In the mid-'80s the Russian singer Zhanna Aguzarova put a dent in the flat Soviet backdrop with her powerful voice and unapologetic persona. First as the vocalist of the group Bravo and later as a solo artist, her irreverent style and eccentricity made her a symbol of individuality and dissent. Aguzarova was insolent in the face of the oppressive regime, but her voice, full of longing and romanticism, thrilled millions of fans. But Aguzarova remained a mystery, one day taking off without warning for Los Angeles, the next claiming to communicate with Martians. Fans loved her for her incongruities and took every opportunity to turn her shadowy and improbable biography into legend. Nonetheless, her inability to let anyone really know her makes her a tragic figure. The former manager of Bravo, Maxim Leykin, famously said of Aguzarova, "She is on her own, all alone! She has nothing and no one."
In 1982 Aguzarova arrived in Moscow and fell in with the city's bohemian circle. Her pseudonym, Ivana Anders, was adopted because she lacked a passport and thus went by the name on her false documentation, which had belonged to the daughter of a Swedish diplomat. Aguzarova's first musical endeavor was as the lead singer for the group Krimatoriy (Crematorium). In 1983 she was taken in by Evgeniy Havtan as vocalist for the group that would soon be called Bravo. Together with Bravo she recorded a 20-minute-long cassette tape that, circulated among acquaintances, earned them gigs at a Moscow dance club. But on March 18, 1984, Aguzarova's past caught up with her when she was arrested after a concert. She, like many rock musicians of the time, had not escaped official scrutiny and was arrested on the pretext of her phony documentation. By some accounts she was deported from Moscow and sent home to Siberia. By others she spent a year in prison and committed to a psychiatric ward.
A year later, in an effort to keep the troublesome artist under check, the Soviet regime gave Aguzarova a second chance. She rejoined Bravo, which had been invited to take part in the U.S.S.R.'s Creative Laboratory of Rock Music in Moscow. Her compliance was paid for in TV appearances, festivals, concerts, and benefits for Bravo engineered primarily by Soviet pop icon Alla Pugachova. These years with Bravo, from 1985-1987, were instrumental in Aguzarova's development as a pop star. In 1987 the government-run Melodia label released the group's first album, Bravo. In these early years Aguzarova is remembered for her off-beat vintage outfits as well as for her attention-grabbing energy. The singles of Bravo's Aguzarova phase are "Jeltie Botinki" (Yellow Boots), "Koshki" (Cats), "Veru Ya" (I Believe), and also "Chudesnaya Strana" (Wonderful Country), which was included on the wildly popular soundtrack of 1988 film ASSA, which included songs by other Soviet rock heroes such as Victor Tzoi of Kino, Akvarium, and Alisa.
By the late '80s she had gained the status of a pop icon, but as Bravo lost momentum and began to look more and more like a tool of the administration, she left the group to pursue her solo career. Her first and best reviewed solo release was Russkiy Album (The Russian Album), whose musical approach occupied a place between rock & roll and Russian romance (a genre based on gypsy and Italian songs popular in early-20th century Russia).
In 1990 Aguzarova took flight for Los Angeles, CA, on the advice of her mentor, Alla Pugachova, who told her that only in America would her talent be fully appreciated. But Aguzarova did not find fame and fortune in L.A., but rather a two-year gig singing Soviet standards at the Black Sea Restaurant. Legend has it that she lived in America with documents that she bought for seven dollars upon arriving. She formed a group there called the Nineteen Nineties that did covers of the group Tzentr (Center). The project was a collaboration with Vasiliy Shumov. During her American years Aguzarova made occasional concert appearances in the former Soviet Union.
In 1996 Aguzarova returned to Russia and concerned herself with avant-garde art endeavors such as happenings. But it was not long before she assembled a group of musicians to perform her old hits from the Russkiy Album and her time with Bravo. In 1998 Bravo's Evgeniy Havtan convinced Aguzarova to take part in the super tour "Bravo with Vocalists from Different Eras," but erratic and unpredictable as ever, she quickly lost interest and returned to Moscow.
In the new millennium Aguzarova lives intermittently in Europe and Russia, surfacing occasionally, just long enough to give someone a black eye or put on a great show. She is know for her distrust of the media, and for that reason, relatively little is known about her. Her repeated claims of "internal connections" with Martians have led many to believe that she is mentally unstable. Others accept her as a performer, who is out, above all else, to make a scene. ~ Sabrina Jaszi, Rovi