Music Review – Buranovskie Babushki – Бурановские Бабушки

I love folk music, I love electronic dance music, and I love minority languages. So what could be better than a band that is all three of these things? For my first music review of 2013, I’ll be talking about Buranovskie Babushki, or “The Grannies of Buranovo.”

The eight ladies of the band are all grandmothers, and they hail from the tiny hamlet of Buranovo in Udmurtia, a region in central Russia. Most of their songs are in Udmurt, their local native language, which is actually more closely related to Finnish than it is to Russian.

They rose to international fame in 2010 and again in 2012 when they competed in the Eurovision Song Contest. In 2012, they won the Russian competition, and traveled all the way to Azerbaijan for the final international showdown of Eurovision.

They have two albums under their belts – a self-titled album, and a maxi-single of remixes of their 2012 Eurovision song. Their recent international popularity sometimes seems a sharp contrast to the Grannies’ simple home life and old fashioned values.

At home in Buranovo, they still farm, raise animals, and make clothing the way their ancestors did. They sing their own grandmothers’ traditional songs, and write new songs in the same style as those of old. And then they add a fast techno beat and other sounds of electronica music, and behold—a whole new world of music is born.

Their self-titled album “Buranovskie Babushki – Collection of Songs” is a patchwork quilt of the warbling traditional tunes of the Ural mountains, electronic beats worthy of any dance club DJ, and songs with riveting titles like “Long, long birch bark and how to make an ishon out of it.”

And then, just when you think you’re getting used to this idea of old-world Russian grannies mixing with post-modern techno, they toss in a few cover songs.

Their version of “Yesterday” by The Beatles captured my attention for more than one reason. First off, it’s not every day you hear a group of old ladies singing a Beatles’ song—a capella, no less. Secondly, they translated it into Udmurt. Just a little bit different from Paul McCartney’s original.

This slow haunting song of beautiful melancholy is preceded on the album by the dance song “FooDoora.” At first listen, you might not realize that the same group of ladies had produced both songs, they’re so different. “FooDoora” would be a favorite among any Tiësto-loving club-goer , and then “Yesterday” captures the beauty of the human voice and makes you want to cry, even if you don’t understand Udmurt.

The album opens with their 2012 Eurovision hit “Party for Everybody,” sung partially in English and partially in Udmurt. Ending the album is “Chastushki,” a toe-tapping folk song with a polka rhythm—and of course a nice underlying track of electronica.

If you like folk music, if you like techno, or if you like songs in Udmurt, I would recommend the Grannies of Buranovo. Even if you don’t like any of those things, they are still worth hearing, for their uniqueness if nothing else. How many grandmothers are willing to juggle a rural farm life with international concert touring? Buranovskie Babushki prove that anything is possible, and that you’re never too old to do something new.

The Grannies’ website:

“Party for Everybody” – 2012 Eurovision song