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