During the Soviet era many people tried to revive and preserve Russian folk music, including Mitrofan Pyatnitsky in the early 1900s, Vyacheslav Shchurov in the 1960s, and Dmitry Pokrovsky from the 1970s to the 1990s. Pokrovsky's group encouraged professional musicians to go out "in the field" and learn folk styles directly from the people. Today several popular singers in Russia perform folk music, including Zhanna Bichevskaya, and Boris Grebenshikov of the folk-rock band Aquarium.
The roots of Russian folk music date as far back as to the middle of the first millennium AC, when Slavic tribes settled in the European part of the present territory of Russia. Those tribes were famous for their love and mastery of music, singing and dancing, according to Byzantium and German manuscripts. It is known, that in 591 Avars' khan sent Slavic singers and gusli players as ambassadors to Byzantium Emperor. The music of Kievan Rus, the first Russian state formed in the 10th century, was not homogeneous, just like the tribes that made up this country. It included Finno-Ugric, Turkic and other prototypes besides Slavic ones. Very old are guttural singing traditions of Siberia and the Far East. Till date regional and ethnic (pre-national) traditions are evident in Russian folklore. Thus, folk singing traditions of the northern, western, southern and central regions, as well as settlements in basins of big rivers of Oka, Volga and Don, have their own distinct features. Majority of still alive folk songs have pagan roots bearing the impact of Christian rites.
As for the instruments now symbolizing Russian folk music - balalaika and bayan (accordion) - they were spread in Russia only in the 19th - 20th cc, as well as mandolin and guitar, originating in Western Europe, strange as it may seem.
Authentic Russian folk music is primarily vocal. Russian folk song was an integral part of daily village life. It was sung from morning to night, and reflected the four seasons and significant events in villagers' lives. Its roots are in the orthodox church services where significant parts are sung. Most of the population was also illiterate and poverty-stricken, so musical instruments were rare, and notation (which is more relevant for instrumentals than vocals) could not be read.