Monday, April 14, 2008

Koryo Saram Update:
10 Minute Trailer Available

The recent news of a South Korean astronaut/cosmonaut blasting off from Baikonur to the international space station had at least a couple of news outlets proclaiming a surge of national pride among Kazakhstan's ethnic Korean population.

And I've been waiting a long time for the public release of Koryo Saram, a documentary that "tells the harrowing saga of survival in the open steppe country and the sweep of Soviet history through the eyes of these deported Koreans [sent into exile to Kazakhstan], who were designated by Stalin as an "unreliable people" and enemies of the state."

It's just shown at Harvard, it won a "Best Documentary" award in Canada, and has been screened in several international cities and academic communities, but I've gotten no reply to two requests to be added to the mailing list for more information. Perhaps the "work in progress" is progressing slowly?

There's now a 10-minute trailer available on the film's website, and it's really worth a look. Negative, hopeful, nostalgic, clear-eyed; the film promises to be an important addition to an understanding of the multi-ethnic, multicultural, mixed-identity nation that is the reality of contemporary Kazakhstan.


Koryo Saram: The Unreliable People
Directed by Y. David Chung & Matt Dibble

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Roksonaki on the Air

Spring has sprung, Nauryz is over, and Kazakhstan's first "experimental neo-traditional ethno-rock" band, Roksonaki, is finishing up their Nauryz 2008 tour in the Washington D. C. area. It's been an interesting tour, very academically oriented. The band has done 3-4 day residencies at several different universities, visited schools, and most of the concerts have been free.

Another feature of the tour has been radio interviews, mostly with Dr. Helen Faller, the group's American coordinator and also the producer of Mosaiqa Records, founded last year to promote Central Asian music.
Wisconsin Public Radio broadcasts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders live every weekday at 3 pm CST. Last Wednesday the hour-long program featured Roksonaki, in residence at U. Wisconsin - Madison. You can stream the audio by clicking the Listen button on the Here on Earth Roksonaki program page, or download the mp3 podcast on the March 2008 archives page. The audio stream is available indefinitely; the podcast is available for download until late May. Check out all the other programs in the archives while you're there -- it's a dizzying array of topics and interviews from around the world, well worth exploring.

Highlights of the Here on Earth show are Helen Faller's discussion of instruments and the shamanic tradition, the folk legend of the creation of the zhetigen (a 7-stringed harp/zither), and the hauntingly beautiful "Ak Bayan" (about 36 minutes into the show). This show focuses on acoustic pieces, which is the core of the 2008 tour.

Also last week, Roksonaki recorded a show with WFMU, in New York's Hudson Valley. It was broadcast on Saturday, March 29, as part of a weekly show called
Transpacific Sound Paradise: Popular and Unpopular Music from Around the World (great subtitle). The middle hour of the 3-hour program is all Roksonaki, with 6 pieces recorded live in the studio and another 4 from CDs. Helen Faller speaks and translates, but if the chuckles and instant Russian replies are any indication, it seems that Ruslan Kara and other band members understand much more English than they are willing to speak on radio.

The TSP show highlights include "The Hunter's Lament" on zhetigen, a jammin' acoustic satire about bad stuff that can happen ("Ne Jaman"), a contemporary kyl-kobyz piece, and some insight into the personalities of the band members. The CD tracks illustrate the broader range of Roksonaki that qualifies them as "avant garde," leaning toward what were they thinking? Not everything can hit the Top 40.

Listen to Roksonaki's TSP interview (via streaming audio) on the program playlist page. If you're short on time, listen to opening track, then skip to 1:02:00 for the Roksonaki segment.

And because it's what I do, here's an older, even more traditional version of "Ak Bayan" on zhetigen and kyl-kobyz, from Asyl Mura.

Images from a National Bank of Kazakhstan commemorative series of 500 tenge coins