The Putin GirlsThe new PBS series Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders debuts tonight. The program offers a magazine-style look at the various ways in which music is influencing politics and culture around the world. I read a lot about music, and I was unaware of any of the stories covered in the first installment, which visits three continents, to tell its four stories.

For the first segment, reporter Alexis Bloom travels to Moscow to meet Alexander Yelin, the composer responsible for the Russian mega-hit “A Man Named Putin,” and Irina Kozlova and Yana Danieko, who performed the song. It’s an interesting look at the role of popular music in Russian society today.

From there, it’s on to Nigeria, where program host Marco Werman goes to tell the story of Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti. Fela spent years railing against his country’s military rulers in his music before dying of AIDS in 1997. His youngest son Sheun stepped in to lead Fela’s band at age 14, and he is keeping the spirit of the music alive in tribute to his father.

If you’ve seen the movie Borat, you know that its not very complimentary to Kazakhstan, the nation of the title character’s birth. Citizens of Kazakhstan were deeply offended by the portrayal, and even though I laughed along with everyone else, I can’t say that I blame them.

The virtuoso violinist Marat Bisengaliev took it upon himself to try to heal his country’s wounds. He got in touch with musician Erran Baron Cohen, brother of Borat-creator Sascha Baron Cohen. Erran had composed music for the film, including the outrageous fake Kazakhstan national anthem. Bisengaliev asked him to write a symphony for his insulted country, and after first thinking it was a joke, Erran agreed. The segment takes us to Kazakhstan’s premier concert venue for the premiere of the symphony, “Zere.”

The final segment of Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders debut episode is “Global Hit: Mariza,” and features an exclusive performance by Portuguese fado queen Mariza, who is breathing new life into the traditional music form.

If you are a music lover with an open mind, and you enjoy a well told stories brought to you from exotic locations, Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders is a program that you will enjoy. Check your local listings for time and channel in your area.

About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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