On the 9th of May, in Dushanbe, In Victory Park, there was Victory Day was celebrated. Soldiers – recruits took an oath, demonstrated their ability to march and etc.
Like the sun and the moon rising and setting over the Garagum çöli (Karakum desert), Turkmen life is characterized by cycles — and noontime is marked by the wedding. When a Turkmen man comes back from army duty and officially begins adulthood, he is married off by his parents. Or, when a family purchases a new house, they shall often host a wedding, as a way of celebrating the change.
Marriage is an industry in our country: wedding facilities to conduct wedding ceremonies and wedding saloons for wedding parties with wedding singers, and even wedding palaces that have all of these functions under one roof. Weddings can also take place in and around cars (quite popular in Turkmenistan and Iran’s Turkmen Sahra) or in schools.
The wedding process goes like this: (1) the owner of the house or the head of the household calls together all of the aksakals, a gathering called “ýaşuly”. Then (2) they all pray to Allah, supplicating for blessings. Next (3) everyone shifts to a feast in front of the house, or to a restaurant. This latter part is really more intended for the young Turkmen, because the aksakals have spent the daylit hours praying and then go home to rest. Needless to say, stage three is when the fun begins — and make no mistake, Turkmen wedding parties are fun.
Although we’re a Muslim country, don’t be surprised to see copious amounts of alcohol at the party. The irony in this is that weddings are supposed to be about bringing people together in the context of a genuine emotional encounter. All that alcohol complicates things, gives a kind of an illusory perception of each other. For this and other reasons, people are becoming more conscientious about serving alcohol, or even having any at all, at their wedding parties.
Actually, in a way, weddings could be kind of like our post-Marxist opiate of the masses, because who doesn’t love to have fun? Certainly not the Turkmen. And as soon as there’s any kind of social hiccup, well, announce a gala wedding, with singers and all! Perhaps that’s why we have been rated one of the world’s happiest countries? But then, when the party’s over and reality sets back in, we quickly slip into our other status as also one of the world’s most miserable countries.
Recently I have visited the Obbo Winter Collection Fashion Show in Bishkek. Here’re the pictures from the Tengri-Style Event:
As I intimated in my last post, Turkmen music in general, and Pop in particular, is still very much at the imitation stage of development, as our singers “borrow” famous songs illegally, adapt them, then sing them as though it were their own. It’s thievery, yes, and it’s a pity our regime’s actions have compelled them to such acts, but precisely for that reason, I cannot condemn them. Besides, it’s fitting somehow to our tradition of the master-disciple (halypa-shagirt), as the neophyte learns from the experienced singer.
Still, the resultant music can sometimes be hilariously bad – badly mixed, badly lyricized, etc. Yet, again, sympathy’s in order: we should not forget the old maxim, “A rough diamond evolves into a polished diamond by getting trimmed and trimmed.” People learn by making mistakes; the successful are those who both survive and learn. Eventually, Turkmenistan shall have a full-fledged Pop scene; the question is when, not if.
I think there’s a temptation among our nation’s young to use the Eurovision song contest as a measure of whether a nation’s Pop scene has “emerged” and consolidated. This can be misleading. Turkmen singers have not been unsuccessful. If we look back to the Eighties, Atabay Charygulyyew’s albums were listened to and bought in Europe, and he won various competitions there (what’s particularly interesting about Charygulyyew is that he accomplished this by composing real Turkmen music, not by trying to be something he wasn’t, i.e., a Westerner). On the one hand, he’s an example of what our nation can eventually accomplish on a larger scale like the Eurovision; at the same time, on the other hand, he disproves the myth that Eurovision is the best marker of success.
In my last post, I wrote a bit about the scene for Turkmen Pop singers at the moment. Now I want to delve a bit more deeply into their professional conditions. It’s not great, even considering the decent income that some of them can earn from weddings.
Editor’s note: While Uzbekistan’s everyday citizens toil in the cotton fields, Gulnara Karimova has been hosting a festival of government-sponsored films to celebrate her country’s “talent”. NewEurasia’s Khayyam goes looking for Uzbekistan’s real talent, and finds them in a rival film festival in Bishkek.
We had a really, ahem, glorious film festival in Uzbekistan the last week: called “Golden Guepard”, it was organized by Gulnara Karimova as part of her Art Week, which is held annually in the country.
