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Culture Reviews
Sixteen Tons 
By Ryan Macalino
It was a packed house on the night of the Pelageya concert at 16 Tons. The Friday club atmosphere was its usual cool, but the crowd started to get restless once it hit 11 o’clock: howling, clapping, and crying out Pelageya’s nickname for her and the band to start performing. It’s amazing to me how at only 17, she can inspire such enthusiasm in a place where she legally wouldn’t even be allowed in.

So just what is it about Pelageya, exactly? What makes her so special? According to a long-time fan, she is considered to be a national treasure here in Russia – so much so that since the age of 10, she has performed for numerous personalities in the past, including presidents and patriarchs. And yet by earnestly thanking her fans for their support over the years, it just might be that this 17-year old is not only famous and gifted, but humble as well. Such a glowing reference indeed, but if you’re still not convinced, just wait until you hear her sing...

Pelageya began the night with an aria, singing a capella and giving her band enough time to quietly set up and watch her in admiration. When the song was finished, she had left the crowd motionless for about a second or two before they started clapping. In a show of humility and unselfishness, she then quickly proceeded to introduce her bandmates one-by-one before they properly carried on. They began their set in the same manner at the Festival Avant a few weeks ago, and it was just the perfect way to prepare uninitiated onlookers and tag-alongs to their music.

Just like a few weeks back, the band played in fine form. Once again, the star is unmistakably Pelageya herself, but there’s no denying that she is surrounded with exceptional talent. Each band member could easily carry his own weight, and was given an opportunity to do so. I got the impression that their unique sound was a combination of different musical backgrounds and interests as well as endless hours of practice and rehearsal. This was made more evident with a song that had Pelageya singing over what sounded like ethnic music from Borneo. The combination of Malaysian instrumentation, obscure Russian folk lyrics, and Pelageya’s banshee-like delivery for this song seems impossible to pull off, but the band didn’t even break a sweat.

The next song sounded at times Middle Eastern, and at times Indian. It had somewhat of a sensual quality to it, and it featured Pelageya’s singing at its most seductive, kind of like Mata Hari reincarnated. They then did a popular number that demonstrated Pelageya’s 4-octave vocal range over an accordion-laced cover of the Mission: Impossible theme. This song had the crowd going bananas afterwards. However, the band knew they were in complete control, so in the next song they responded by going the other way…

Introducing the song with a groovy 70’s style bassline, the band seamlessly moved into a reggae vibe, topped with Pelageya’s angelic vocals. Her singing was serene, and her power to captivate became more evident with each song that passed. Songs that invoked all sorts of emotions and reactions, from agony, to silence, to wonder – it was all there. The band met her power with different musical landscapes, from Africanesque rhythms, to Miami conga beats, to Bossa Nova smoothness. The Russian-folk-rapping was there too, and so was Fifth Element chorus, again without the aid of computer audio enhancement. It was an awe-inspiring show, and the crowd was feeling it the whole way through.

In a short interview after the concert was finished, Pelageya told me that her main aim is to educate Russian youth about the beauty of Russian music. I myself grew up never having heard one Russian song, but it’s easy for me to say that this group is one of the best I’ve ever seen. They have such an uncanny ability to merge diverse musical styles from all over the world and fuse them with nearly-forgotten folk songs from the farthest reaches of Russia. Take this fresh, unique sound and add Pelageya’s unequalled vocal prowess, and I believe you have a group that has international success stamped all over them.

Russian or Expat, if you’re reading this review and you’re just a little bit curious, do yourself a favour: cop her albums, watch her and her band perform live. You won’t be disappointed. Pelageya is not only a national treasure but also Russia’s gift to the world.

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