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Shamanmania Meduza’s dispatch from a concert by one of Russia’s most popular pro-war singers
On September 9, the Russian singer Yaroslav Dronov, better known by his stage name, Shaman, performed at St. Petersburg’s Gazprom Arena. The Putin-praising 31-year-old, known for his support of Russia’s war against Ukraine, kicked off his latest show with a dramatic short film, shared a heartfelt letter by a fan from the Donbas, and even caused one audience member to faint from one of his romantic ballads. Here’s how the night unfolded.
‘I didn’t think there would be so many fans’
As you approach Gazprom Arena, chants from street vendors fill the air: “Scarves, caps! 500 rubles!” They’re hawking unofficial Shaman merchandise, much of which is adorned with slogans like “I’m Russian,” the title of one of Shaman’s most well-known songs. Most concert attendees, however, don’t seem to be interested. Some have brought their own patriotic paraphernalia instead; one man has the flag of the Russian Empire (yellow, black, and white with a double-headed eagle in the center) draped over his shoulders. Printed across it are the words “God is with us.”
Despite the efforts of stadium staff, the queues outside are painfully long and slow-moving.
“I didn’t think there would be so many Shaman fans,” one attendee wonders aloud. “Do they all really want to see Shaman perform, or are they just here for a laugh, like me? I’ve never even seen these sorts of queues at a football match.”
Before entering, every person has to undergo a thorough security check. Attendees are required to empty their pockets and leave behind any “suspicious” items, such as nail scissors. Each attendee then receives a pat-down from a security guard.
For those who make it through, an official merchandise stand awaits inside the arena. It sells T-shirts and sweatshirts featuring Shaman’s face and slogans such as “We” (the title of one of his songs), “Family” (Shaman’s term for his fans), and, of course, “I’m Russian.”
When they enter their designated sections, many fans, predominantly women in their fifties, discover that there are, in fact, no seats, and that they will have to stand for the entirety of the evening. To make up for this apparent oversight, arena volunteers hand out small Russian tricolor flags for free. Some people grab upwards of five in each hand. Some also have white, blue, and red stripes painted across their cheeks and foreheads.
The concert is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm, but at 8:00 pm, the stage remains empty. The crowd is chanting Shaman’s name.
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Finally, on large screens near the stage, a dramatic film begins to play. As the sun is shown setting over the Gulf of Finland, Shaman, wearing a silver leather jacket with the Russian flag on the left shoulder, boards a helicopter and sets off in the opposite direction from the Gazprom Arena.
A moment later, the aircraft returns, and another man in a jacket, sporting dark glasses and a large chain around his neck, climbs out. In his hands is a suitcase in the colors of the Russian flag. He hands the case over to third man, who’s wearing similar tinted glasses as well as a suit and bowtie. Finally, Shaman emerges from the helicopter, before looking thoughtfully into the distance, the Gazprom Arena directly behind him. Then, accompanied by two armed guards, he walks towards a motorbike parked next to the arena. He puts on a white, blue, and red helmet, climbs onto the bike, and rides towards one of the arena’s entrances. He’s followed by other bikers, carrying passengers who wave burning flares in the Russian flag’s colors.
After a few moments, Shaman, riding the motorcycle, appears onstage. He dismounts the bike, casts off his tinted glasses, and immediately launches into a song called “Give It Some Heat.”
The audience chants along, and flames begin shooting up from the edges of the stage. “I want to see your eyes, I want to hear your hearts, I want to feel your love!” Shaman sings out. The crowd roars in response.
“Yes, my Russia will say yes, and we’re united forever, like sun, air, and water, all together,” he sings.
The concert continues with Shaman’s usual energy until, midway through the night, he reveals a “surprise” for the audience: a live reading of a letter he says he received from one of his fans:
I'm writing to you from Makiivka, a city in the Donetsk People's Republic. Our entire family is really fond of your music, and your songs emanate one of the deepest and most powerful emotions — love. This love is not only for our fellow citizens but also for our vast homeland. Your songs hold a unique significance for us: they inspire us and give us hope.
