[Marxism] Chechen singer

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 22 11:50:12 MST 2005

NY Times, November 22, 2005
Channeling Despair and Longing Into Chechen Anthems

MOSCOW - Her songs have the sound of rubble, of buildings battered into 
submission by war, and of the rough and brutalized people who continue to 
make their lives in Grozny, the capital of war-torn Chechnya.

They are raw, urgent and sentimental, songs that have pushed their way up 
from ruins the way weeds and bushes have grown from shattered and empty houses.

The singer is Liza Umarova, 40, herself an artifact of the decade-long 
separatist war in Chechnya, a single mother struggling to support three 
children here in Moscow after their home in Grozny was demolished by bombs 
six years ago.

She has no musical training and knows nothing of business. Her music, 
pirated and sold throughout Chechnya as soon as it is recorded, earns her 
nothing. When a melody comes to her, she said, she sings it into her mobile 
telephone because she cannot read music and does not own a tape recorder.

"I tell them, 'If you'd just give me three kopecks for each disc, I could 
buy myself an apartment,' " she said the other day. "And they say, 'Why 
should we pay you when we can keep all the money for ourselves?' "

Like many other upheavals, the war in the Caucasus republic of Chechnya has 
inspired some of its victims to artistic expression, and rough-edged, often 
poorly recorded songs like those of Ms. Umarova have become a minor genre.

Their melodies and themes are simple, giving voice to the suffering, the 
determination and the longing of a battered population. Her songs - mostly 
in Russian - are sold in the muddy marketplace of Grozny; they can be heard 
at military checkpoints, they sound inside battered cars bumping past 
bombed and empty apartment buildings.

Her signature song is "Grozny, Hero City," which some people like to call 
an anthem of Chechnya. With drums and trumpets, she sings:

"As lofty as an eagle, beautiful as a mountain girl,
You didn't shake, didn't fail, didn't fall.
How many bombs were dropped on you, my city,
But you rose like the legend from the ruins."

And then the stirring refrain:

"Grozny! Today you are a Hero City.
Grozny! And all Chechens are proud of you
Your streets in ruins, our childhoods buried under the rubble.
But we are proud of you, our capital, Grozny, Hero City!"

Ms. Umarova pays to record in makeshift studios, which also provide musical 
accompaniment. She has no regular producer, and her recordings are 
distributed through informal channels on tapes and discs.

Apart from home-recorded laments by Russian soldiers, the continuing war 
has inspired little creativity among non-Chechens. It is as absent from 
music and the arts as it is from the minds of most Russians.

A young Chechen rap singer, Yusup Makhmudov, flashed onto the local scene a 
couple of years ago but was told he had no chance at a wider audience, even 
though he sings in Russian as well as in Chechen and English. "I spoke to a 
major producer in Moscow once who told me that he could make a monkey into 
a star, but a Chechen would be nearly impossible," Mr. Makhmudov told 
Agence France-Presse.

Ms. Umarova, who trained as an actress but was diverted into raising a 
family, supports her three children by selling Chechen books in Moscow - 
not a lucrative business - and with money sent to her by relatives who live 
abroad. She has been separated from her husband for years.

If she lowered her pride, she said, she could earn real money singing at 
banquets given by wealthy Chechens here. But she despises them for their 
lives of ease when their homeland is suffering.

"I can't write on command," she said. "That's low. That doesn't come from 
my soul. It's for money."

In any case, she said, romanticizing her hardships: "I don't want to be 
rich; I'm even afraid to be rich. I'll lose my spiritual wealth. I'll lose 
that steel rod inside me that makes me strong. Creativity comes from 
suffering, and that is happiness."

The songs come to her "when it starts to hurt," she said, catching her by 
surprise while she is working in the kitchen, shopping or traveling. She 
has a notebook with a dozen new songs that she has not found the money to 

" 'Chechen Woman' came to me on the subway, two couplets right away," she 
said. "I dived into my purse and scrambled around for my notebook that I 
always carry. There was this guy looking at me. I don't know what he thought."

She wrote:

"I want to sing of the Chechen woman,
Who warms forever the soul of our native land.
No woman in the world can compare with you,
With your kindness, with your purity.
You raise your sons, you part with your daughters,
At night you don't sleep, waiting for your son to knock ...
With your love and your tenderness you have made our land blossom.
And while your heart beats, Chechen woman, our hearth in Chechnya will not 
grow cold."

Not long ago, Ms. Umarova recalled, she was ironing when the melody for a 
song about the suffering of mothers filled her head. "It's not words yet, 
just a melody," she said, and she pulled a mobile telephone from her bag. 
"I don't know if it's still here; let me look. It's hard to find. The kids 
like to play with my phone."

She found it, a simple series of notes, all the less imposing because of 
the quality of the instrument on which it was being played.

Another recent composition describes the hardships of Chechens who have 
fled to Moscow, where they are feared, face discrimination and are often 
harassed by the police or beaten by thugs.

Soon after completing it, Umarova herself became a victim, one night in 
September, when three men displaying swastika tattoos accosted her and her 
15-year-old son. She said they slapped her son and told her, "We don't want 
you Negroes living around here anymore."

Like many other Chechens, Ms. Umarova does not herself back the separatist 
cause, but she said she was ashamed for her country, Russia, over this kind 
of bigotry and over the continuing brutal war.

Still, she is prepared to go on suffering. She has just completed a song 
called "Our Time Has Not Yet Come." The words were spoken by a Chechen 
friend, she said, and immediately she knew they were true.

"I ran into the kitchen and started to write," she said. "My tears came. I 
felt so much better. I thank my friend for those words: Our time has not 
yet come."

Grozny, Hero City: 

Chechen Woman: 

Umarova website: http://www.lizaumarova.ru/esharsh.html



More information about the Marxism mailing list