Viva the VIAs!: In Defense of Soviet Popsa

Richard Robin, George Washington University

Long before the end of communist rule, the pop music of “official” vokal′no insrumental′nye ansambli (VIAs) such as Pojuščie gitary, Pesnjary, and Samocvety was the object of derision among Russian rock cognoscenti. But do these groups, whose oldies CDs are now bestsellers, deserve the scorn from critics and rock historians like Artem Troitskij and Aleksandr Žitlinskij? In this presentation, I will demonstrate that against the backdrop of both communist rule and Russia’s long established pattern of genre “seepage” from the West, many (but not all) of the VIAs played a positive role in the development of what became Russian rock. In fact, a big-picture view of Russian pop/rock leads to the conclusion that the distinction that the Russian critics insist exists between estrada (read: popsa) and “real” rock is largely an artificial one.