Black Sea Cossacks

I could spend a long time in the record basement. At first I start going through “Alternative Rock”, but it is much less interesting than “World” or “Folk”. Specifically, I would like some sad Russian folk music. Perhaps sad is the wrong adjective for it. I would like some failed crops and only stones to eat type of music.

I look for these kinds of records when I go to Ashwoods in Sydney. This store is very similar to Ashwoods, although the overall quality of music is better. It has the same serious male record collector types in it, and the same feeling of claustrophobia. Both are underground, although this store is over two levels. I leave my Tasche at the desk and descend the steep stairs into the record basement. It is comforting down there, and I am alone. You could stay down there all day and no one would make you leave until closing time. While there are thousands of records down there, I like the fact that each has been individually priced and slipped into a protective plastic sleeve.


I find a seam of Russian records in the folk section. I buy such records going off my instincts, without listening to them beforehand. I like to imagine certain records give me certain feelings for a reason. My initial feeling upon discovering “Songs and Rites of the Black Sea Cossacks”, was fear, as it had some of the creepiest cover art I had ever seen. Here is a recreation:

Price sticker, €5.00

Logo of The International Organisation of Folk Art

Text in Russian, in red, with flowers.

A photograph of a goat. The goat has a
wooden snout, with real fur and horns. It has
a crazy red and white eye painted on. It has a
carnation in its mouth and is wearing a floral,
70s grandma dress, and numerous strings of
pearls around its neck. It has its mouth open
as if it is in the midst of giving some advice.
There is a bell hanging from its beard.

Songs and Rites
of the Black Sea
Stanitsa Anastasievskaya
Krasnodar Region

However, anyway you can imagine this, it will not come close to the creepiness of the original. It is a challenge for my descriptive powers (I am not able to photograph it because if I try, the camera seizes up). I will try one more thing. Imagine your grandmother, a woman who enjoys dressing in bright, floral 70s dresses, with a lot of cheap jewellery, has been turned into a wooden goat with black fur and a thick tuft of beard. She sits up in her chair like she always does, as if nothing has changed.

I expect the man at the counter to make a comment about my record when I buy it, but he doesn’t. Still, I like to think that he imagines me as a connoisseur of the most obscure kinds of world music, and that he is very impressed I didn’t just come for the new Jens Lekman LP or the Young Marble Giants reissue. I like to imagine that the serious record collector men are intrigued by me and my obscure tastes, as I stride out into the night with Songs and Rites of the Black Sea Cossacks.


4 Responses to “Black Sea Cossacks”

  1. Ben Smith Says:

    Dear Vanessa

    Are you having a dig at Jens Lekman fans? I’m seeing Jens tomorrow night and I hope to see plenty of serious male record collector types blissfully singing along.

    Keep up the great blog, but please leave Jens and friends alone.

    Hope all is well. Much love


  2. froschperspektive Says:

    No no, I love Jens Lekman. I missed seeing him in Berlin because it sold out, he was a star of the listings guide, the headline on the front was: “Young Men put the Melancholy back into Pop”. I am rather disappointed that I manage to miss JL in both Berlin, and Sydney, but this kind of thing happens to me a lot.

  3. Ben Smith Says:

    I’m very glad that you love Jens. He was brilliant on Saturday night. A group of young men were hanging out in the bar afterwards, self-consciously trying to find something intelligent to say about the show. One of them finally admitted “I just feel so happy after that!”. He spoke while shaking his head as if he couldn’t believe it himself. The others smiled broadly, nodded and then looked awkwardly into their beers. There should be plenty of opportunities to see him when you get back Miss Vanessa. Seeya

  4. fber Says:

    Was the record what you had hoped for? Only stones to eat, etc? Or was it invigorating cossack dancing music?

    Last night Rob and I saw a film called ‘A Journey of Dmitry Shostakovich’ which I think that you would love. It basically consisted of footage from a cruise to America taken by Shosta in the 1970s, interspersed with footage from his life in Soviet Russia from the 1920s-1960s. The cruise ship was Russian; most of the entertainment seemed to have some kind of didactic purpose, eg. ‘Learn Russian dancing’ ‘See film about great Soviet Russia’. Yes. (Of course, the cruise ship sank off the coast of New Zealand in 1986.)

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