Bravo

Bravo is a Russian rock group founded in the early '80s by guitarist Evgueny Havtan. Bravo is remarkable for its great popularity during the late years of the Soviet Union, and for its hipster image and fashion sense. The group has played unrelentingly through every era of recent Russian history: the harsh censorship of the '80s, the chaos of Perestroika, the post-Soviet moral and aesthetic crisis, and the new millennium. Bravo's story is demarcated by three principal vocalists: Zhanna Aguzarova, Valerie Sutkin, and Robert Lentz. Over the years, the group has matured from a new wave band paying homage to hits of early rock & roll and jazz, to a sound based in thoughtful guitar melodies. Bravo is also distinguished as the rock group that opened to the world singer Zhanna Aguzarova.

Bravo's story begins in Moscow in the fall of 1983 when Havtan, a first year student at the Moscow Institute of Railway Engineering, combined forces with drummer Pavel Kuzin and Garik Skuchaev, of the group Postscriptum (Postscript). Havtan, the guitarist and backbone of the group, tried to break his bandmates of their tendencies towards art-rock and hard rock in favor of what he deemed a more progressive style. In its original configuration (Skuchaev, Karen Sarkisov, Havtan, and Kuzin) the band played new wave covers of groups like the Secret Service and the Police, as well as some of Skuchaev's original compositions. But, catering to the patrons of the dance club where they performed, the group was forced to dilute their repertoire with popular hits from Italian musical theater. A fateful meeting in Kuzin's kitchen led the dissatisfied artists to part ways.

Havtan immediately set to work on a reconfiguration of the group. His point of departure was the search for a saxophonist, since according to Havtan, a new wave band was no good without saxophone. To this end, Aleksander Stepanenko was unearthed from a banquet hall in a Moscow suburb. Next came a late-night phone call from Zhanna Aguzarova, who was interested in singing and in search of an ensemble. Havtan had already heard of Aguzarova (then know by her stage name, Ivanna Anders) in connection with the Moscow musical underground that was already getting dirty looks from the KGB. He was awaiting her call. One of Zhanna's friends suggested the name Bravo after visiting the theater and hearing the audience's rejoinder to a successful performance. Havtan and Aguzarova's first composition was "Koshki" (Cats). A 20-minute long cassette tape was recorded March 18, 1984, and the band began to play concerts: Bravo had its official beginning. In addition to Havtan (guitar), Kuzin (drums), Aguzarova (vocals), Stepanenko (saxophone), and Andrei Konusov (bass guitar).

Only a couple of weeks later, the group was detained by the police after one of their concerts. Only Aguzarova, who had problems with her passport and Moscow registration, was held. She was imprisoned for a year. Bravo was blacklisted by the Soviet government along with other groups such as Akvarium and Alisa. Nonetheless, the band continued to practice and change its lineup.

In 1985 the KGB opened the Creative Laboratory of Rock Music in Moscow and invited Bravo into its ranks, including a returning Zhanna Aguzarova. Though the project was nothing more than an effort to reign in the dangerous creative energy of young musicians, Bravo took the opportunity to regain favor with the Soviet regime. Bravo was soon taken under the wing of the USSR's most beloved pop star, Alla Pugacheva, whose support led to official TV and festival appearances. But resenting the group's exploitation by the government, Aguzarova quit. She was briefly replaced by Anna Salmina, who sang "Korol Orangjevoe Leto" (Prince of the Orange Summer) , which was named the biggest hit of 1986. But soon Aguzarova was back, and the group released a record, Bravo, that sold five million copies on the government label, Melodia. Aguzarova's startling vocal modulations and unusual presence (it was rumored that she was an alien from outer space) made her massively popular. She lent a certain edge to the group that was never reproduced after she left them in 1998. In 1990, she moved to America.

With Aguzarova gone, Bravo became a revolving door for vocalists including Robert Lentz, Evgeniy Osinim, and Irina Epifanova. But the group idled until Valerie Sutkin was invited to the join in 1990. Ever true to his sense of aesthetics, Havtan stipulated that Sutkin shear his flowing tresses if he wanted to rock with Bravo. Sutkin cut his hair and in the four years that followed, Bravo played 1000 live shows and released its three best-selling albums: 1991's Stilyagi iz Moskvy (Hipsters from Moscow), 1992's Moskovskiy Bit (Moscow Beat) and, in celebration of the group's tenth anniversary in 1994, Dorogoy v Oblaka (Road to the Clouds) on General Records. In 1994 Sutkin went off to pursue his solo career, leaving Bravo a different group than he had found it. Bravo's style, established on retro tunes of the '50s and '60s and their own particular brand of kitsch, had become romantic and guitar-based.

In 1994 Bravo began to bare more and more resemblance to a Frankenstein monster composed of its previous parts. Kuzin, Stepanenko, and vocalist Robert Lentz returned, and bassist Dimitry Ashman joined the group. They released Na Perekrastah Vesny (On the Crossroads of Spring) in 1996, and during the subsequent tour, audiences were surprised when who should appear on the stage but Zhanna Aguzarova, recently returned from America.

The next year the group recorded Hity Pro Lubov (Hits About Love) which was released by Extraphone in 1998. The now 15-year-old musical collective planned a tour that would include three vocalists: Lentz, Aguzarova, and Sutkin. But, true to form, Aguzarova caught a train back to Moscow after the fifth show. The album, Evgenika (Eugenics), for which Havtan did some of the vocals, was released in 2001, and another was planned for 2008. ~ Sabrina Jaszi

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