Make it Snappy: PBS 'Sound Tracks' on WCNY next Monday

At right, Suen Kuti of Nigeria

"Russians love tragic songs," says former rock'n'roll dissident Alexander Yelin, creator of "A Man Like Putin," the 2002 runaway hit music video that Vladimir Putin liked enough to use in his 2004 presidential run and still uses at rallies now. "At its core, this is about female tragedy. A woman lives in the provinces. She's surrounded by dirt and drunkards. She wants the guy she sees on TV."

Clad in his Pearl Jam tee-shirt and busy promoting an all-female heavy metal band now, Yelin tells reporter Alexis Bloom he has no regrets about writing the song -- on a $300 bet -- that has contributed to strong-man Putin's cult of personality as Russia's ideal man.

"I'm a professional," he says. "I can write whatever you want. I could write an anti-Putin song, but right now there's no market for it."

Bloom grew up in apartheid South Africa and her resume includes an undercover investigative report about life under Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe, so she may know a thing or two about media and politics. Her 18-minute story on the career of one supposedly innocent feel-good pop song is unexpectedly bracing and leads the pilot for a new PBS show.

Unusually well-made and combining astute cultural and political analysis with some terrific world music, the arrival next week of PBS' music magazine "Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders" is good news indeed. Even better, WCNY Channel 24 will carry the program's pilot, which airs both here in Central New York and nationally next Monday evening at 10 o'clock.

"Sound Tracks" is a West Coast entity, the offspring of veteran documentary filmmaker and PBS FRONTLINE/World's Stephen Talbot, long based in San Francisco, and Oregon Public Broadcasting's multiple Emmy-winner David Davis. Besides Bloom, Talbot has recruited FRONTLINE/World reporters Marco Werman (who serves as host) and Arun Rath, as well as deejay/San Francisco Bay "Guardian" art director/journalist Mirissa Neff, for a three-feature format with a performance closer called "Global Hit." The editing, semi-animated graphic design that bridges segments, music themes and sound design are all crisp, graceful and bright. In each of its segments, "Sound Tracks" asks questions about music's purpose - and art's - that go well beyond the insular assumption of mere entertainment. How delightful that "Sound Tracks" provides such first-rate entertainment too! "Sound Tracks" also enjoys the input and participation of the Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasters, National Black Programming Consortium, Native American Public Telecommunications, and Pacific Islanders in Communications.

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