Leonid Kharitonov and the Alexandrov Ensemble –
“Yo, heave ho!” (Ej, Uhnem)
“Ej, Uhnem!”, (Russian: “Эй, ухнем!”), roughly translates to “Yo, Heave Ho!” This well-known Russian folk song is also known outside of Russia as “The Song of the Volga Boatmen”. The burlaks (boatmen) first appeared in Russia in the late 16th century. A burlak was a hired laborer who walked along the bank of the river as part of a crew, dragging ships against the current with a tow rope. The work was extremely heavy and monotonous. The song became widely known thanks to its performance by the great Russian bass, Fyodor Ivanovich Shalyapin, and has since become a favorite part of the repertoire of many singers and performers, both inside and outside of Russia. The famous painting by Russian artist Ilya Repin, “Burlaks on the Volga”, was inspired by the song.
Leonid Kharitonov, as a true admirer of Fyodor Shalyapin, is honored to include this song in his repertoire. His performance of this song as a soloist with the Alexandrov Ensemble served to increase its popularity even more, especially in the Soviet era. With the release of a video of a 1965 television performance of the song by Kharitonov and the Ensemble, its popularity outside of Russia reached new levels.
Regarding his interpretation of the song, Leonid Kharitonov reflects on its deep meaning for the Russian people and the strong emotions that it evokes. The hard labor of the burlaks is portrayed by the seriousness of his expression throughout the performance, with the exception of a momentary lightening—even the shadow of a smile—when he sings: “We are singing our song to the Sun.” He says that he smiles at this point as if the Sun was the only joy for the haulers in their hard labor and their hard way of life.
On this web site are two versions of “Ej, Uhnem!” Note both the similarities and the differences in these two equally stunning performances. This one is a video of the 1965 television performance. The second–here–is Kharitonov’s debut as a soloist with the Alexandrov Ensemble in April 1965.
For more information about this song, please, see this article.