Refrains of Dissent
In Soviet times there was the famous Samizdat, which in Russian means self-published, but there was also a lesser known phenomenon called Magnitizdat, or self-publication of reel-to-reel protest songs. Read about the brave artists who risked everything to express their deepest beliefs and feelings. A testament to the indominatibility of the human spirit. Hat tip to Pawlina at Nash Holos.
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"They called it magnitizdat, or self-publication on reel-to-reel tape recorder, and it was a brand new medium for Soviet dissidents. Vladimir Kovner was there at its birth.
'In 1961 was the first major recording of Okudzhava,' Kovner recalls. 'It was in a communal apartment in front of 20 people, all friends. We had a couple of tape recorders on a small table, with some vodka of course, and that was it.'
Pre-1972 Soviet-era photo of Bulat Okudzhava
The performer that evening was Bulat Okudzhava, a poet and former soldier whose father was executed during Stalin's Great Terror. In the late 1950s, Okudzhava began setting his poems to a spare guitar accompaniment and performed them at small gatherings of friends. Unofficial recordings of those performances, such as the one Kovner taped in 1961, began to circulate. Those recordings created a movement.
'At the time there were only songs approved by the Union of Song Writers, and all of them glorified Soviet power,' Kovner explains. 'Okudzhava glorified women, love, mothers. When he sang about war, his songs were sad. He never glorified war. That point of view was incredible. And those songs accompanied by just a guitar were very attractive to us.'
Listen to Clouds, a magnitizdat song by Alexander Galich.
A fascinating look into the indomitability of the human spirit and the need to express one's soul honestly and openly even in the face of oppression and persecution.
Soon, other guitar-poets began disseminating recordings. Copies of their performances spread quickly and beyond the reach of the Kremlin's control.
'We would just give a copy to our friends and acquaintances,' recalls Vladimir Frumkin, an early disseminator of magnitizdat. 'And they would make copies and give it to their friends. It was a geometrical progression because in the end, millions of copies were circling around.' "