There are four of us in my family: my mother, Oksana, who works as a cleaner; my father, Alexei, who is a construction worker; my younger brother, Matvey; and myself, Nikita. I am currently in the tenth grade and am really into video editing. In the future, I want to become a journalist. My brother Matvey is in second grade. He loves math.
Dear Shaman, I dream of one day being able to come to one of your concerts and listen to your songs live. We have a great amount of love and respect for you.
Matvey (Note from Meduza: It’s unclear why the letter is signed by Matvey if Nikita wrote the letter) and our whole family.
After reading the letter, Shaman’s press secretary, Anton Korobkov-Zemlyansky, emerges from the wings and announces that the singer’s team managed to locate “Nikita” and his family — and that they’re here at the concert this evening.
“You know, folks,” Shaman proclaims over the noisy crowd, “it’s moments like this that we artists live and breathe for. I want to thank each and every one of you for allowing us to do this.”
“They should bring him on stage,” one spectator says to her friend. But no one comes up; the cameraman doesn’t even manage to catch the face of “Nikita from Makiivka” in the crowd.
(After the concert, Shaman’s Telegram channel reposted a message from “Nikita” expressing his gratitude. Meduza managed to trace the account that sent the message. In one of the profile pictures, a young man can be seen wearing a T-shirt with the letter Z, while another image portrays a cat in an ushanka hat against the backdrop of a red banner adorned with a hammer and sickle. Several other photos on the account showcase various adaptations of the Russian Empire’s coat of arms, including a collage featuring both imperial and Soviet emblems.)
After Shaman changes his attire to better suit the upcoming selection of love songs, the concert continues. The black leather jacket that replaces the singer’s silver one is distinctly reminiscent of the Soviet NKVD uniform.
During one ballad, Shaman ventures into the audience and returns to the stage with a young lady, sharing a tender dance with her. As the song draws to a close, the young woman faints in Shaman's embrace. Security personnel quickly come to her aid and carry her backstage.
“It’s fine, everything’s fine,” Shaman reassures the audience. “There are times when love overwhelms the heart, and this sea of love just flows out from the shores. Everything is fine.”
“You can’t deny that he has his charms,” laughs one woman in the crowd. “That girl was planted,” says another woman.
‘If I died right now, I’d say my life was well-lived’
Shaman changes his costume once again, this time donning a silver hussar vest adorned with sequins. In this outfit, he sings about how he can’t forget the hands that have “caressed him to the point of pain and torment” and recalls the sensation of a “current running slowly over the skin.”
After this, Shaman abandons the sparkling vest and begins singing another love song. A man in a gymnast's uniform then takes to the stage.
“That’s his ballet dancer. He’s a famous one, too,” an audience member tells her friends.
The “famous ballet dancer” turns out to be Sergey Polunin. Shaman introduces him as a “world-renowned ballet star,” and Polunin performs a dance while Shaman sings “Let’s rise,” a song dedicated to the “heroes of Russia” who “secured our victory.”
“Glory to Russia!” someone from the audience shouts.
“I am Russian!” Shaman declares, announcing the next song.
With these words, Polunin exits the stage. The audience comes alive: nearly the entire crowd starts singing along and dancing. As the chorus plays, red, white, and blue confetti shower the crowd, and spectators try to catch the falling pieces.
At that moment, the musicians suddenly begin to smash their instruments on the floor, breaking the synthesizers and guitars into pieces. Replacements are brought in swiftly, and Shaman performs the Russian national anthem. People in the stands, as expected, rise to their feet, singing along while waving their small tricolor flags. The crowd continues to dance, albeit with more restraint. As the anthem reaches its final lines, a large tricolor flag is brought onto the stage and draped over Shaman’s shoulders by his assistants.
The performance comes to an end, and the stadium begins to chant, “Russia! Russia!” The musicians throw T-shirts out into the audience.
“It was an honor for me to stand on this stage and sing for you this evening,” Shaman tells the audience. “Even if I were to drop dead right here right now, I would say my life has been well lived.”
“I’ve been Shaman, good night!” And with that, he leaves the stage.
The audience members begin to file out. Hundreds of abandoned tricolor flags are left littered over the floor of the Gazprom Arena.
Abridged English-language version by Cameron Manley
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