Learning Russian Through Music: Kino

For my materials development class I had to come up with a little series of language learning materials.  Since I taught myself Russian almost entirely through learning songs and poems I thought it would be fun to do a little language learning unit similar to the one I would have used to teach myself Russian six years ago.   I used to translate songs word for word and then figure out the cases and then try and apply those examples to new instances.  So if there is someone out there who is trying to learn Russian, who loves Russian music and culture, this one’s for you!

So for this unit we will be discussing the song  “Просто хочешь ты знать” By Kino.  It will be laid out as followed:

1. Who is Kino/Victor Tsoi

2. The lyrics in Russian and their rough English translation

3. Vocabulary and Grammar points

4.  History of Kino and the cultural significance of the topics of Tsoy’s music.

Viktor Tsoi was the lead singer of the band Kino.  He is one of the most beloved musicians by Russians and he played an indelible role in the evolution of rock and roll in Russia.  His music is catchy and simple and yet it speaks of the themes of his time.  This was one of the first Russian songs I ever heard and I fell immediately in love with it.  His voice reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan.

This clip comes from a documentary about Viktor Tsoi, made from various footage of Tsoi as well as his son who looks a lot like him.  This wasn’t an official music video (there weren’t many music videos at that time in Russia).  Enjoy the song and scroll down for the lyrics, translation and grammar discussion.

The various cases as well as the verb or prepositional that makes them require that case are highlight in different colors. Here is the key for the cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, prepositional.

Lyrics in Russian:

Идешь по улице один,

The cover for the album 45, where this song is.

Идешь к кому-то из друзей.
Заходишь в гости без причин
И просишь свежих новостей.

Просто хочешь ты знать,
Где и что происходит.
Просто хочешь ты знать,
Где и что происходит.

Звонишь по телефону всем:
Кого-то нет, а кто-то здесь.
Для разговоров много тем,
Для разговоров время есть.

Узнал, что где-то пьют вино.
А где-то мызыка слышна.
Тебя зовут
туда, где пьют.
И ты берешь еще вина.

Там кто-то спор ведет крутой,
А кто-то просто спит давно.
И с кем-то рядом ты сидишь,
И с кем-то вместе пьешь вино.

  My rough English translation:You walk along the street alone

Viktor Tsoi's last concert at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, 1990


You’re going to someone from your friends.
You stop in for a visit without reasons
And ask for the latest news.

You just want to know
Where and what is happening
You just want to know
Where and what is happening

You call everyone
Someone is gone, someone is here.
For conversations there are many themes,
For conversations there’s a lot of time.


You found out that somewhere people are drinking wine
And somewhere music is playing
They are calling you there where they are drinking
And you take some more wine.


There someone is having an intense argument
And someone has been sleeping for a long time
And you’re sitting next to someone
With someone beside you you’re drinking wine.

Grammar Notes Words in their nominative form and the Plural Genitive as seen in the song:

свежие новости=свежих новостей
разговор=разговоров тема=тем

Useful phrases and how they may be applied elsewhere:
Заходить: This can mean to drop by someone’s house, typically without planning. The ЗА prefix can also mean to go behindsomething or to start doing something. Here are a few of the meanings that I have found.
*In the news you might see a sentence such as Пилот заходил на посадку: The pilot came in for a landing
*You can also say something about how летом в Москве солнце заходит поздно ночью: In the summer in Moscow the sun goes down late in the night.
*You can also say, захожу на сайт: To visit a website
*Я зашла в магазин: I stopped by the store

Просить + Genitive: This means to request something or ask for. In the song he asks for the latest news. You might also hear it in the following instances:
*You might say следовало просить помощи у бабушки: I ended up having to ask for help from Grandma.
*You might have had to beg Grandma for help by saying: Бабушка, я очень прошу тебя помочь мне с ребенком: Grandma, I beg you to help me with the baby. Most Russian grandmas are very happy to help with children, so I can’t imagine that you’ll have to beg.
*If you plan to work in Russia, you might be asking yourself, сколько просить за мою работу?:How much should I ask for/charge for my work?

Pop Culture Tidbit The life of Viktor Tsoi

Viktor Tsoi was born in Leningrad in 1962. His mother was Russian and his father was a Korean, hence the un-Russian sounding last name. His family was working class and he attended a school for the arts but had to drop out because of his bad grades. He took a job working in the boiler room in his apartment building. He continued to work in that boiler room even after he became a big rock star in Russia because he liked working and he needed the money. Because of Samizdat all of his music was reproduced for free so he didn’t get much in the way of royalites.

