Pussy Riot Releases Its First Song In English The Russian band Pussy Riot is well known for protesting the Russian government. Now the group has released its first song in English. NPR's Scott Simon talks to band member Nadya Tolokonnikova.
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Pussy Riot Releases Its First Song In English

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Pussy Riot Releases Its First Song In English

Pussy Riot Releases Its First Song In English

Pussy Riot Releases Its First Song In English

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The Russian band Pussy Riot is well known for protesting the Russian government. Now the group has released its first song in English. NPR's Scott Simon talks to band member Nadya Tolokonnikova.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Russian punk band known as Pussy Riot became a worldwide sensation in 2012 when they performed a song ridiculing the then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. A couple of band members were sent to prison. Well, they're out now. The band is back with its first song in English.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T BREATHE")

PUSSY RIOT: (Singing) It's getting dark in New York City. It's getting dark in New York City.

SIMON: This song is called "I Can't Breathe." Those were just about the last words that Eric Garner spoke. He died this summer in New York after police pulled him aside for selling loose cigarettes and put him into a chokehold. Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of Pussy Roit joins us from Moscow. Thank you so much for being with us.

NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA: Hello.

SIMON: How did the song come about?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: We were in December of previous year in New York. We came there to record the antiwar song about conflict between Russia and Ukraine. And suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a rally, which was dedicated to Eric Garner, and we felt ourselves like part of it. And this slogan, I can't breathe, we felt it like we're personal slogan because in Russia, we can't breathe and we can't talk and we cannot do something to overcome this terrible situation in our country.

SIMON: Richard Hell, who is often considered the father of punk rock is the voice we hear reading Eric Garner's words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T BREATHE")

RICHARD HELL: Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me - selling cigarettes. I'm minding my business officer. I'm minding my business. Please just leave me alone.

SIMON: How did you get him involved in the project?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: He invited us to visit him. And we came to his house and we had several hours of discussion. And after that, we started to talk about theme, which is important for us as a team of this protest in New York. And he supported us. He said that he want to be involved in some project. And after one hour, we came to the studio and we did the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T BREATHE")

HELL: I can breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.

SIMON: In the video, you wear Russian police uniforms.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: Yes.

SIMON: What does that represent?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: For us, police violence is not only American topic or Russian topic, it's international topic. And by using a Russian police uniform, we wanted to do it more international because if we would use NYPD uniform, it could be just about USA. But we wanted to do it universal. That's why we are in these uniforms. And moreover, we wanted to place ourselves on the place of policeman. Police violence is militarization of society. It touch not only victims of this police violence but policeman also. It's not so easy for a lot of them to do a lot of stuff, which they have to do. For example, we had political protests here in Russia and policemen are forced to go to court and to give false evidence. They couldn't do it. They didn't want to lie. And it was very hard for them. So sometimes states can be cruel not only to activists but to their people also.

SIMON: Ms. Tolokonnikova, have you and your bandmates ever thought of moving to New York or London?

TOLOKONNIKOVA: No, we want to live in Russia. We are inspired by Russian every day. And sometimes it's sad inspiration, but we don't see ourselves living in another place.

SIMON: You've got work to do in Moscow.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: Of course. It's our place. It's our culture. It's our language. And we don't want to give it to Putin because we don't feel that here using our Russian culture in proper way. We want to annex it.

SIMON: Nadya Tolokonnikova of the Russian band Pussy Riot joining us from Moscow. Thanks so much for being with us.

TOLOKONNIKOVA: It was very nice. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T BREATHE")

PUSSY RIOT: (Singing) It's part of the riots.

SIMON: By the way, B J Lederman does our theme music.

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