Ne Zhdali

Estonias Unexpected Rock Artists

Ne Zhdali, or Unexpected, is the name of Ilya Repin's classic last 19th century painting of a bearded political prisoner unexpectedly coming home to his family. Ne Zhdali is also the name of the best-known Russian-Estonian rock group. Formed in 1987 as the "home band" at the Russian Drama Theater in Tallinn, the group played at perestroika-era rock Festivals all over the former Soviet Union and created a strong cult following, thanks to highly unusual musical textures and a bizarre stage act.

With the collapse of the Soviet empire. Ne Zhdali has found itself in an increasingly difficult position, sitting between two or more "national" chairs. Despite its international success, unequalled by any other Estonian rock act (Ne Zhdali has toured parts of Europe and released an album "Rhinoceroses and Other Forms of Life" in Holland), the group has never been really appreciated or accepted by the cultural elite in their homeland. To this day, no members of Ne Zhdali have been granted Estonian citizenship.

Moreover, in late 1990, Leonid Soibelman — the groups "spiritus ego", singer and guitarist — decided to irnmigrale to Israel. Everyone thought that the bands story was finished. But the group carried on, balancing awkwardly between different countries. Soibelman, who did not find an acceptable musical environment in Israel, moved to Switzerland. The rest of Ne Zhdali stayed in Tallinn, but managed to continue touring and recording.

Another album, this one called "Muscular Thing," was released in Estonia and now after a long absence, the group has been brought to Moscow by local aficionados to play some club gigs.

One of them was last Friday, at the Bunker. In Ne Zhdali's press kit, it says the bands music is "basically and instinctively oriented on expressive rhythmic structures and on small naive folky tunes, coming from everywhere in the world." A world beat band, however, it is defittely not. The sound is dominated by a brilliant, noisy guitar and heavily syncopated brass riffs that make Ne Zhdali distantly related to New York's "punk-funk" breed. But it is not really funky either. Ne Zhdali's work is best described in non-musical terms like witty and grotesque. The textures are very changeable and deliberately eclectic, incorporating Mediterranean, Slavic, and African influences.

For an expert ear, this is musical paradise, full of exotic elements and surprises. Unfortunately, the enormous inventiveness of the band also seems to undermine its impact. Though capable of playing hot, driving music, Ne Zhdali rarely gets into the groove for more than 30 seconds before introducing a sudden change of tempo, a complicated rhythm break or another "unexpected" trick.

Still, I hope Ne Zhdali will not compromise itself by going further if its erratic path of eccentricity and becoming another "radical dance" band. It will always Find admirers.

The band is now mixing a new album, tentatively called "Hey Rider Cool Down the Horses." Ne Zhdali. it seems, is unlikely to cool down itself.

By Artenry Troltsky