More than a decade ago, after I started frequenting Mehanata Bulgarian Bar at its original clandestine location on the corner of Canal St. & Broadway, where DJs Eugene Hutz and Joro Boro hammered the dance floor with their global mixes, I began to take notice of a few tracks that clearly differed from the expected mix of Balkan, Gypsy, Flamenco and European pop. Leningrad’s growling, dirty, horn-heavy ska-punk was well known, yet here were songs that sounded both classy and fun, tilted more towards jazzy swing, while vacuuming in the entire world of Southern Hemisphere music. I headed immediately to south Brooklyn to pick up a CD or two of this intelligent party band, and assimilate what they were throwing at me. I became a serious fan of this Russian ensemble with the German name. Who and what was a Markscheider Kunst?
Founded in 1992 by a group of geology students from St. Petersburg, Markscheider Kunst has always been something on an anomaly in the Russian music scene, especially as viewed from the USA where, in pre-internet days, one depended on one’s Russian and Ukrainian friends to introduce new music, or one took one’s chances at one of a handful of CD and DVD shops in Brighton Beach.
Why call them an anomaly? What other Russian band do you know who would issue an album like Krasiva Sleva (2001), where every single song is derived from a different nationality, principally American and European jazz, African and Caribbean music—the main connection to their home country seeming to be the vocals which are entirely in Russian. FYI, here is a list of tracks from that album, and each song’s musical pedigree:
- Krasivo sleva – (ska, jazz, blues, some Russian melodic influence)
- Moryak – (light salsa with West African guitar styles)
- Reka – (swing + ska)
- Tanec – (hot jazz)
- Babushka – (salsa)
- Vstrecha – (cumbia salsa)
- Sheriti – (soukous, southern African jazz)
- Zambiya – (central & southern African, soukous)
- Mokili – (South African jazz)
- Zumu-zumu – (Afrobeat)
- Nashe delo – (American funk)
- Kompozitsiya – (big band swing)
…and their other albums are equally eclectic.
Markscheider Kunst has visited the USA several times, playing Manhattan venues such as Drom in the East Village, and Brooklyn spaces The Paper Box in Bushwick and the many years ago at Hook, the long defunct space in Red Hook. They are known to draw open-minded audiences that have an appreciation for both retro sounds and especially for global music. As New York City has such a significant immigrant community, MK will invariably come up with phrases that push the nostalgia button not only for Russians, but for those whose home countries may be located anywhere on the planet, and those who choose to immerse themselves in New York City’s ethnic diversity.
With eight albums in their oeuvre (the latest, 2010’s Utopia) the group plays a mind-boggling array of international musical styles, from Afrobeat to soukous, ska to reggae, salsa to merengue, swing to South African jazz, and that’s just a cursory description. Russian musical influences are not absent from their repertory either.
A “big band” in their own right, Markscheider Kunst consists of nine powerful musicians:
- Sergey Efremenko - guitar, tres, vocals
- Vladimir "DJ Nguba" Matushkin - guitar, percussion, backing vocals
- Kirill Oskin - bass
- Danil Prokopyev - drums,percussion
- Kirill Ipatov - congas, timbales
- Anton Vishnyakov - trombone
- Aleksandr Pliusnin - trumpet,backing vocals
- Ivan Neklyudov - alto, tenor sax
- Denis Rachkov - management, acoustic guitar, guiro