Culture

Pussy Riot in New York

“It’s absolutely impossible to take this out of us, and I understand this every time I hear good music – for example The Clash.” With a little chuckle, Maria “Masha” Alyokhina explained why she and Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova are not deterred by their stint in a Russian prison for staging a performance protest inside Moscow’s biggest church in 2012.

The two members of the Pussy Riot collective are in the US for the first time, after being released a little earlier than their 2-year sentence decreed, by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pre-Olympics pardon. Madonna will introduce them on stage at Amnesty International’s Bringing Home Human Rights concert on Wednesday night, but they won’t be performing. The Pussy Riot collective – made up of about 11 people – is more about protest art than punk songs, but as Masha relayed, they still have the urge to perform and will continue to do so.

The women say what happened to them – being political prisoners jailed alongside ordinary criminals for protesting – is not unique. So they’re forming their own human rights organization in Russia to push for government transparency.  That’s partly why they’re here in New York: to drum up global support and witness best practice.

“What makes you keep on wanting to live is that feeling of solidarity and compassion that goes through even thick prison walls”  said Nadya, speaking through her husband as interpreter.

Despite the language barrier, you can still hear how passionate both Nadya and Masha are about the issues facing Russia at the moment – issues they have forced into the international spotlight after their Punk Prayer went viral. They’re also urging people to keep these issues in mind when watching the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi. “It’s not the Olympic Village you see on TV,” Masha said. “Look beyond those buildings.”

Backed by the power of music, these messages and more will come to the fore at the Amnesty International concert where the Flaming Lips, the Fray, Lauryn Hill, Imagine Dragons and more will take to the stage, 25 years after the organization first began using music as a powerful tool.

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“Amnesty International was the first organization to make human rights a household discussion,” says Ann Burroughs, chair of the USA board. Herself a political prisoner during Apartheid, Ann, like Nadya and Masha, believes the power of music to spread a message has never been more important. With the Sochi Olympics about to begin, the hope is the music carries the message of equality and the right to protest where it most needs to go.

More details on the concert are here.

[Pic: Amnesty International]

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