September 8, 2009

Why is Gangster Music So Popular in Russia and Ukraine?

Russians and Ukrainians love gangster music that is often referred to as Shanson. It has nothing to do with French chanson and chansonniers such as Charles Aznavour or Mireille Mathieu. Neither Aznavour nor Mathieu sang about taking a prisoner's train to Siberia or stabbing ex-girlfriend for snitching. One of the Shanson masters, Michael Shufutinsky, sang about it a lot.

If you've never heard the Shanson song, it usually sounds like a light rock. It is quite often just a guitar solo that is actually considered to be the original GULAG's Shanson. Its lyrics are a mix of reggaeton and gangster rap with a Russian flavor. To become a well-respected Shanson performer, you must have a criminal record and tattoos that describe your crimes and prison sentences. Btw, a movie Eastern Promises did a really nice job with breaking down a meaning of the Russian criminal tattoos.

Shanson is so popular that there are several Shanson-oriented radio stations in Russia and Ukraine. They all have similar names such as Shanson-RU, Shanson-UA, RussianShanson etc. Ukraine's Radio Shanson is extremely popular among certain groups of population. If you happen to take a cab or a shuttle in Ukraine, you are 100% guaranteed to listen to the Shanson your entire trip. Shanson is very popular among cab/shuttle/delivery/truck-drivers. It's funny that Shanson is equally popular among both law enforcement officers and criminals. I never understood why the police officers liked Shanson songs which always portrayed them as violent and corrupt outlaws. But it's 100% guarantee that you can hear the Shanson song requests made by the police or attorney district's officers when they celebrate the Law Enforcement Day (December 20th) or the Criminal Investigation Unit Day (October 5th).

So why is Shanson so popular in Russia and Ukraine even though the times of GULAG are far gone? I have two theories. First, cab/shuttle-drivers use Shanson to signal their customers that they are tough and you shouldn't mess with them. In other words, pay for a ride and don't comment on their aggressive driving habits. I guess that police officers and their counterparts listen to it for the similar reasons. Truck-drivers also use it to signal their toughness to hitchhikers. The second theory is that cab/shuttle/delivery/truck-drivers used Shanson to protect their or their company's private property in the sketchy 1990s. The mechanism was the same signaling of toughness. In this case, a number of Shanson fans must have a negative correlation with a rule of law. It is actually true. A number of Shanson listeners reached its peak in the late 1990s and since then it was down the hill.

And let me finish by showing you a picture of one of the best-selling Shanson artists, Gregory Leps, that speaks for itself.


1 comment:

  1. Alex Mityunin:
    gang music is popular in France too....french rap, dont u know?