Otava Yo: Do You Love

Ideal Prospect

Listening Post 223. There’s more than a touch of Gogol in the Russian ensemble Otava Yo: There’s humor, symbolism and archetypal characters that serve as anchors for artistic brilliance. Group leader and co-founder Alexey Belkin explains that the band’s work reflects “not so much folklore as a twenty-first century attitude toward folk music,” brought to animation in layers of respect and self-parody, with instruments that run from traditional zithers and pipes to worldly violin and electric guitar, in cinematic videos that collapse time and, above all, in luxurious harmonies. On Do You Love (Любишь ли ты), the group’s five men and one woman deliver high-energy songs of romance, family and values, dancing, fighting and drinking. The carousing begins with Once Upon a Time on a High Hill (Как на горке, на горе), describing a tavern where “brave and lusty young men drink vodka” and a lady tavern-keeper who marries without telling her father (video 1). The endearing roundelay Oh Dusya, My Marusya (Ой, Дуся, ой, Маруся) portrays a lovers’ spat that ends well (video 2). Sumetskaya (Сумецкая) is a folk-rock series of fist-fighting couplets; it’s video, punctuated with hopak dancing, is at 25 million YouTube views and counting (video 3). The album’s most tender track, Maidens Have Sown the Flax (Посеяли девки лён) is a string-and-voice idyll (video 4). Part of Otava Yo’s sonic chemistry is the celebration of village life by musicians who started out playing on the streets of St. Petersburg, their favorite performance spot (cited in the title of their first album, By the Pharmacy) on bustling Nevsky Prospect—also a recurring venue in Gogol’s stories. From Soviet-era echoes of approved orchestras, Belkin and friends have taken their Russian folk songs far—and unlike their preferred avenue, which stretches a mere four kilometers, their musical path has no end in sight. (ARC Music/Navigator Records)

Otava Yo / Отава Ё
Alexey Belkin – Vocals, gusli (Russian zither), fife, double reed fife, tin whistle, chalumeau (baroque era proto-clarinet), Galician bagpipe, kaljuka (overtone flute), tambourine, panpipes
Alexey Skosyrev – Vocals, electric guitar, drums, woodblock
Dmitriy Shikhardin – Vocals, fiddle, fife, panpipes, vladimirskiy rozhok (wooden trumpet)
Petr Sergeev – Bass drum, snare drum, wood block
Timur Sigidin – Bass guitar
Julia Usova – Vocals, violin, glockenspiel, panpipes

In Russian, Otava means “aftergrass”—the regrowth 2-3 weeks after mowing

Related post: Otava Yo: What Are Those For Songs!, Listening Post 32, Feb 1, 2016.


Once Upon a Time on a High Hill/Как на горке, на горе
Lyrics and music: Traditional
(from the Russian lyrics, all English translations by Astamur Panov)

On a high hill/On a high steep hill
On a high steep hill/They built a brand-new tavern
In this tavern/Brave and lusty young men drink vodka

In this tavern/Brave and lusty young men drink vodka
Brave and lusty young men drink vodka/Much to the surprise of the rich
Brave and lusty young men drink vodka/Much to the surprise of the rich
Don’t be surprised, rich people/I’ll pay for my drinks
Don’t be surprised, rich people/I’ll pay for my drinks.
Here’s a penny, here’s another one/And here’s some more

Here’s a penny, here’s another one/And here’s some more
And here’s some more/For the young lady tavern-keeper
Here’s some more/For the young lady tavern-keeper
Tanya the lady tavern-keeper/My betrothed
Tanya got wed/Without telling her father

Tanya got wed/Without telling her father
Now comes Tanya/To talk to her father
Now comes Tanya/To talk to her father
“Here, Father, have a drink!/Have a drink, dear father
Have a drink, and have another one/Have a drink, dear father
Have a drink, and have another one/And tell me the truth.
Have a drink, and have another one/And tell me the truth”

“I won’t tell you the truth”


Oh, Dusya, My Marusya (Cossack’s Lezginka)/Ой, Дуся, ой, Маруся (казачья лезгинка)
Lyrics & music: Traditional

I won’t put on powder or whiten my face/I won’t curl my hair
Oh, Dusya, my Marusya/I won’t curl my hair

I won’t say hello to my beloved/I won’t call him sweetheart
Oh, Dusya, my Marusya/I won’t call him sweetheart

I know ninety songs/And will sing them all tonight
Oh, Dusya, my Marusya/I will sing them all tonight

Each song has three words in it/“I love you”
Oh, Dusya, my Marusya/I love you.

