This week the humble men of Mullumgrad gather in song to raise money for the Mullum Neighbourhood Centre. Dustyesky are an anomaly – they could have easily not have happened. What other country town in Australia comes up with a concept to create a Russian choir because it’s too expensive to fly one in from Moscow? Back in 2014 Glenn Wright of Mullium Music Festival had the vision. I don’t think he could have seen how that vision could have spawned what should be the most culturally appropriated choir in the country, but has fast become embraced for its celebration of culture. You see these 28 men dressed like working men have found their way into the hearts not just of Mullumbimby, but the world!
Finally the Soviets’ plan for world domination is realised, by the unlikely gathering of dads from Mullumbimby. They don’t even speak Russian. But man, can they sing it!
Mark Swivel is the spokesperson for Dustyesky. Not because he speaks Russian; because he’s the best at pretending he is actually Russian. Let’s not forget what actually creates the magic that has seen the guys on Russian news! ‘We love singing the songs,’ he says. ‘We love having an excuse to get out on a weeknight to have a beer and sing songs. It’s a men’s shed without the tools. You can chat and sing these amazing songs. It’s 28 blokes really going for it. It’s actually really risky to sing 4-part harmonies. We are generally ordinary blokes with decent voices, so it’s a challenge to try and pull it off.’
You might be surprised to learn that not everyone in Dustyesky is a great singer. It’s not about that.
‘One-third are excellent, one-third are good and one-third are good company over a beer,’ says Mark.
The group who started out singing three songs have now developed an hour-long show, one which they presented recently on invitation at the Bondi Pavilion with the Russian Ambassador in attendance.
‘At the show I welcomed him and his wife – at least I assume it’s his wife! He seemed to laugh. He stayed for a drink. A whole lot of diplomats turned up, including the consul-general from Sydney and heaps of Russian people and friends and family.’
Like opera singers who don’t speak Italian, Dustyesky don’t speak Russian, but they can certainly sing it. In fact they sing it so well that they found themselves on a Moscow news channel. Men singing Russian songs in Mullumbimby making news in Moscow. It’s kind of ridiculous if you think about it, but wonderful at the same time.
The Russians love Dustyesky almost more than we do. ‘Russia is copping a hiding in the world today,’ says Mark. Their reputation is shot and the psyche is beaten up. When Russian people listen to us on the web they are hearing people celebrate a culture that they love. We thought we would get found out singing Russian songs and pretending to be Russian and that there would be complaints. It happened at exactly the same time as cultural appropriation became a big issue. We are going balls out not caring one bit about politeness or courtesy of serious choirs. Russian people see us singing Soviet songs and folk songs and sacred songs and it spins them out. It’s like tripping for a Russian person, and because we sing well enough and we love what we are doing and there is humour and we respect the songs we get away with it!’
They do more then get away with it; turns out they are celebrated for it. Dustyesky have been invited to perform their hour-long show at Womadelaide this year. With real musicians. The best in the world. The irony of that isn’t lost on a bunch of blokes who meet on Tuesday for a beer.
Dustyesky will be singing for the Mullum Neighbourhood Centre Xmas Fundraiser on Tuesday 19 December at the Brunswick Picture House.
‘Mullum is home,’ says Mark. ‘It has incubated the whole Dustyesky thing. The best way to pay a little back is to respond to this sort of request. We get asked to do all sorts of stuff but we perform right next to the Neighbourhood Centre at the music festival and we rehearse across the road. We are keeping the love in the block. Mullum spawned us.’
Dustyesky sing it up at the Brunswick Picture House. Don’t miss it. They’ll bring the house down for sure.
Tuesday 19 December, Doors 6pm. Show 7pm. $25.
Bookings and tickets brunswickpicturehouse.com.
Sponsored by the good people at ENOVA.