music in the park san jose

.There is Still a Pussy Riot Going Down

Founding member of Pussy Riot presents ‘Riot Days,’ a music-and-talk event

music in the park san jose

Guerrilla performance art collective Pussy Riot has gained at least as much notice for its activism as for the music it makes. 

Originally based in Russia, the feminist protest group got its start railing against the human rights violations and excesses of Vladimir Putin’s regime, as well as the actions of the often-colluding Russian Orthodox Church. Relentlessly harassed, detained and imprisoned, members of the provocative group were eventually driven underground.

While membership in Pussy Riot has always been fluid–participants often perform with their faces hidden inside balaclavas–three key figures in the collective were identified in 2012. 

Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were all convicted of “hooliganism.” While the original members have each since gone their own way, today Masha Alyokhina tours with her own show, Pussy Riot: Riot Days, a spoken-word and music event that recounts the collective’s history and the issues that inform its work. The performance comes to The Ritz on November 15.

The action that brought worldwide attention to Pussy Riot was that 2012 protest, “Punk Prayer.” Setting up in the sanctuary of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Pussy Riot staged a performance until they were shut down by church officials. 

A video of the event made its goals explicit; titled “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” Three members of the group were tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Human rights groups around the globe protested, but to no avail: Putin merely responded that the three “got what they asked for.” 

After her release, Alyokhina continued her activism. For her trouble, she was physically attacked, and she would be detained and imprisoned on several other occasions. “From abroad, I think it’s hard [for non-Russians] to imagine the level of censorship which exists in Russia,” she says. 

But even under those conditions, she and her associates managed to stage “Punk Prayer” in Moscow in 2019. “That was an independent, very small and underground festival against domestic violence,” she explains. She has fond memories of that performance. “I remember this moment like it was now, and so many people were, with their hearts, supporting us,” Alyokhina says.

“Even during my house arrest, I had a radio and heard about the war,” Alyokhina says. Even with all she knew about the Putin government, she says she was shocked when she learned of Russian troops murdering hundreds of civilians in the Bucha region near Kyiv, Ukraine. “I decided that I needed to use my voice to stand with Ukraine,” Alyokhina says.

In 2022, under house arrest and learning that she was to be sent to a penal colony, Alyokhina fled Russia. Disguising herself by wearing a food delivery uniform, with help from friends she escaped over the border. That endeavor was made more difficult because officials had seized her passport and other personal documents. 

Once safely out of Russia, Masha Alyokhina vowed to continue publicizing the misdeeds of Vladimir Putin and his regime, especially against the backdrop of the country’s merciless invasion of Ukraine. 

In May 2023, Alyokhina was granted Icelandic citizenship. But the Russian exile maintains a love for her home country, and a wish to someday return. “I know it sounds crazy and naive,” she admits. “But the country that was protesting all these years does exist. And I’m part of this country; I hope that our voice somehow will be heard.”

The Pussy Riot: Riot Days show is achieving that goal, if outside of Russia. Riot Days is not a regular concert, Alyokhina emphasizes. “It’s not only songs; we are sharing the story of ‘Punk Prayer’ and the experience of what I [underwent] during my first imprisonment.” 

She says that anyone coming to the show can expect three things: “They can listen to a story to know more about Russian prisons,” she says. “They can hear very loud songs, and they can have fun; they can definitely expect a riot.”

Asked what she’d like audience members to take away from the experience, Alyokhina has a ready answer, the kind one would expect of a brave activist. “I want people to do their own actions and riots,” she says. “Each big action was a small one from its beginning. And this is the main goal of Riot Days: we want people to feel and understand that each story is important, and that they can change the world with their small actions.”

Pussy Riot: Riot Days

The Ritz San Jose

Nov. 15, 7 pm

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