Bulat Okudzhava wrote his music roughly between 1950s and 1990s, but his music is still enjoyed by contemporary audiences because it’s soulful and touching, which is something lacking in contemporary music.
For Those New To Okudzhava
If you are new to Okudzhava, what I’d recommend focusing on is how he blends pretty melodies with pretty lyrics. His lyrics and sound are often kind. Sometimes the lyrics are sad or melancholy while the music is uplifting. There is a whirlwind of emotions and new worlds to experience with Okudzhava. The new listener just has to be open and listen intently, especially focusing on picturing the imagery in his songs rather than letting the lyrics go by.
For People Who Have Listened To Okudzhava For Many Years
You and I share a passion for his poetry and music. Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly translating his songs to English and sometimes rewriting parts of them to keep the main ideas instead of translating his poetry literally. Below are a few of his songs I translated and performed in English.
Please also share this your English-speaking family and friends who might not be able to appreciate him in his native Russian. That’s why I have been translating his work. My goal is to share his work with English-speaking audiences. He is such a gift.
Below are my translations and performances of a number of his songs.
Road Song Or “Po Smolenskoy Doroge”
As you can see, to make the songs palatable and relatable to English-speaking audiences, I chose to get rid of Russian references like the city of Smolensk in this song, while keeping the main ideas of the songs. Here is the song and video on YouTube:
Here is the full lyrical and philosophical analysis of the Road Song as I renamed it in English. In some way, it is a song about loneliness. But somewhere in this song hides a tiny bit of hope or a reason to feel good. That’s the mystery of Okudzhava – feelings are everywhere and we subtly feel them even if we can’t immediately verbalize them.
This song uses a beautiful metaphor with the line “Two cold evening stars, shine just like your eyes, looking down at me.” The image of stars in a clear evening skies being like cold eyes is immediately clear and felt.
Grape Seed Song Or Georgian Song
The Georgian Song or The Grapeseed Song as it’s called is perhaps his sweetest and most popular song. It was one of the first of his songs that I translated so my performance and the video is a little more on the amateur side. But it’s all saved by how good the original song is.
It isn’t a direct love song in the traditional sense. But it is certainly a romantic song with romance for friends and romantic partners. The sound of this song is just so heartwarming. Almost no matter who you are or where you are from, you will probably enjoy this song at least a little bit. It has been sending me into dreamlands for years.
This is a touching and sensitive song that reimagines a cold world into a warm one. The topic may seem strange or unusual at first, but it quickly makes sense. The topic is public transportation. Here is a deeper analysis of the Blue Trolley song and below is the video on YouTube. It’s a song about finding support in a place where you wouldn’t expect it, or maybe imagining support and experiencing it through that.
Just like most of Okudzhava’s songs, it feels and sounds simple. But if you take it in, you begin to see it as a deep song with meaning.
Wish To Friends
Wish To Friends is a simple and positive song in which Bulat sings about how he wishes we would treat one another. This is an inspirational song about life because it’s simplicity shows that we are really close to treating each other better.
Enchanting woman is a song that uses poetry from another acclaimed poet that Okudzhava set to music.
Farewell Cadets is a war song about naive cadets who go off to battle. It’s not the first song to be written about such a topic, but the song is different in how real it is when it gets into the cadets not returning and their ladies easily courted away by other men – perhaps new naive cadets.
Keep Your Heart Open
In the original song, the title was “open door.” This is a sweet song about keeping your heart open even through difficult times. I first came across this song about 20 years ago, and it’s as inspiring now as it was the first time I listened to it. It is my pleasure to translate it to English in an effort to make it accessible to a whole new audience who can also feel inspired by this song:
No matter the topic, Bulat wrote very relatable songs that touch something human in all of us. That is why people loved him and continue to love him.
This article was written by Alex Genadinik. If you are also a fan of Okudzhava, I’d love to connect. Send me an email or find me on social media and say hello.