Russia, 2022, Circassian folk
Jrpjej – After the War Comes Funeral: Circassian Songs of Resistance and Sorrow 1763-1864: These are the solemn songs sung by the scant survivors of genocide, but this short, unplanned album isn’t merely a vehicle of protest; it’s a moment of brave expression, drawing on the roots of this vocal tradition.
This album was released on the 21st of May, the Circassian Day of Mourning, a day on which the Circassian diaspora remembers the victims of the Russo-Circassian War–and this day was chosen for a specific reason. Those of Circassian heritage remember not only a war but a tragedy resulting in a loss of independence and a near genocide and displacement of a people. To the Circassians, this is not merely some political dispute of the past but a reality they are still dealing with. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the regular mourning procession in the city of Nalchik was canceled in 2020 and 2021, a move the Circassian public reasonably accepted due to the extraordinary circumstances. But when in 2022 the parade was cancelled again, this time without a clear explanation, the Circassian people grew suspicious and indignant. The Russian government said it had to do with the difficult times they’re in, especially with the current war in Ukraine, so in response to Russian suppression of their traditional memorial ceremonies, Jrpjej decided to make the voice of their people heard anyway. They recorded this unplanned album, a 22-minute 5-track meditation on the tragedy of the Russo-Circassian War (only track 4 was previously recorded).
Jrpjej is a trio of vocalists who also play percussion, guitar, accordion, and shichepshin (a traditional bowed instrument and the Circassian national violin). Two guest singers fill out the vocal textures of these mourning songs.
A lone shichepshin opens this album, instantly establishing a mournful tone, and soon enough, a lone elegiac voice joins. A stanza later, tastefully muted background vocals join the lament. We are at a funeral service, and the chief mourner invites us join him in an a capella remembrance of deeds bravely done and of people slaughtered upon and scattered from their native soil by an aggressive colonial force. Pull your cowl across your face as you turn away from the weariness of war, and rejoice to hear the return of the shichepshin as it leads the vocalists into a fiery half-yelled tune. What follows is another chief mourner leading the gathered mourners in another lament, but this one is built upon a droning, repeated refrain, almost like a mantra, inviting the listener to lose himself in his grief, to experience release. The final track features, once again, the shichepshin, expounding long, melodious phrases that are abruptly cut short, like a life with so much promise that is suddenly destroyed by war. Even the vocalists–and especially the female–end each utterance with almost a spat of disgust.