Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cookbooks for a Cause,
Or, Hot Stoves for Warm Hands

Many of my Central Asian cooking adventures have started with a recipe from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook, which covers all the republics of the USSR, not just Russia. One really nice thing about this cookbook, in addition to the recipes, is that almost every one has some sort of history or commentary preceding it, and there are longer sections on cooking in the varied Soviet regions (including Central Asia). Even if you never make a thing, you'll enjoy reading the book from cover to cover.

If you've ever considered buying your own copy of Please to the Table, here's an opportunity to help kids in Kazakhstan while cooking up some tasty Central Asian treats in your own kitchen. For every copy purchased through Mittens for Akkol, $10 goes to pay for shipping handknit woollies to an orphanage in northeastern KZ.

In the pre-Borat era, many (if not most) Americans who could find Kazakhstan on the map, or had even heard of it, were adoptive parents of KZ children. Because of the country’s adoption laws, hopeful parents are required to travel to Kazakhstan and spend at least two weeks of daily visits with a child in the orphanage, before petitioning the regional court to adopt. If the court approves, the child wins a loving family, but his friends are left behind. The majority will remain in state care until at 16 (or after 9th grade) they age out of the system and are on their own.

In 2003, a Cincinnati, Ohio couple adopted two teenagers, aged 12 & 14, from the orphanage in Akkol, a small town about an hour (on a good day) north of Astana. Akkol is unusual in that it cares for children ages from 3-16 years old (most regions have separate orphanages for pre-schoolers, aged 3-7, and school-aged children, aged 8+). In 2004, they travelled to Akkol again, to adopt their son’s 14-year-old best friend. Both times they lived in the orphanage during the visiting period, got to know the directors, the staff, and the children well, and developed the highest regard for the care and commitment the children receive (this is generally true throughout Kazakhstan; if you have to live in an orphanage, your odds are better in RK than in other post-Soviet countries).

How to do something meaningful for the 250 children remaining? As Astana area readers well know, this area is in the windiest, most miserably cold part of the Kazakh steppe. Mittens for Akkol was created to connect knitters to a need -- in the past couple of years, hundreds of pairs of handknit woolen mittens have made their way to the older kids at Akkol, and the project has expanded to socks, vests and other warm woollies. Knitters can join the Mittens for Akkol Yahoo!Group to find out how to participate. Cooks should click on over to the Helping Others: Mittens for Akkol fundraiser page for information on purchasing Please to the Table to help those mittens make the journey from the US to KZ.

And stay tuned to this site for the next installment of Kazakh Cooking Experiments: Lagman for Nauryz (from a Please to the Table recipe, of course).

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Soundtrack for Your Nauryz Party
(March 21,2007)

First I discovered Project Playlist and started playing with adding tracks from Kazakhstan. Then I made myself a CD mix of Kazakhstani music just for the fun of it. And then, might as well package it up to share. So, just in time for Nauryz 2007 . . .

The complete playlist includes 20 good, banal (but good for dancing), and "on principle" tracks (as in, SuperStar KZ winner Almas Kishkenbayev), mostly sung in Kazakh. Of course there are a couple of energetic dance sets, plus traditional dombra and qobyz pieces, a sampling of contemporary pop, and the new (2006) National Anthem.

Hear some of the tracks below. If you want more (including Adai, by contemporary dombra dude Aselbek Ensepov), download the .zip file (70-something MB) here. EDIT - link updated 2/19/08)

Nauryz Kuttuh Bolsyn!

The Kazakh Aul of the U.S. has an informative 3-page Nauryz article (PDF) here.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Musicola: Between Almaty and Moscow

Since exploring the nifty online jukebox of KZ music, I’ve been listening to Musicola, a smooth jazz-influenced pop duo from Almaty. Since their first single & album (Girl in a White Dress / Dyevochka v platitsye byelom) debuted in 1996, Musicola has stayed on pop charts in the CIS; I realized that one of my favorite songs on a Moscow-produced “greatest hits of the year” CDs is a Musicola track. In 2005, they released a Kazakh-language album Arman Zholdar (Road of Dreams); other albums are in Russian.

Musicola is Karina Abdullina, 32, vocalist and songwriter, and Bulat Sazdykov, 51, arranger and guitarist. Karina was born in Almaty into a family of professional musicians, and began singing at age four. Her mother, Olga Lviv is a classical pianist, her father, an operatic baritone. Karina’s grandfather and his twin brother, Rishat and Muslim Abdullin, were stars in the Soviet classical constellation of the 1940s-1970s. Karina’s family name is pronounced “ab-DOOL-in-a.”

Bulat Sazdykov is originally from Karaganda. His family wanted him to be a doctor, but at 14 he took a course in jazz guitar, and has been a musician ever since (even during his obligatory two years in the military). Before Musicola he was in successful bands in the 1980s, worked as a session musician for top artists in Moscow, and now is also a producer for young musicians in his own studio. In the “small world” category, Gulnara met Bulat in Almaty a few years ago; they have friends in common.

It's practically impossible to buy
Musicola in the US, and I've even had a hard time finding their music on Russian sites (which all got shut down in February anyway) . Most of their CDs/albums are out of print. But never fear! The band's official website has downloadable MP3s of all the albums, with lyrics (in Russian). Listen to Dyevochka, Won't Forget You (great dance tune) or Arman Zholdar, and see if the jazzy, haunting melodies don't follow you around (in a good way).

If you've been captured by the Musicola sound, right here on News from the Caravan, you can download the 2006 Best of Musicola CD (71 MB zip file) for your very own. (EDIT - link updated 2/19/2008) It's all freely available on the band's website, but I've packaged the lyrics (I can't predict whether the Cyrillic will display properly, though), artwork and all 18 songs together. Enjoy!