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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Pop Star: Madonna Gets Russian Soul

Russia has an exciting new pop star. You may have seen her on television, a young girl in a silver mini dress and big boots singing "Play with me, tenderly as you want." She is a bit like Madonna but not nearly so crude. She is more like the Icelandic singer Bjork, but that comparison is not exact either. She is refreshing and original. She is Linda.


Her voice is small, that of a vulnerable child. On its own, it would not be particularly interesting. But it is a strand in a whole tapestry of sound woven by musicians from Russia, Japan, Bolivia and India. The man behind it all is producer Maxim Fadeyev, who draws his inspiration from the ethnic traditions of the world.


Last week I met Maxim and Linda in their studio near the Hippodrome. With two CDs, "The Songs and Dances of the Tibetan Lama," selling like hot cakes in the kiosks, they are on their way to major success. They came from afar and struggled hard for recognition in Russia. They have yet to be noticed in the West.


Maxim grew up in the city of Kurgan beyond the Ural Mountains. His mother was a Gypsy musician and his Russian father a composer. He received an education at a special music school and worked as a choir master. On the Soviet-era "underground," he listened to Peter Gabriel and Queen.


These were the influences behind his own rock group, Convoy, seven musicians who performed for nine years in the cellars of Kurgan before coming to Moscow to seek their fortunes.


"We came with our families," said Maxim. "Sixteen people lived in a one-room flat we rented near Peredelkino. We starved. My wife and I once had to make a single potato last for three days. And people in the Moscow music business were not interested in us. They said there was no demand for ethnic music."


Maxim's luck changed when he was introduced to Linda (her real name is a secret) by the video director, Fyodor Bondarchuk. Linda, only 20, gave focus to the somewhat messy music of Convoy. Convoy gave Linda a rich backing.


Linda came from a place even more far-flung than Maxim, the Kazakh town of Kentau by the Chinese border. Her grandparents were exiled there under Stalin. A Jew, she grew up in barracks with people of many nationalities including Greeks. From an early age, she was used to ethnic music.


Linda studied to be a gymnast but had an accident which ended her career in sports. The training was not wasted, however, as it has made her a good dancer as well as singer. When Linda performs live, she is joined by dancers from Cuba and Guinea Bissau, former students of Patrice Lumumba University whom Maxim spotted in a disco.


"The Songs and Dances of the Tibetan Lama" are hypnotic. Neither Linda nor Maxim has ever been to Tibet. "The Tibetan Lama is just a symbol, an embodiment of the spiritual," says Maxim. He wrote both the music and the words, which are meditative and subtly erotic.


Now Maxim and Linda are working on a new double CD, to be called "Female Wolf." The wolf is the "embodiment of motherhood." The album will be about ecology and against violence. Maxim gives a preview of a track called "Kitoboi" (Whale Hunt). The CD will be released in the autumn. Look out for it. It's powerful stuff.