The pathos of the festival — to say nothing of Art Week itself– was completely out of place: it’s cotton harvesting time. So, while foreign visitors and Uzbekistan’s Zil-driving elite were enjoying films and fashion, regular citizens were slaving away on the cotton fields. Of course, there wasn’t a single film about this issue in the festival; only government-sponsored films were shown, and these tend to be standard, clean and harmless, made by directors who are often far removed from the people.
Contrast this situation with the nearly simultaneous “Reformat” festival in Bishkek. Uzbekistan had two really good representatives there, talented hard-edged directors who prefer to shoot only sharp independent films about real issues — neither of whom, by the way, were invited to participate in Googoosha’s spectacle. One of them even won the Grand Prix for Best Film!
That Grand Prix went to the documentary “The Angel … and two of her husband’s” Oleg Karpov and Umida Akhmedova, a notorious Uzbek director. In 2010, she was convicted in “Libel and insult of the Uzbek people” for her film, “The Burden of Virginity” (which you, dear reader, can watch on Vimeo here and here). In Karpov’swords,
“In this new movie, there is no politics. The film — about love and paradoxes of home life — focuses upon a woman who lives with her two husbands in the same apartment. The entire film is built on contrasts. All things in this film are very absurd. For example, one of the men of this woman is a Muslim who sings in the choir of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
He added, concerning “Reformat”,
The festival ‘Reformat’, as well as our own festival CAFIF, consist of films that are outside of the [regular] cinematic process: video art, documentaries, games, student films. The ideology is similar in both festivals, but in Kyrgyzstan there were cash prizes [i.e., real appreciation for our work]. It’s funny. [W]e won USD 700 with the Grand Prix; this is our the most successful film.
We [i.e., Central Asians] need more such festivals [...]. Previously, nothing similiar was happening in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. It’s a fresh move, and I hope that they will turn into something systematic, permanent.
Uzbekistan is a very rich country, and not just in terms of its natural resources. Its people can be supremely talented, but they too often get tossed aside for the glory of Googoosha.
My impression — and not just mine, considering the awards given — is that Uzbek filmmakers represented in ‘Reformat’ looked very presentable. There seven Uzbek films shown [in total]. The film ‘Generation of Port Wine’ by Alexander Barkovsky, who received the third prize of the festival, was perceived as very personal, despite the fact that this movie is about Tashkent youth. [His] characters were familiar with the audience, they were recognizable. The film has a very serious energy.
Barkovsky is one of the most extraordinary video artists in Uzbekistan. His film, “The Generation of Port Wine”, is a documentary sketch of the life about street punks in Tashkent in 1998, full of existential nightmare. In his own words:
“The film was shot in 1998, when there was a a popular party-point called ‘Hitchhiking’ among punks in Tashkent, in the area of the last bus stop ‘Square’, which is now demolished [Ed.: For more information, check out NewEurasia's post on Tashkent's sudden physical transformation]. My friend from Moscow brought a video camera, and all summer I was with this camera, shooting different things. One day, I was in a cafe on the ‘Hitchhiking’ place where punks gathered. The footage laid in my house for ten years, [until] 2008, when I digitized it and spent two years editing it.
“It’s a human story of the generation of the Nineties, of which I was a member. At that time, the mass culture had not yet mixed all the people up in one heap. People were clearly divided into groups for ideological and aesthetic reasons.”
As for his motivations to film, Barkovsky remarked,
“I care about movies and life in general as a director, not for the sake of festivals. There are thousands of festivals in the world. I don’t care about ‘Golden Guepard’. [However,] I would like to participate, but for [obvious] reasons, none of my movies will work there. [T]hey did not even call me. [By contrast,] representatives from other festivals call sometimes.
Editor’s note: Earlier this week, Uzbekistan’s notorious First Daughter, Gulnara “Googoosha” Karimova, released the music video of her newest single, “Round Run”. NewEurasia’s newest blogger, Khayyam, shows us YouTube audience reactions, and asks a professional music video producer about the production quality, right down to the ominous Soviet-era ZIL. Get ready for some stinging criticism.
Gulnara Karimova is notorious for her desire to get “big” in show business as “Googoosha”. She released her eponymous album earlier this year over the Internet. The songs were written by one of the best Russian producers, Max Fadeev. And now, we have the “world premiere” of the album’s lead single, “Round Run”.
