovites in designer clothes are listening to it in the capital’s coolest bars; middle-aged ladies wearing cheap perfume are dancing to it in kitsch hotel restaurants in Crimea; and tens of millions of Russians are watching it on YouTube. Exhibit, by the rock band Leningrad, is about a young, provincial woman readying herself for a date. The song’s upbeat ska masks the derisive edge of the lyrics, which were written by the band’s frontman Sergei “Shnur” Shnurov (above), an artist who assumes the stage persona of a foul-mouthed Lumpenproletarian. A bitter satire of modern Russian life, “Exhibit” suggests Russians’ dreams of growth and prosperity are about as silly as those of this girl for her date.
The slang phrase “to work it” harnesses the grind of labour to that of sex. Many American hip-hop and R’n’B acts have exploited the punning possibilities it contains. There’s Missy Elliott’s 2002 classic “Work It”, Ciara’s 2009 single “Work”, the video for which has her wielding power tools on a building site, and Rihanna’s “Work” (2016), which mentions an actual job. The latest addition to the genre comes from Fifth Harmony with their chart-stormer, Work from Home. Is it an ode to having sex at home, a song about freelancing, or a knowing nod to the sexual and emotional labour performed by women in the home? In any case, a job well done.
Food shortages and the parallel market have become a fixture of life in Venezuela. As the singer and comedian KuzcO knows, sometimes all you can do is laugh in the face of privation. His spoof ballad, Siempre Ando Bachaqueando (loosely translated as “I’m Always Black-Marketeering”), is proving a hugely successful parody of the hit “Andas En Mi Cabeza” (“You’re On My Mind”) by the reggaeton duo Chino and Nacho. While the original crooned about obsessive love, the parody agonises about where to find chicken, beef and deodorant. The slang word bachaquero, ubiquitous in Venezuelan conversation right now, derives from the name of a voracious Amazonian ant, which illegal traders, carrying whatever they can find, supposedly resemble.
With his nasal twang, Shota Adamashvili sounds every inch the world-weary bartender of a Nashville honky-tonk when he asks his listeners: “Would you be so kind/to call it a night?” But to see Adamashvili in the flesh, you’ll have to head east, not west. He is Georgia’s only country singer; Last Call doubles as a paean to the country’s boozy suprebi (feasts) – and he can be seen at music venues like Tbilisi’s Fabrika, a converted Soviet factory popular with urban bohemians. Retro-chic is increasingly popular with Georgian hipsters, who generally reject post-Soviet glitz in favour of a more stripped-down aesthetic, and a more global outlook. What could be more retro – or global – than this Tbilisi-raised, Tennessee-twanged balladeer?
Young Vietnamese are swooning over a music video that explains in song the meanings of English-language idioms like “freak out”, “piece of cake” and “slip of the tongue”. The video, a parody of the pop song That Bat Ngo (“What a Surprise”), has struck a chord partly because its star, Nguyen Thai Duong, a 25-year-old English teacher, is an endearingly goofy dancer. And in a country that sends more students to American universities than Mexico does, his lyrics are a refreshing alternative to studying.
Selda Bagcan is a folk singer and psych-rocker who was known in 1970s Turkey as the voice of the left. Today, her music is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. “Her songs capture something about what we are living these days,” says M.K., a DJ who lives in Istanbul. One tune in particular has been receiving extra airtime in bars and clubs, ever since Bagcan performed it at a festival in Barcelona this summer. Yaz Gazeteci Yaz (“Write, Journalist, Write”) is a rousing folk song that begs a journalist to bear witness to the troubles of common people. The track has been reprised by contemporary artists like Gaye Su Akyol and Kabus Kerim, and taps into growing concern about the treatment of political dissidents, writers and journalists in the country.
To listen to a selection of songs from these pages, search “1843mag” on Spotify