Monday, March 11, 2013

Cossacks from the Caucasus

Nekrasov Cossacks women's group
(from Old Believers cd jacket)
16" x 12"
oil on canvas panel, 2013
Anastasia Nikulushkina, Elena Gulina, and Varvara Gorina – I matushka moia

In the late nineties one of the first library holdings I browsed in order to find my “keening song of the banshee” was the Ohio State University Music Library. I found several theses dedicated to weep-singing and one even to keening in Ireland specifically. They did not come with sound recordings however. At the time I worked at the Ohio State University but I wasn’t brave or ambitious enough to contact the writers of such pieces, neither did I contact their underwriter directly. She was Margarita Mazo, professor in ethnomusicology, head of the Music Cognition program at the university and an authority on the subject of weep singing. At that library I did read up on various analyses of lamenting techniques and social circumstances of such practices and it was there where I found the CD Old Believers, which was the start of my collection, the very first sound example of funeral lamentation I had found. The recordings were made by Professor Mazo in her native Russia in 1989. Years later I did get it in touch with Margarita Mazo, when I was curating an exhibition of 12” vinyl record sleeves. I had invited several record collectors to display a selection of their collection. Mazo one of them, chose to display about 20 Russian folk albums for the occasion. The song I matushka moia translates as “Oh. Mother of Mine”. Professor Mazo was not able to record at an actual wake but encouraged singers to perform laments in the memory of deceased relatives, the emotion came through nevertheless: “Though their lament began somewhat reserved, as the women gradually became absorbed and involved emotionally, memories seized them entirely, and they cried” writes Mazo in the liner notes.
Unlike the custom in most other Catholic communities, the Cossacks of the Caucasus do not employ professional wailers to sing at wakes, or funerals. Laments are always sung by close relatives of the deceased.

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