Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nauryz 2008!

After 70+ years of Russian/Soviet holidays, Nauryz has taken hold as a big event in Kazakhstan, and in the international Kazakh/Kazakhstani communities. This poster, for the Embassy of Kazakhstan's Nauryz 2008 celebration in Washington, D.C., certainly is gorgeous. Nauryz, a spring festival with pre-Islamic roots, is also celebrated under varying names across Islamic Asia from Turkey to Kyrgystan.

Tonight in Moscow (it's probably over now, in fact), a beauty pageant/Nauryz celebration was held to select the most beautiful of all Kazakhstani students in Russia. The winner of "Moscow Spring - 2008" will be a contestant in the national "Miss Kazakhstan" pageant later on. Between competition rounds, the audience was treated to performances by no less than A-Studio, Musicola, Asylbek Ensepov and the legendary Dos Mukasan, and other stars of the KZ music scene.

Also from, folk-pop band Urker will give their first full-length concert in 5 years for the Nauryz 2008 celebration on Saturday night (7 pm) in Old Almaty Square. Fittingly, they'll rock the crowd with their holiday anthem Nauryz, under a massive fireworks display.

I think the Nauryz party in London has already happened, but the big event in the US is a multi-city tour by "the unique neo-traditional avant-garde band from Kazakhstan," Roksonaki, culminating in the Washington, D.C. gala on April 5. Roksonaki made a big splash at the Smithsonian Institution's 2002 "Silk Road" Folklife Festival, with Yo-Yo Ma. Though the group was formed in 1990, there's next to no additional information about them until now, aided by a group member and Central Asian scholar, Dr. Helen Faller, who coordinated the tour. Roksonaki's music is fascinating and exactly as billed -- experimental, scholarly, with contemporary influences, traditional instruments and more. Is there such a thing as Central Asian space music? Check out the Roksonaki blogs (, and Nauryz with Roksonaki), and even a MySpace page, which has several music samples. And if you're anywhere near Washington, D.C. in a couple of weekends, there's a party going on that you really shouldn't miss.

A sample Roksonaki track, from the site:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

When Words Matter

(EDITED - I found the post I was looking for - thanks to Technorati - and have edited to reflect and include links)

I don't usually stray into political matters -- there are far better informed sites for that (and I'm going to add a list of those sites soon). But yesterday I read this post at Window On Eurasia on remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin about his chosen, I mean elected, successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and it makes me wonder . . .

I'm kicking myself for not bookmarking this page (FOUND IT!), but the gist was that In this speech, Putin described Medvedev's "Russian nationalism" with the word that means "ethnically Russian" -- russkiy -- instead of rossiikiy, which means "citizen of Russia." It makes no difference in English, and perhaps in many European languages -- Russian and Russian are the same. But the post points out that there's a big difference in Russian, especially given the fractured ethnic politics of the country. Saying "Russia for the ethnic Russian," instead of "Russia for the citizens of Russia" signifies a HUGE difference in political ideology.

So how does this relate? I see a correlation in language between Kazakh (as an ethnicity/nationality), and Kazakhstani (as an identity-card-carrying citizenship), but no similar examination in Central Asian coverage on language use. Americans (with whose language I am most familar), blithely use Kazakh to mean "citizen of Kazakhstan," but none of the non-ethnically-Kazakh citizen of Kazakhstan I know would accept that term to describe themselves. Few have commented on the government's recent move to use Kazakh as a term for all "citizens of Kazakhstan," even though the pictures show Asian, Eurasian, Turkic, Slavic and European faces. Ignorance, complacency, or an identity shift I have yet to accept?

It seems to me that until all the native-born citizens of the country speak the same language as they settle into nationhood, words matter a lot. Until employment and educational opportunities are equalized for all citizens, regardless of "nationality" (because everyone speaks the same language), a pan-nationality term -- Kazakhstani in English -- is politically inclusive, as the politicians claim to be. One generation more, and maybe they're there. Is that really so long to wait to make all citizens feel like they belong?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Another Musical Pairing:

Kurmangazy's Sary-Arka (Golden Steppe), on solo dombra,
by Abdulhamit Rayimbergenov **

(from The Rough Guide to the Music of Central Asia

Ulytau's folk-metal version of

** Abdulhamit Rayimbergenov is a featured music educator & dombrist in Theodore Levin's
Where Rivers And Mountains Sing: Sound, Music, And Nomadism in Tuva And Beyond

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Adai, 3 Ways

Kurmangazy Sagyrbaev (Russian)
Курмангазы Сагырбаев

Kurmangazy Sagirbaiuly (Kazakh)
Құрманғазы Сағырбайұлы

Kurmangazy was a brilliant 19th century Kazakh composer and musician. Various reputable sources give 1806-1879, 1823-1896, 1818-1889, among others, as his birth and death dates. He lived in the western area of what is now Kazakhstan, and is buried just over the border in Astrakhan, Russia.

Renowned for his courage, cunning and skill on the dombra, Kurmangazy wrote numerous kui, brilliant 'mood' solo instrument pieces, of which some 60 are known and played today.
Kui or kyui are musical narratives -- traditionally the musician introduces a piece with a summary of the story illustrated by the music, and some information about its history.

Kurmangazy's music is woven into the fabric of Kazakh/Kazakhstani culture. His kuis tell stories of Kazakh warriors (Adai), of the land (Sary Arka, 'Golden Steppe'), and of courage and resistance (Kishkentay is about an 1836 folk uprising). His music is played not only in its original instrumental forms, but is also adapted into popular music. Just today I stumbled across Getting Kazakhified,
the blog of a ethnomusicology doctoral student living in Almaty -- her dissertation is on "how the struggle over ethnic/national identities is literally playing itself out through music." This is fascinating stuff, and I'm looking forward to following her ideas and research.

But for now, listen to three different versions of Adai. Whatever the embellishments, pounding hoofbeats across the steppe come through loud and clear.

Kali Zhantleuov on solo dombra. His dombra teacher had been a student of Kurmangazy.

Asylbek Ensepov on dombra & synthesizer.
According to Werner Linden, the German "mad musicologist," Ensepov describes his music as "dance music, made from
kuis, played on the dombra, with computerized accompaniment." Syntho-classical? Does anyone remember Classical Gas? It's next to impossible to find anything about Ensepov, and his 2003 debut disc is out of print (each of the 5,000 copies was numbered and packaged in a tooled leather case), but there are several videos on YouTube: check out Adai & Sultan (where the musician gets the girl!). The kid rocks, and he's not bad to look at either.

Kazakhstan Ethno-Rock Project Ulytau.
Ulytau is a young, all-instrumental folk-metal (yes, folk-metal) band. The trio consists of a classically-trained violinist, a dombrist, and a wailing lead-guitar player.
Their first album, Jumyr-Kylysh, consists of traditional Kazakh & classical European pieces (Vivaldi & Bach), all given the Ulytau folk-metal treatment. I saw somewhere that they'd signed with a German label - could they be the first KZ band to make it big in the west? You can find three mp3s on the .ru site (there's also a .kz website). Jumyr-Kylysh is another a traditional Kazakh tune. Asylbek Ensepov has a version of it as well.