Russian reggae brings sun to the Baltics

  • 2005-05-11
  • By Laura Kaarma
TALLINN - Most Balts will begrudgingly admit that their big eastern neighbor sends in some good Russian music every now and then. Better, they might whisper, than the latest domestic albums lining the shelves. 5Nizza's latest album, "O5" (Grand Records) is one such example.

For those who haven't heard the Ukrainian duo's previous work, the album will sound wonderfully original, invigorating and deranged. Those familiar with 5Nizza, who sing in Russian, might say the same, but without much surprise.

Sergej Babkin, aka OtecRodNoj, can do more with an acoustic guitar and his voice than most can do with an entire backing orchestra. As for lead singer Andrey Zaporozhets, who goes by the stage-name of Sun, well, the man has clearly taken a lesson or two from reggae legend Bob Marley. The vocalist almost perfectly harmonizes reggae, soul, and hip-hop styles with Russian song traditions.

Part reggae, part funk, part rock, part acoustic, this is not an easy album to describe, mostly thanks to the extraordinary vocals. The artists may sound a bit nasal for some people's taste, but they sure grab your attention as they proceed through every phoneme in the Russian language in a staggeringly fast rap. But "05" has its soft spots too, and at times is serenely beautiful.

5nizza (Friday in English) traditionally use bits and pieces of Bob Marley, Erykah Badu, and Jim Morrison in their lyrics, contriving a creative and sunny style. On top this they throw in some newly invented words and smart musical improvisations. Often the duet plays only with acoustic guitars, and use their voices to make up the missing instrumental sounds.

Their first album, "Unplugged," was one of the first in Russia to be distributed not by music shops, but by "in house" copying 's from hand to hand. Only later, when the band had already achieved international fame, 5Nizza signed with a record company and issued its first "official" album. After packed Moscow nightclubs grew old, the two moved on to perform in Israel and Germany.

Critics say that although 5Nizza haven't made any novel discoveries in music, the duo's phenomenon is its ability to synthesize styles. According to Sun and OtecRodNoj, they're not stealing from famed artists, but just "sampling." Either way, their unique acoustical and lyrical mix-up gets them off the hook. Bizarre and occasionally brilliant, 5Nizza are surely one of the better Russian bands around at the moment.