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Russian rock fans celebrate 20th anniversary of Zemfira’s now-legendary debut album

Source: Meduza
Alexander Miridonov / Kommersant

In 1999, Zemfira Ramazanova was a 23-year-old budding musician with a growing collection of tracks she had recorded in the evenings after her day job at a local radio station. The previous year, her demos had reached a producer for the highly popular rock group Mummy Troll. Although he had invited Zemfira, as the artist and her band became known, to record an album in Moscow, it was unusual for a woman to appear on the booming Russian rock scene, and it was difficult to know how long her fame would last. Now, fans are celebrating the 20th anniversary of that debut album with gusto.

The album, also called Zemfira, was released two decades ago on May 10. It featured catchy hits like “Pochemu” (“Why”) and “Arrivederci,” the defiant autobiographical anthem “Skandal” (“Scandal”), and a love song called “SPID” (“AIDS”) that received a heady combination of ample radio airtime and political pushback. In retrospect, Zemfira said she knew the song would be scandalous, “but only because no one has sung about this before. It’s out there regardless … and music is a form of mass media.” Ultimately, Zemfira went down in history as a touchstone for young Russians who, almost a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, fell in love with the album’s messy, dark, and genuine emotional landscape.

To celebrate 20 years of Zemfira’s music, the major technology company Yandex’s music service even released a virtual “Zemfiroom,” an interactive online space with 12 embedded references to the musician’s first releases and a post-Soviet goth rocker atmosphere to match. The wallpaper in the room is a tribute to the album’s cover, which was really based on a wallpaper swatch the artists found in an interiors store near the studio where they were recording. By chance, someone had labeled the design “Zemfira.”

Yandex.Music’s commemoration also included a temporary physical monument located in the courtyard of its Moscow headquarters. Members of the public were invited to take photographs on a stage decorated with that same wallpaper pattern at any point between now and May 13.

After years of new albums and packed concert halls, Zemfira announced in 2016 that she would never again go on tour, and even our own journalists had to acknowledge that a new wave of musicians had overtaken the legendary singer and her generation in Russian pop culture. However, reputable critics have suggested that Zemfira may well change her mind, and she has not stopped producing music entirely. On September 4, 2018, the singer released a new single, Joseph, based on poetry by Joseph Brodsky. Later that year, she went on a rare social media spree, openly answering questions from fans about her life and career. Despite the characteristic snark that pervaded the entire exchange, the enthusiasm Zemfira’s online appearance unleashed on the RuNet hinted that her music isn’t going anywhere.

Hilah Kohen