Vagabond Opera, guests roll out 'Day of the Dead' bash

by: COURTESY OF CHERVONA - Chervonas Slavic-meets-Western party music is fueled by the highly entertaining leader Andrei Temkin (left, front), a native of St. Petersburg, Russia. Says Temkin: I have played every gig.I enter a nightclub to have a drink with Andrei Temkin, the leader of Portland’s ultimate Slavic party band, Chervona, and his wife and muse Alma Temkin.

Chervona combines Russian, Roma, Ukrainian, polka, klezmer, punk and jazz and will play with headliner Vagabond Opera at Star Theater’s “Day of the Dead” show Friday, Nov. 1. I’m here to get the skinny on Chervona’s music.

I would like to say I’ve seen them, but every time I’ve tried to go to a show, wherever they play has been packed to the walls and I’ve been left outside weeping. I begin by trying to conduct a serious interview, which lasts about 45 seconds. By the time I leave, I have laughed more than almost any other time I have interviewed anyone.

Among the things I learn from Andrei and Alma:

• “Jingle Bells” is a “very punk rock song,” which Andrei foisted on his reluctant bandmates. The Eastern Europeans loved it, the Americans didn’t, the Americans lost.

• “Every amateur musician plays the bass. It’s a cheap way for some amateur musicians to get cheap drinks and girls.” Chervona’s bassist, Roman Ramonoff, Andrei hastens to add, is a “very mature musician.”

• Chervona’s music will make you “take off your shoes,” and possibly more items of clothing, Alma says. Indeed, Planned Parenthood may want to picket the band at some point because their shows have apparently inspired crazed fans to recklessly mate after shows with no thought of the impact on our overpopulated planet.

“We have no idea how many babies have been born (because of Chervona),” Alma says, adding, “only happy babies were born!”

That’s because Chervona’s Slavic-meets-Western party music inspires Portland’s notoriously shy men to actually muster enough courage to talk to pretty women — when they’re not drinking or

dancing as if they’re glued to pogo-sticks.

“We are not just typical Russian restaurant band,” Andrei intones in the most serious statement he makes all night.

The conductor

“I’m the locomotive that moves that band on the railroad,” Andrei says, adding he’s a native of St. Petersburg,


He emigrated to Oregon in 1995 after reading an article in a Russian magazine that stated Portland was the only U.S. city “that doesn’t have typical big-city American problems. “After reading the article, I had no hesitation.”

St. Petersburg had a lot of problems, he says, noting the criminally inclined atmosphere of post-Soviet Russia. Yet one of his town’s best assets was a thriving rock scene, which existed even before the Soviet Union collapsed, and which inspired Andrei to pursue music. Among the various styles he tried with other musicians was the progressive rock of King Crimson. But he quickly learned he wasn’t cut out for it.

“We were like, ‘Wow! This is the music, but it didn’t work. I realized you have to actually be Robert Fripp to play his music.”

Since he wasn’t Fripp, Andrei got turned onto the less complex world of punk.

“You are not worried about playing with your left hand,” he says. “It’s just about a simple groove.”

In Portland, he started Chervona — which translates as “red” or “beautiful” — as a side project of Miru Mir!, a multicultural rock/punk band, itself a side project of the now-defunct band Starbugs.

Since 2006, Chervona has had a revolving cast of about 20 musicians and associates, including co-founders and fellow Russian immigrants Romanoff and Andrew Alikhanov, with Andrei its one constant — “I have played every gig.” At one of the band’s shows, he met Alma, who hails from Lithuania and is now the band’s graphic designer, promoter, sometime songwriter and “creative juice generator.”

In addition to Chervona, the “Day of the Dead” celebration features another headliner: Vagabond Opera. The six-piece Portland ensemble features five singers (two operatically trained), two cellos, saxophone, clarinet, accordion, double bass and drums. This bohemian neo-cabaret gypsy-pop group plays cabaret, burlesque, tango, Balkan beats, Klezmer, rock, Arab music, Parisian hot jazz and opera and sings in 15 different languages.

The night also will feature Ashia Grzesik the singing Polish Witch, along with vocalists Catherine Bridge and Annie Rosen and Paul Evans on saxophone.

Belly dancer Danielle Elizabeth also will be there, along with wandering Butoh performers. Meanwhile, the event will feature a “stunning interactive altar installation dedicated to honoring the dead, a divination table, and a costume contest with prizes.”

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