Guest Column – Unsongs by Moddi: Listen to an English version of Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer

Guest Column – Unsongs by Moddi: Listen to an English version of Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer

moddiInformed by a political entanglement of his own, Norwegian artist Moddi is releasing a concept album of songs that have fallen foul of the censor. The initial track from Unsongs (released later this year) is the first English translation of Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer, the performance of which in a Moscow cathedral led to members of the band's imprisonment. You can listen to the new version of the song below, while in a guest column the singer-songwriter explains how the project came about.

It was never the plan anyway, to release forbidden songs from all around the world. To bring back forgotten melodies and old hatred. The plan, if there ever was one, was to keep on doing what I had always done, to sing comfortable and harmless songs about heartache and the sea for still quite a while longer.

But January 2014 would have it otherwise. I had just put behind me a year filled to the brim, with a concert every second day, a Norwegian Grammy, and the usual burnout symptoms. On top of that, I had just announced that I would cancel what would have been my first-ever concert in Israel. The internet was generally unimpressed. “Stop being such a sniffling, hypocritical ass. Your music most probably sucks.” And, encouragingly, “Moddi is pawn of fascists. He would have boycotted America but played for Hitler”.

A few days later, I received an email from Birgitte Grimstad (now 78), a famous Norwegian songstress and activist. She told me about her second Israel tour in 1982, when she was stopped from singing about Eli Geva, an Israeli officer who has refused to lead his forces into Beirut that year. Since then, I have kept my ears open to stories like that of Birgitte’s.

This year I am releasing Unsongs, an album consisting of banned, censored and silenced songs from all over the world.

The first single from Unsongs comes from Russia, where the punk activists Pussy Riot famously were given two-year prison terms for their performance inside the Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour. Most people know Pussy Riot as an explosion of colourful balaclavas, smoke bombs and compact camera footage. However, the message of their songs is just as powerful, really nothing but pure protest poetry.

When making the music video for the song (above), I wanted to bring it as close to its origin as I possibly could. We travelled North, to a chapel which lies just a few hundred metres from the Russian border. The church parish, however, found the lyrics ‘unacceptable for our house’. We ended up filming the video on the church steps, minus five degrees. It was freezing, but reassuring. It proved that my translation had not made the message too mild. It was still bannable.

Ironically, my version of Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer is released in two versions: One with the swear words that got Pussy Riot imprisoned, and one without. Apparently, calling the Russian-Orthodox patriarch a "dickhead" and his words nothing but "holy crap" is too much for most radio stations – even if it is empirically correct. Even before it has been released, then, the song has faced more censorship than I knew existed.

Most of the songs you hear on the radio are comfortable and harmless. Through making Unsongs, it has dawned on me that music can be so much more. Moddi Moddimusikk

For more head to Moddi.no.