Joanna Stingray Speaks at UCLA

“Love is no Joke” (1987)

The famous rock musician Joanna Stingray, who moved to Soviet Russia in the 1980’s, paid a visit to UCLA on Wednesday, November 9.

Students and fans of Stingray gathered at Bunche Hall and over Zoom to hear Stingray speak on her experiences followed by a Q&A session. Sasha Razor, UCLA’s Flagship outreach and marketing coordinator, and Kurtis Yan, UCLA Russian Flagship student and staff writer, conducted the interview and moderated the Q&A session. Stingray moved to Leningrad in 1984. There, she worked and collaborated with famous Russian musicians, notably Boris Grebenschikov and Viktor Tsoi, and helped revive the enthusiasm for Russian rock music within and outside the USSR. A number of attendees were fans of Tsoi’s former Soviet band Kino, which is described as one of the most influential Russian music groups of all time.

Stingray helped circulate Russian rock music and performed at punk rock concerts at underground scenes in Leningrad. She even explained how the KGB would infiltrate these scenes to ensure that the images and messages projected by the music were not too radical. Stingray is credited for her role in cultural diplomacy, and she expressed how she couldn’t have imagined the impact she’d have in mediating the Cold War divide. In 1986, she produced the album Red Wave: 4 Underground Bands from the Soviet Union, which consisted of rock music from Aquarium, Kino, Alisa, and Strannye Igri. The album is credited as the first exposure for Western audiences to Russian rock musi
c, which caught the attention of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.

Many questions inquired on her relationship with Kino and how she firsthand experienced the impact of rock music on the Russian people. Stingray, as a former UCLA student, did not have a formal background in Russian language, so she picked up the language through daily interactions. For those wishing to fully grasp Russian and Soviet culture, she later recommended immersing oneself in situations that may be uncomfortable.