Zhanna – the Legend

Howdy, Folks. This month it is my privilege to write about a genuine legend in the history of rock’n’roll. The twist is that the legend is not American or British. She’s Russian and is one of the biggest names in Russian music history, not just Russian rock’n’roll history. Her story is an amazing one, as you will soon discover. This is no ordinary rock’n’roll star and no ordinary person.

Her name is Zhanna Agurazova. We held a tribute concert at the Bezumiy Club in Moscow on 11th August this year, to celebrate her achievements. I booked the Lowcosters, a brilliant Russian rock’n’roll group, about whom regular readers of this column will remember. They are excellent performers and put on a great show for us on 11/08/21. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the Concert.

Zhanna Agurazova is best known as the front singer of the group Bravo, whose greatest years were in the 1980s. It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of Bravo in Russian rock’n’roll history. And it is important to know the importance of the period when they were at their zenith. The 1980s in Russia were the final years of the Soviet Union, prior to it breaking up into separate Republics at the beginning of the 1990s. Momentous changes took place in these years, with the country undergoing huge structural and social change. This was the opportunity for Western culture, for example rock’n’roll, to make much greater inroads into Russian social life. At the forefront of this rock’n’roll revolution was Bravo.

They were the first rock’n’roll superstars in Russia and were the trailblazers in this genre of music. No other band during this period compares to them, in terms of their influence and legacy on Russian rock’n’roll. And the biggest factor in this huge success was Zhanna Aguzarova. With songs such as “Yellow Shoes” and “Leningrad Rock’n’Roll”, she and the group completely changed the music scene in Russia. Zhanna’s style as a singer was marked not just by a brilliant singing voice, but also by her outrageous behaviour and eccentric stage outfits.

There was nothing normal about Zhanna’s life. She was born in a small village and raised in a single parent family, as her father left home when she was very young. Her date and place of birth is not known for certain. When she became famous, her date of birth was quoted as 1962 and her place of birth as in the Tyumen region, but later it was said she was born in the territory of central Asia, a different area of Russia. She usually tried to hide information about her family from journalists.

After leaving school, she tried to enter the theatre universities in different cities of Russia, but all her attempts were unsuccessful. She decided to travel to Moscow and was eventually accepted into a technical school there and began to study as a painter (although little is known about her paintings). 

She then decided to try her luck as a singer. She started getting small gigs in Moscow, giving herself the stage name of Ivanna Anders and informing everyone, untruthfully, that she was the daughter of Swedish diplomats. Later she said the reason for this was that she had lost all her documents e.g. passport, etc., and needed to acquire a new identity. Remember this was still in the age of the Soviet Union, when such documentation was extremely important for people to carry, to avoid arrest.

She auditioned for a new music group and one of its members was impressed with her talent. His name was Eugene Havtan and he persuaded her to join a new music project called Bravo.

Thus began the association of Zhanna with Bravo, an iconic one in the history of Russian music. She had an audition test for the singing role in the group – the band members were delighted with her vocal abilities. The group first appeared in 1983, after a year of rehearsals, performing their first concerts and soon winning over a huge number of fans, which ran into the hundreds of thousands after a very short period of time.  

But here is where a bizarre twist in the Aguzarova story occurs. In the 1980s, many rock bands in the USSR were harassed by the authorities. Early in 1984, the Soviet authorities arrested her while she was performing at a concert, for allegedly falsifying her personal documents. As a result she spent more than a year in the Butyrka prison.

At this point, while in the prison, she apparently tried to pose as some crazy woman. She did this quite convincingly, as she was then forced to undergo psychiatric tests regarding her mental health. 

Following this, the convicted singer was then declared sane by the authorities, but was ordered to work for a year and a half doing forced labour in a timber industry enterprise in the region of Tyumen.

After this forced labour and all these other happenings, Zhanna returned to the Bravo group. In 1985, the band released their first album. It was a sensational success, catapulting Zhanna and the group to even greater star status. 

In 1986, they began appearing regularly on television, a vehicle for even greater fame. What caught the audiences’ attention above all was Zhanna and her amazing performances on stage, replete with her wild and eccentric antics. She was a household name and super star in the Soviet Union. The song hits followed one after the other, such as “Cats”, “I Believe” and “Old Hotel”. The band wrote their own material and Zhanna contributed to them. 

Dear Readers, this is where we will pause in the story of the amazing Zhanna Agurazova. I will continue it later. This will include wild and crazy details from her legendary life. Stay tuned !