Shevchuk in Finnish

Shevchuk in Finnish

DDT frontman Yury Shevchuk goes to Finland with a concert, a rap and a new book. DDT’s upcoming concert in Helsinki will be more intimate than usual, with Shevchuk reciting poetry between the songs.

Published: April 10, 2013 (Issue # 1754)


Yury Shevchuk launches a new collection of his lyrics that have been translated into Finnish in the hope of reaching a wider audience.

Yury Shevchuk, the singer and songwriter with arguably Russia’s leading rock band DDT, is becoming more of a household name in Finland, as his songs and poetry will be published in Finnish to coincide with his band’s concert in Helsinki later this month.

The collection – “Every Spring I Die” (Joka kevät minä kuolen) – is named after a quote from Shevchuk’s song “Tenderness” (Nezhnost) from DDT’s most recent album “Otherwise” (Inache). “Every spring I die, from the strict fasting,” it goes.

Translated by Finnish author Tomi Huttunen, the book is based on Shevchuk’s Russian collection of lyrics and poetry called “Solo” (Solnik), which was published by Novaya Gazeta in 2009, but more recent material – mainly selected lyrics from “Otherwise” – has been added.

The work is a follow-up to a book about St. Petersburg rock music that Huttunen published last year.

Called “Pietari on Rock” (a pun that can be roughly translated as “St. Petersburg Means Rock”), the book was furnished with an appendix of selected Russian rock lyrics both in Russian and Finnish, including those by Shevchuk.

Huttunen – the University of Helsinki’s acting professor of Russian literature, whose academic interests are focused on the early 20th-century Russian avant-garde – said the literature-centered St. Petersburg rock music of the 1980s had been his other longtime interest since the era of perestroika and the Russian rock revolution.

Unlike the bombastic “Otherwise” set that DDT took to Finland last year, the upcoming Helsinki concert will be DDT’s alternate set, “Solo.” Though it features DDT’s full band, it is more intimate and poetic, with Shevchuk reciting his poetry between the songs.

The collection will be out by the date of the concert, at which it will be available for a nominal price.

“Alongside [Akvarium’s Boris] Grebenshchikov, Shevchuk is one of the authors in Russian rock who should be seen as serious poets and whose work deserves to be published as literature,” Huttunen said.

“This is what happens to Finnish rock poets such as Tuomari Nurmio and Ismo Alanko, whose songs were published as poetry collections. So there is a certain parallel between Russian and Finnish rock poetry.

“On the other hand, Shevchuk can be understood by the Finnish reader; I think this is quality poetry, which is accessible in translation. He has both love poems and social poems that tell us about the pressing issues of today.

“It can be compared to new Russian realism [in literature]; his songs tell us about what is happening in ordinary people’s lives right now. Shevchuk manages to catch what ordinary Russians think. In my view, that’s why he’s popular in Russia and that’s why his impressions are interesting to the Finnish reader as well.”

According to Huttunen, a glossary was added to explain certain untranslatable Russian realities in Shevchuk’s lyrics.

“I had to explain such terms as laryok [kiosks selling a wide range of items, including alcohol and cigarettes, among other things],” Huttunen said.

“It’s one of the defining features of St. Petersburg in the 1990s that didn’t exist in Finland, even if some of those early kiosks were, in fact, owned by the Finns.”


The cover of Shevchuk’s book of poems.

During the concert, due to take place at Helsinki’s House of Culture on April 27, the Finnish translations of Shevchuk’s lyrics and poems will be shown on screen, so the public will be able to read his words in their own language.

The concert will be preceded, on April 26, with what is called a “Freedom of Speech Battle” at the University of Helsinki, where Shevchuk will perform alongside Finnish rapper Paleface.

Just like Shevchuk, Paleface is reputed for his socially-conscious lyrics and uncompromising stance. In the course of the rap battle, the two will recite each other’s lyrics, in translation, with Huttunen as the referee.

Shevchuk, who has participated in protest events in the past few years and famously confronted Vladimir Putin over human rights in a televised reception after a charity event in St. Petersburg, was in the limelight in Finland when performing in Helsinki and Tampere last year, with the Finnish media appearing to be intrigued to know his opinion about what was happening in Russia.

According to Huttunen, the Finns’ interest in Russia at the height of mass protests against electoral fraud had never been that high since Gorbachev’s glasnost days in the late 1980s.

“I felt this great interest, and the band did, too, absolutely,” Shevchuk said to The St. Petersburg Times.

“Perhaps they trust our word that might be not as pompous and calculated as with some politicians and official culture figures, because they basically say what they ‘should’ (are obliged) to say and not what’s in their heart, right? But we say what’s in our soul, that’s why perhaps we are more trusted.

“People are interested to know what ordinary people think and how they see the situation in the world, in the country. It’s normal. It’s the same with me. I am not interested in what state figures say, because they say what’s written for them.

“But I am interested in human communication; for instance, what one or another artist who is not agenda-driven or dependent on some public opinion, but has a mind of his own, thinks. It’s always interesting for us all.”

According to Shevchuk, the poetry collection will help to convey the meaning of his songs to foreign audiences, something he is concerned with.

“I am even surprised that there is such great interest,” Shevchuk said.

“Perhaps it stemmed from the fact that when we performed ‘Otherwise’ in Tampere, Finland, the guys translated the lyrics for the entire set into Finnish for a booklet.

“Just like in New York, in London, in Israel and some other countries – there’s always a free booklet of poems and lyrics, and people read them. Perhaps we are breaking down some walls thanks to that. When the locals come, they understand what it’s about. They don’t only listen to the music, to the drive, but also try to grasp the meanings.”

Shevchuk firmly believes that it is through creative work that people from different nations can understand each other.

“In fact, we’re planning a certain international cultural event so that we could explain something about our life to our great neighbors, because I believe that love can come through understanding,” he said.

“I mean we should understand each other, and that’s where culture works. And it’s only culture that works, yes.”

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