Well today it’s my birthday (cue fanfare music sting and dancing girls…. and… go sting …go girls) and I thought I’d share a guilty pleasure with you. You’ll like it. I promise.
No not that one… nor the one with the Salsa dipping sauce and Mojo Webb soundtrack… no. It is my Finnish pleasure.
I can’t recall exactly when I cam across this musical… umm.. phenomenon… and I can’t remember who introduced me to them but I am externally grateful. They always brings a smile to my dial and when the creative well is a little shallow, this outfit always seems to refresh and re-energise me.
They are a Finish Rock Band created by a Finnish (you’ll notice that I really like using the word Finnish where ever possible in this paragraph) film director Aki Kaurismaki (seriously that is his name, cool huh?) who featured in his Finish film cunningly titled “Leningrad Cowboys Go America” starring a fictional Finish progressive rock band with a taste for polka – the Leningrad Cowboys. Finished with laboring the Finish.
After the film, the band not expectantly took on a life of its own. Recording music, making videos and giving concerts. The band appeared in two other Aki Kaurismäki films, “Leningrad Cowboys Meets Moses” and “Total Balalaika Show”.
This second film featured the band in concert and for the first time with the 160-member Alexandrov Ensemble. It was in Helsinki and it was magic.
The Cowboys followed this up with a slightly smaller ensemble, about 70 odd Alexandrov member. They played at the 11th Annual MTV Music Awards in New York to an estimated global audience of 250 million people worldwide. Not bad at all.
This strange musical fusion of Finnish Art-Pop and Russian Military gave birth to some of the oddest cover renditions I have heard, but nothing more so than their glorious take of “Sweet Home Alabama” – the signature hit song from one of the most famous airplane crash band’s Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Check out the wacky glory of the Cowboys and the Alexandrov’s in action below.
About ten years after this concert film the Cowboys and the Ensemble got back together for a concert imaginatively titled “Global Balalaika Show“. And they were still popular! They have since toured regularly including private corporate functions… although I suspect seeing them perform without the Alexandrov Ensemble would be a little disappointing in some ways. For me anyway. The clash of stiff Cold War feeling military uniforms with the pop-art explosion of the Cowboys loud-jackets and Cirque de Soleil inspired pointed hair and shoes. It’s this visual and audible clash set to music that makes it all work so wonderfully.
As a general rule, the Leningrad Cowboys consist of eleven cowboys and two Leningrad Ladies. Their songs indicate a strong thematic preference for Genghis Khan, Russian folk standards, tractors and rockets, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, and of course vodka. Naturally.
That’s not to say that they haven’t tried their hand at more contemporary-ish songs.
The second clip embedded below is their version of that late ’90’s hit from punk-ish group Offspring. In some ways I like this song “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” more so than their other offerings. If for no other reason than it features the Ladies auxiliary of the ensemble opening the track by singing “Give It To Me Baby” in heavy accented English. Adorable and fun.
AND check out the way they have gone about staging the concert. Tiered stage levels and an elevated catwalk flown through and above the audience. Transferable to a memorable corporate environment? Yes sir.
The Leningrad Cowboys official site can be found overrrrr….overrr… here!
and the wonderful Russian Choir and Backing band is the Alexandrov Ensemble… and their site can be found……over….. there!
As a special added bonus for 168’ers – we have organized, kinda, for their entire site to be presented totally in Russian for a greater cultural experience. Awwww pretty.
Your most welcome.