The Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova spent nearly two years in a Russian prison for a protest performance at a Moscow cathedral, has released a new song, its first in English.
It’s called “I Can’t Breathe,” and as the title indicates, the song is a tribute to Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died last summer after a New York Police Department officer placed him in an apparent chokehold. “I can’t breathe” were Garner’s last words, repeated and captured on video.
“This song is for Eric and for all those from Russia to America and around the globe who suffer from state terror – killed, choked, perished because of war and state-sponsored violence of all kinds,” reads a short statement accompanying the new song’s main video.
Largely drawn from a Russian context, the symbolism in the video takes a little bit of unpacking. As they are buried alive in the video, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are wearing Russian riot police uniforms – “uniforms that are worn during the violent clashes of police and the protesters fighting for change in Russia,” the group explains.
In an email to Buzzfeed, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova explained that the uniform choice was meant to demonstrate that “illegal violence in the name of the state kills not only its victims, but those who are chosen to carry out these actions.” They added: “Policemen, soldiers, agents, they become hostages and are buried with those they kill, both figuratively and literally.”
The pack of cigarettes shown at the beginning of the video are “Russian Spring” brand, which also happens to be a phrase used by supporters of Russia’s military action in Ukraine.Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova don’t actually sing the vocals, the band says. The two musicians star in the video and are credited with its “concept” and production. The vocals and lyrics are largely the work of two other Russian bands, Jack Wood and Scofferlane.