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Kapfenberg (Austria) (AFP) – Fans still sing and dance to Russkaja’s nostalgic Soviet beats, but the Austrian ska-punk band says its mission to bring ‘fun and love’ has gotten tricky since Russia invaded Ukraine .
“We were worried. How well can you represent something Russian? Moscow-born singer Georgij Makazaria told AFP in a joint interview with Ukrainian bassist Dimitrij Miller.
“Singing ‘The Russians Are Here’ gets stuck in my throat.”
The group – one of whose slogans is “peace, love and Russian roll” – started in Vienna 17 years ago, after a chance meeting between the two men.
They rose to fame as the house band of one of Austria’s most popular late-night shows, electrifying young West Europeans with their mix of “Russian Turbo Polka Metal”.
They have now released six albums – many with left-wing political messages, such as the most recent “Nobody is Illegal” about a young refugee – and tour Europe regularly.
But since Moscow invaded Ukraine in late February, the seven-piece band have found themselves at an impasse and have even considered changing their name, which stands for “Russia”, “ska” and “yes”.
They also rewrote some of their lyrics, which usually mix Russian and English. For example, their call to Moscow “let’s tear down all these walls” turned into “Hello, Moskva, let’s stop this fucking war”.
Miller admits that since the invasion, bringing fun and partying to their fans has been “extremely difficult”.
“To be happy on stage while my best friends are fighting there, in the war, it’s inconceivable,” says the 41-year-old, whose cousin went to the front last month to defend his country. against Russian troops.
But the party still continues.
In March, the band toured the United States for the first time, opening for Celtic punk band Flogging Molly. Twenty concerts are scheduled this summer in Austria and neighboring Germany, France, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
“Listen, for us it’s all about the music,” says Makazaria, 48, on the sidelines of a concert in the small town of Kapfenberg, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Vienna.
For this concert at the end of April, the group performs its contagious and energetic numbers in front of a Ukrainian flag adorned with a symbol of peace.
“Dimitrij here is from Ukraine,” Makazaria told the crowd after the song “Russkij Style.” He puts his arm around Miller to loud applause.
“And I come from Russia… What is happening now is an extreme disaster for us, for everyone, and we condemn this senseless war!” he shouts.
Social media posts about their shows have drawn critical reactions, with commenters asking why a band glorifying Russian culture and music is still allowed to play in Europe.
“Music connects but it can also separate. There are people who feel that and it’s something we have to accept,” says Makazaria.
At Kapfenberg, fans dressed in black, some sporting Russian fur hats, are eager to enjoy the music and ask for autographs.
“For me, this war is meaningless and music connects, whether you are from Ukraine or Russia,” says 38-year-old tattoo artist Daniel Mayerhofer.
Markus Heil, a 28-year-old designer, thinks it would be “absolutely wrong” to boycott the group now.
“Of course, I really don’t like what some people are doing in Russia. But Russia itself has an interesting culture and you can’t forget that in this situation.”
© 2022 AFP