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Russia pays tribute to Soviet rock legend Viktor Tsoi

“A legend that has not known erosion”this is how the Russian daily Kommersant describes Viktor Tsoi. The singer and leader of Kino, an essential rock group of the 1980s, would have celebrated his sixtieth birthday on June 21.

His story has already been told in several works and films, the latest being Leto (2018), by Russian director Sergei Serebrennikov. His sixtieth birthday obliges, Moscow puts him in the spotlight this year in an exhibition entitled “The path of the hero” at the Manege museum, and, throughout Russia, concerts are organized in tribute to the native of Leningrad (today Saint -Petersburg).

A shattered icon

Viktor Tsoi in Moscow, 1986. Photo Igor Vladimirovich Mukhin/Wikicommons

It was in the 1980s that the rock group Kino, formed in the 1970s, became the spokesperson for a youth who aspired to change. We are then in full Perestroika, according to the name given to the program of economic and social reforms orchestrated by Mikhail Gorbachev. In a decade, the group became famous throughout the country and internationally, chaining albums in a Soviet Union (USSR) which indulged in more freedoms.

Everything came to an abrupt end on August 15, 1990, with the sudden death of Viktor Tsoï, aged 28, in a car accident in Latvia.

timeless songs

Since then, Tsoï’s words still resonate with Russians, even if they are not perceived in the same way by all sections of society. Songs Kukushka (“The Cuckoo”) and Mi zhdiom peremen (“We are waiting for changes)”have become markers of social classes, otherwise very opposed”, Explain Kommersant:

“In trendy circles, we are interested in the early and underground Tsoï, while in more modest neighborhoods, we rather respect the late, heroic-romantic Tsoï.”

Russian society feels in fact linked to Tsoi: not only because “over the years the pronoun ‘I’ in his texts gave way to ‘we’”, but also because his words are timeless.

Kino’s last album before Tsoï died, titled Chernyy al’bom (“The Black Album”), approaches life in a melancholy way that everyone can relate to. In the song Kukushka (1990), “everyone can make Tsoï’s moods and impressions their own while feeling connected to something in common”, recount Kommersant.

“The childhood of the country”

Viktor Tsoï also represents a bygone era, that which preceded the explosion of the USSR and the upheavals which followed. “Tsoï is the childhood of our current country, at the time of Perestroika. Nothing had happened yet, but in each new concept (‘self-management’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘show-business’) or possible historical turning point, there was something seductive, like the promise of a new life.”

Kommersant concludes in these terms:

“Even for audiences too young to have known such promise and hope, Kino’s music still recalls a time when hope was possible and there was no darkness.”

Political commitment

Kino’s work also symbolizes Russian dissent. In the early 1980s, the music of Viktor Tsoï fell victim to censorship, rock being a musical genre still banned in the USSR. From the end of the decade, the band’s songs tackled directly political themes, such as Groupa Krovi (“Blood type”), in 1989, which opposes the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (Russian soldiers wrote their blood type on their sleeve so that the information would be known in the event of the need for a transfusion).

Even today, Tsoi’s work is controversial. In the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, in the Republic of Tatarstan, the organizers canceled the concert planned this year for the birthday of the singer due to the interference of the local authorities in the musical programming, reports the independent media. MediaZona. According to Evgueni Afanasiev, organizer of the festival, “they [les pouvoirs publics] banned the broadcast of iconic Russian rock and Tsoi songs”. The other concerts planned in the country, such as in Saint Petersburg or Moscow, are however maintained.

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