Soviet Vocal-Instrumental Ensembles: the lost, terrible pop of the USSR

In order to fight the incursion of decadent western pop, the Kremlin encouraged the creation of Vocal-Instrumental Ensembles (VIAs) that performed some genuinely, delightfully awful music, stuff that puts the trololo guy to shame.

The VIAs were monitored by political commissars (euphemistically called "artistic directors") who monitored their sound and appearance to ensure that it stayed within the bounds set by the state's ideological bosses. While the VIAs' popularity has waned with young Russian audiences, they retain a significant and dedicated following among older Russians.

VIAs provided a sanctioned alternative to the state's more overtly propagandistic efforts to cultivate and win over a new generation of Soviet youth. In the absence of broadly disseminated alternatives, VIAs were hugely popular, selling millions of albums and becoming the de facto soundtrack to late socialism.

Paradoxically, the sonic and visual aesthetics of the Soviet Union's most popular ensembles such as "Poyuschie gitary" ("The Singing Guitars"), "Samotsvety" ("The Gems"), and "Pesniary" had more in common with their Western counterparts than with the previous generation of Soviet music.

Remembering Soviet Pop: the USSR's Vocal-Instrumental Ensembles
[Ryan Wauson/Global Voices]