My voice is a bit raspy/And whose fault is that?
Oh, Dusya, my Marusya/Whose fault is that?

It’s my sweetheart’s fault/He took me for a walk in the cold
Oh, Dusya, my Marusya/Took me for a walk in the cold

He looked at another girl/And I rouged my cheeks
Oh, Dusya, my Marusya/I rouged my cheeks

Quietly walked by his windows/And now he loves me again
Oh, Dusya, my Marusya/And now he loves me again


Sumetskaya (Fist-fighting Rhymes)/Сумецкая (русские частушки под драку)
Lyrics & music: Traditional

Who’s that riding over there?
Look who’s riding/On a lame mare
Those are our Skobars coming home

The Skobars are a joyous bunch/Coming home from a fair
Some half-clothed, some barefoot/Some with their heads bashed in

Play me “Skobars”/So it’s funny enough
But not so that my belly/Hurts from laughter

Play it so that/I feel like dancing
And so that no young hoodlum/Prances around us

I really feel like dancing/And hopping around
But frankly, most of all/I feel like starting a fight
Who’s that over there/Dancing to and fro?
He’d better watch it/Or he’ll taste my fists

When I was off to a party/My dad gave me five kopecks
And my mom whispered/“Don’t get too drunk”

I was born a reckless man/I don’t give a damn about much
If my head gets chopped off/I’ll fit a block of wood in its place
I hurt and I bend over/I’ll say I’m unwell
But I don’t need any doctors/Just give me a bottle of vodka instead

We won’t take kindly to those/Who call us drunks
We pay for our drinks ourselves/Nobody treats us to them
They beat me up/Going for my eye
Instead, they hit my shoulder/So I stand and laugh at them.

I’m not going to cry/I’m not going to moan all the time
Let me be merry/For just a little while

My sweetheart’s fair braids/Went down to her hips
My buddy and I/Fought each other for those braids
That buddy of mine/Cost me my freedom
I ended up in jail/Paying for my deeds

There’s time for a fight/There’s time for payback
There’s time for looking at the world/From behind bars
A jail in Petrograd/With twisted stairs
My buddy and I did our time there/Singing songs

You play, and I’ll sing/That way my belly won’t hurt so much
Let people say what they will/All the merrier to bide our time


Maidens Have Sown the Flax/Посеяли девки лён
Lyrics & music: Traditional

Maidens have sown the flax/Maidens have sown the flax
They’ve sown the flax, they’ve sown the flax/Stepping light, they’ve sown the flax

Into Father’s garden/Into Father’s garden
The garden, the garden/Stepping light into the garden

The flax grew strong and white/The flax grew strong and white
Strong and white, strong and white/Stepping light, strong and white

There was a young man/There was a young man
A young man, a young man/Stepping light, a young man

He tore the flax blossoms off/He tore the flax blossoms off
Tore them off, tore them off/Stepping light, tore them off

And wove them in a wreath/And wove them in a wreath
In a wreath, in a wreath/Stepping light, in a wreath

And he kissed a young girl/And he kissed a young girl
Kissed a girl, kissed a girl/Stepping light, kissed a girl



3 thoughts on “Otava Yo: Do You Love

  1. I love the purity and rediscovered Russian Soul that comes through we have so much in common I am a New Zealander my partner is Russian women and I feel closer to her through this bands music, I do not understand the words but I do feel the meaning touching me.

    1. Hi Nigel,
      I think you’ve touched on the mysterious power of music. The goal of my site is to share with others the joy of going beyond our comfort zone, or linguistic abilities, to experience new music and seeing how it can touch us.

      Thanks for writing.


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