Slavic Civilization. On Alosha Avdeyev
no-image, Slavic Civilization. On Alosha Avdeyev
Alosha Avdeyev lends his voice to a classically Russian repertoire, Gypsy romance, songs of Odessa's suburbs. He traveled around the world with the famous Piwnica pod Baranami. He, however, believes that his work is intended mainly for a Polish audience and he has delivered a great deal of music and laughs - and shots of vodka too...
Photo: Grzegorz Rogiński / Reporter
How did Russia's Alosha Avdeyev get to Kraków's Piwnica pod Baranami and become so immeshed in Poland's witty cabaret culture?
In the unpredictable times of the sixties and seventies he was studying Polish philology at the Jagiellonian University. He sang and played the guitar at parties and soon enough, he was invited play at the legendary Piwnica. Not long after, he became a regular performer - going from opening act to grand finale. And this is how the famous Piwnica pod Baranami
(Cellar under the Rams) came to play such an important role in the life of Alosha Avdeyev.
I became a member of the core aristocracy. Piwnica has a certain reputation, it is said to be made of chosen individuals. To me, they are more likely the expelled ones because when it comes to their creativity they all would thrive somewhere else, but Piwnica is the only place where they can survive. It is an asylum for the frustrated but talented. This posse thrives on picking on each other. And there are always girls there to make you feel better - a form of support.
In 1979 Alosha was invited to Trinity College in Dublin, where he became a lecturer of Russian philology.
Every scientist wanted to go West because the exchange rate of the dollar versus the Polish zloty would spur the dreams of any money-maker. This is also where Martial Law found me. It was introduced in Poland without any effort on my part to so I don't have to explain anything. After the contract expired I returned to Kraków. Yet, I couldn't perform because the Russian language already had negative connotations. In 1986 I met Piotr Ferster at the Rynek who asked me: "Why don't you sing at our Piwnica anymore?"
Alosha Avdeyev was born in Stavropol in the hinterland of Caucasus, but grew up in Moscow. He came to study as a citizen of the USSR and for a long time he used an ID issued by an non-existing country. At the Russian consulate he found out that he could accept the citizenship of any republic, like Tajikistan or the Republic of Kalmykia.
They frequently ask me if I am Polish or still a bit of a Russian or, God forbid, a Jew? I reply that the worst case scenario would be if I were all of these things at once because that would mean I would have to apologise to myself every day. I strive to be a 100% Pole. I train every day. I took a break last week due to an antibiotic treatment, but starting Monday I am back on track.
There is a gap between the Russian and Polish culture that I call the Slavic civilisation. It has specific traits that I will illustrate through examples. When two Englishmen want to get acquainted what do they do? They look for a third Englishman to introduce them to each other. Otherwise they will forever remain strangers to each other. And when two Slavic people want to become friends what do they look for? They look for a bottle. They drink and become acquainted. After two bottles they are friends because this takes more time and an interesting conversation ensues. After three bottles they are related as their blood composition is basically the same.
A get-together for Slavs without alcohol is a misunderstanding. People come and immediately they start looking. If they find alcohol it will become a party. If they don't, it can be a conference at most. The Slavic Civilisation was recently brutally divided to NATO and non-NATO. But the specialist from NATO didn't anticipate what they were getting into. An average Japanese person is genetically predisposed to die after a litre of vodka. No Japanese, no problems. And when a Slavic member of NATO drinks a litre of vodka? Well, he might not be alive anymore but he is not dead yet either. And this is when he starts to think creatively, about the whereabouts of maybe another half a litre of vodka. Those at NATO didn't predict that.
I recently came across a wonderful transport company. And what do they do in those rare moments free of hard work? Obviously, they deepen the Slavic civilization. A friendly employee of this company told me that they all recently went to France where, for all of the other transport companies, they organized a Slavic night. A question popped into my head: employees of which European firms were able to show up to work in the morning after this Slavic night? The answer is quite simple: the Poles and the Russians. One Ukrainian came too but without his truck.
When it comes to drinking, the artist believes that abstinence would be a faux pas.
Such cases are seen by Piwnica residents as suspicious to say the least. If somebody breaks out of the mass suicide of vodka drinking, then what is his agenda? Piwnica fans often buy the drinks. 80 per cent of them pass when I try to order whisky instead of vodka, but they can't refuse altogether. There is this aura of souls mating there, a mutual moral and physical patting on the back. Even the worse pig can feel human in Piwnica. Which doesn't mean that people who are certainly wonderful don't go there.
Avdeyev sings a classically Russian repertoire, Gypsy romance, songs of Odessa's suburbs and Wysocki, who was inspired by the literary foot prints of the old songs.
I like the past. The future doesn't amuse me because it is only a necessity of living the present. Every human being in a certain moment of their moral and aesthetic development reaches an understanding of this cultural bond that exists between them and the generation of parents or grandparents, who are already gone. My mother recalled that I had sang my first romance on the balcony at the age of four. It must have been funny to have a toddler singing love songs. I learned to play the piano and sang with my mother. Almost all of my repertoire comes from memory. My mother was a teacher but she also sang at the Orthodox church. Later in a veteran choir that went back to a religious repertoire with better songs.
Alosha Avdeyev travelled a significant amount with Piwnica. He, however, believes that his work is intended mainly for a Polish audience.
There were the occasional congratulations in Paris from, for example, Madame Chirac, who didn't understand a single word but she absorbed solely the aura of the concert. Unfortunately, because of my University job, I cannot travel too often. I think that when it comes to my career I am at the very beginning. Biologically towards the end but the way reality changes make everybody, no matter their age, start from the beginning. If only there were enough energy and money.
Stand up comedian, musician, song performer and a scientist - isn't that troublesome?
Scientists usually have a great sense of humour. Humour not only doesn't interfere, but rather helps creativity. Students who are entertained will solve scientific problems more easily than the inhibited, limited ones. Besides, I like to make people laugh.
And he is predisposed. In Agnieszka Holland
's Fever he triggered laughter just by appearing in a Russian officer's uniform.
In "Europea, Europea" I also appeared as an officer of the NKVD, but this time around nobody was laughing. But I am not ashamed of telling jokes. When I hear one, I will pass it on. It is a syndrome of the one who carries humour. I love people, especially an audience. I am not a poet so I endow them not with beauty but with wit.
Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, September 2010.