Language of Song: Art Through Translation

“Spell-Art: Multilingualism and Foreign-ness in Songs,” a talk by Pavel Lion (also as known as Psoy Korolenko) took place at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College on Monday, Apr. 18. Lion spoke about Jewish tradition, Yiddish songs, multilingualism, and art as translation.

Lion is a Moscow-based singer and songwriter, translator, scholar, and journalist who has travelled the world studying music and language. Lion has a unique style that features folk and klezmer music interwoven with poetry and intellectual comedy. He crosses borders, mixing languages and cultures to show how his 'foreign-ness' makes him, and his art, special. Lion, whose works are written in English, Russian, Yiddish, and French, has been referred to as a 'wandering scholar' because of his one-person cabaret style.

“Psoy was a lively and humorous entertainer. His looping of Edith Piaf’s Je Ne Regrette Rien was definitely a highlight for me,” Kimaya DeSilva CM '17 said.

Lion said his influences include rock culture, his family, and the people he meets every day. He has published two books of selected essays and song lyrics, ''The Hit Of The Century,” and ''Energosbyt,’’ as well as 15 CDs, some of which are collaborations with other musicians. 

One of the pieces Lion performed on Monday was a Yiddish song describing corporal punishment. He spoke about how the translation is actually funnier and sadder than the original song, noting that certain songs are untranslatable, which can be the biggest struggle of performing for different audiences—words and rhythms cannot always be done justice by a translated version of the piece.

He described how memories have informed his work, such as a piece he created as a gift to his daughter who speaks impeccable English, and his struggle with this, and how a song reminded him of his education in Russia. He also spoke about more technical aspects of his music and its transferability to a different language, including the importance of an echo effect, and the effect of alternating languages to add musicality to a work.

“The interesting thing about his performances was how interactive he was in encouraging the audience to sing along to unfamiliar songs and unheard of words,” Emma Houston CM '19 said. Lion's work is evidence that art is not confined to a singular culture.

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