Shamans, AK-47s and pies that aren't really pies. We lift the lid on Urdmurtia, Russia's strangest region and home of the Buranovskiye Babushki
Singing a traditional village song set to an upbeat dance track, The Buranovskiye Babushki, are odds-on favourites to win the Eurovision song contest this weekend. The groovy grannies hail from Buranovo, a tiny village in Urdmurtia, 700 miles east of Moscow. Here's everything you need to know about the Ural mountains backwater that they call home.
Wondering why the Buranovskiye Babushki like wearing boots made from bark? Urdmurtia is one of Europe's last remaining strongholds of organised Shamanism. Many Shamanist customs and beliefs persist to this day in isolated villages throughout the region. In the cities, Italmas, an Udmurt folk theatre and dance company, do their best to keep the traditions alive, as does the Museum of History and Culture in Sarapul. Shamanism is also linked closely to the burgeoning nationalist movement, known as “Ethnofuturism.”
The capital city, Izhevzk, is famous for manufacturing weapons. In particular, the AK-47. It was designed by local 'boy' Mikhail Kalashnikov, born in 1919 but still living nearby. More AK-47s have been produced than all other assault rifles combined and the local Izhmash factory is still knocking them out.
The Kalashnikov Museum (or The Kalashnikov Museum and Exhibition Complex of Small Arms to give it its full name) was opened in 2004 and is one of the region's most popular tourist attractions. Numerous examples of the weapon are on display and there is an underground bunker where visitors can enjoy the thrill of firing off a few rounds with the world's favourite weapon.
The product of a more privileged upbringing than Kalashnikov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a mid-sized industrial city better known these days for knocking out intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The house in which Tchaikovsky was born and spent his early childhood is now a museum. It features the piano he learned to play music on and family photos. A festival is held on the banks of the local river at the end of each April to celebrate the man and his music.
Although the chorus for Buranovskiye Babushki Eurovision entry, 'Party for Everybody', is in English, most of the song is in their native tongue, Urdmurt. Urdmurt is a Uralic language, closely related to Finnish, and is listed as an endangered by UNESCO. Choir member Olga Tuktareva hopes their Eurovision appearance will go some way to protecting her language and culture.
Urdmurt uses the Cryllic alphabet and has borrowed words from the Russian and Tartar languages. And if the chorus of 'Party for Everybody' is anything to go by, the English words 'Boom bang-a-bang.'
You may have noticed that the grannies have a wood fire oven on stage. And if your Urdmurt is up to scratch, you may have realised that one of the verses of 'Party for Everybody' translates as "The cloth is on the table, our sons will soon be here, the pies are in the oven, our hearts are full of cheer!"
The pies in question are perepechi. They are more like a dumpling. And best enjoyed with a glass or two of kumiska, the local firewater.
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