Today, I would like to introduce you to a musical genre, typically Russian, which is called Блатная песня or блатняк (criminal songs). It's a musical genre that celebrates the hard life and customs of the criminal environment, using the prison slang.
This genre originated in the Russian Empire and became popular in the Soviet Union. Over the time, criminals have written on other themes than criminal life, but the melody, the vocabulary, the narrative and the philosophy remained.
In the middle of the 19th century, appeared the so-called “песни воли и неволи” (songs of freedom and captivity), “острожные” (convicts), “каторжные” (forced labour). You can read good descriptions about the prison environment in Dostoyevsky's novel “Записках из Мёртвого дома” (The House of the Dead).
The name “Блатная песня” (criminal song) appeared in the early 20th century, with the first stage performers. With Stalin at the head of the Soviet Union and so many innocents and criminals sent to labour camps, the style changed significantly and prison was a subject that prevailed over all other realities. The authors were simply and earnestly singing about their life in jail. But this musical genre never pretended to seriously engage in agitation and propaganda against the Soviets. During the Khrushchev Thaw, these songs began to reach the public with artists like Vladimir Vysotsky or Arkady Severny performing them.
In the 1990s many musicians and bands were playing criminal songs on stage. A well-know Russian songwriter, Mikhail Tanich, who had experienced life in a labour camp for six years, created one of these group “Лесоповал” (Tree cutting, a symbol of Siberian labour camps).
Another ex-convict, Alexander Novikov became one of the most famous singers in the criminal songs' genre.
Since the 1990s, the criminal songs made their appearance on the music industry market under the title of “Русский шансон” (Russian chanson).