The following is from the Wikipedia article on Viktor Tsoi:

In 1982, Kino released their first album 45. This album first showed Tsoi’s willingness to approach political topics in his music, something not too many other artists were willing to do. In his song “Suburban Electric Train” (Russian: Электричка/Elektrichka) he discussed a man stuck in a train that was taking him where he didn’t wish to go; this was clearly a metaphor for life in the Soviet Union, and the band was quickly banned from performing this song live. Regardless, the political message of the song made it popular among the youth of the anti-establishment movement that now began to look to Viktor Tsoi and Kino as their idols.

In 1982, Tsoi met Marianna, who he married in 1985. She was a source of support and family for Tsoi, giving birth to their son Alexander (Sasha) on August 26, 1985.

Kino displayed more of their political views at the 2nd Leningrad Rock Club Concert. The band won the competition with Tsoi’s anti-war song “I Declare My Home… [a nuclear-free zone]” (Russian: Я объявляю свой дом … [безъядерной зоной], Ya ob’yavlyayu svoy dom … [bez’yadernoy zonoy]). The song’s popularity was fueled by the ongoing Afghan War which was claiming the lives of thousands of young Soviet citizens.


Many of the themes of his songs are about the typical life of youth in the Soviet Union at that time.  There is a lot of drinking, a lot of idling, wandering around, hanging out with friends and a huge desire to know what’s going on in the world and to be in control of one’s life.  This is evident in some of the song titles from various albums:

“Время есть, а денег нет” (I’ve Got Time, But No Money)
“Бездельник” (Idler)
“Последний герой” (The Last Hero)
“Дети проходных дворов” (Children of no man’s backyard)
“Место для шага вперед” (Place for a Step Forward)

He died tragically in an automobile accident in 1990, after he fell asleep at the wheel.  The country was devastated.  The Russian Newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote:

Tsoi means more to the young people of our nation than any politician, celebrity or writer. This is because Tsoi never lied and never sold out. He was and remains himself. It’s impossible not to believe him… Tsoi is the only rocker who has no difference between his image and his real life, he lived the way he sang… Tsoi is the last hero of rock.

7 thoughts on “Learning Russian Through Music: Kino

  1. I am so glad I received your blog through a google-alert I put out for Viktor Tsoi. I am also teaching myself Russian and using KINO CDs among other learning tools. My son, who graduates from college this year with a double major in Russian and history, told me about KINO after he studied in St. Petersburg. I loved their music, started using their songs to help my pronunciation and general grammar knowledge. AND a funny thing happened: I fell in love with KINO (of course, Viktor) and have read everything I can find in English about him and the group. Was Sasha (his son) the one singing toward the end? I have so many questions. As, why did Marianna die so young (5 years after Viktor)? What happened to Sasha? Was he raised by grandparents? Is he a singer now? Do you have the entire documentary or know where I can get it? What else do you know? I am totally intrigued by Viktor Tsoi and his life, as well as what happened to his family and band partners after his death. So tragic! I have these CDs: A Star Called Sun, Blook Group, Black Album, and Kamchatka. I also use the RusMus website to make 3-column tables of the songs, a column each for (1) Russian, (2) transliteration, and (3) translation. I just love this band and have become quite the groupie. I tell my friends that I’ve fallen in love with a Russian rock star who’s been dead for 20 years! I’m not a crazy – I’m a 63-year-old lawyer in Pennsylvania, just loving KINO! Tell me more about what you know of the group! I’m also using Pimsleur tapes and Brown’s Russian group (Penguin) for my self-study, which I began about 4 or so months ago.–Karen

  2. Hello! What you’re talking about is pretty much how I started out learning Russian. I listened to some songs I liked and got curious what they were about. As the machine translations turned out to be unsatisfactory I just had to do it myself with a dictionary and grammar book. It was slow going at first, but rewarding and most of all a fun way to learn.

    I feel compelled to point out a grammar mistake you’ve made. The phrase в гости is not in the prepositional case. Think about it, Russians say о госте, and not о гости. It can’t be plural prepositional either, because that would be гостях. As it turns out, в гости is actually a rare case of a preposition followed by nominative.

    1. That’s true. Good point. Now this is going to bug me until I get to the bottom of it. Thanks for the correction!

      1. Thanks for this inspirational post! As a Russian, I also love Kino ;))
        Sorry for being a little pedantic, but I just can’t help pointing out that в гости is in fact accusative plural, which literally means “(to go) to guests”. Of course, it’s a little weird, like some idioms are, cause when you think about it, you are the guest who is going to hosts, and not the opposite. but that’s how it is, and with this “гости” we actually mean an activity rather than people – compare ездить в командировку (to go on business trip).
        I hope this helps! Have fun!

      2. You have correctly written. В ГОСТИ . Is does not refer to a person. (guest) says that you go ( go in house ( friend and so on)), so we call this event.This action (go to someone where you are waiting for)

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