The video is set in ancient Bukhara. According to witnesses and news agency Uznews.net, the entire historical city center was closed during the shooting process. Avi Cohen, a music video director from USA who has worked with Godsmack, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and other bands, directed the video. It also starred the world-renowned parkour runner Daniel Ilabaca. So, in a sense, this is a pretty big deal for Uzbekistan. But what was the actual end result?
YouTube viewers are split between their adoration for Ilabaca and their loathing for Googoosha. Hmmm interesting. For posterity’s sake, I’ve screen-captured the YouTube page for the video before the negative comments gets censored.
So, for example, one viewer writes,
клип не рыба не мясо у нее нету дара .. наверное в узбекистане слушают из за того что это песня везде играет и включают по телеэфирам
[Literal translation:] clip is not fish meat in her no gift .. probably listen in Uzbekistan due to the fact that this song is everywhere on television time and include
Another waxes sarcastic:
прекрасный клип и энергичная музыка, не зря наша леди вошла в пятерку на Hot Dance Hits в Америке … Ну что же, так или иначе, она знаменита!
[Literal translation:] excellent video and energetic music, no wonder our lady entered the top five on the Hot Dance Hits in America … Well, anyway, she is famous!
Googoosha definitely has her defenders, particularly one Islom Yusupov, who sees this as a public relations coup for Bukhara and Uzbekistan. Others praise her physical beauty, or just the fact that Uzbekistan has the resources (i.e., money) to produce something of “Western” quality.
Meanwhile, on the Uzbek analog of Youtube, Mover.uz, negative opinions on the video were surpassing positive ones — until comments were abruptly disabled (along with the Like/Dislike function). Surprise, surprise.
NewEurasia asked one well-known European video producer about his/her impressions of the video from a professional point of view (unfortunately, he/she has asked not to be named, lest he/she have problems on future visits to Uzbekistan). Here are his/her remarks:
I don’t know how much this probably expensive director costs, but he’s not worth his money, that much is for sure. The best example is the beginning: the director fails at setting up the story. From the editing in this first part, you get a feeling that the guy is running away from the car, not that the two people actually want to meet. See the scenes and their symbolism:
- He looks over the city;
- A black car drives through;
- He slides down a wall;
- He jumps off some building;
- Frontal view of the black car;
- He runs.
The symbolics are clear: He’s fleeing from the car. The edit as well as the way places/items are shown, including the car, make that quite clear. Now, sure, you could say that it’s a game, haha, you know, they want you to believe this [running away] in the beginning, and then surprise you with a twist to the story when it turns out that they actually want to meet. But that’s rubbish. Firstly, this is a music video, not a 45 minute TV serial. Secondly, this revealing of the real story comes only at the very end, and if that is intentional, then sorry, it’s also badly done. It comes out of nowhere. All of a sudden. That’s just badly built: If you want such a surprise effect, you’d have to go through with it and implement hints during the story, too. That’s not happening.
There are plenty of small details, like toward the end when you see the guy climbing up the Arc (clearly diagonal walls), and somehow he ends up on the roof of a completely different building (with vertical walls). I mean, come on. They’re not even trying to hide the bad jump from one place to another. Likewise, around 0:28, where we play the bad old game of ‘quick cuts’, almost stop motion: Okay, the stylistics are already old-fashioned since years, but if you decide to use them, then… eh… why does for example the running guy (frontal view) make a step back all of a sudden? Now that can’t be on purpose, can it. Because it does nothing to help the story, or the aesthetics. It’s just a dumb cut.
I think it’s sad for an amazingly beautiful city like Bukhara if it looks so crap in a video. It’s not because of the camera, that was certainly expensive enough. The post-production however introduces sometimes these fast-moving clouds (okay, nothing fundamentally wrong with them); it somehow manipulates the colors but not to their advantage, i.e. the picture seems quite flat and at times even sterile. Toward the end (evening mood), it becomes entirely artificial. Additional details like these permanent lens flares don’t make it look better, too. I really feel sorry for Bukhara. It has all the visual magic, and then these folks have nothing better to do than turn it into some sort of plastic-fantastic landscape?
The camera is somewhat too hectic, even for a video of such speed. Speed is fine, but it needs to find a balance that allows to find into the rhythm, that carries us through. Here, my impression is that some of the moves are really just random. They create imbalances by e.g. not connecting to previous shots, abruptly changing directions, and the like.
Okay, matter of taste to some extent, I admit I’m not into disco-clubby-popsy stuff that all sounds almost exactly the same. But matters of taste aside: The singer clearly can’t sing. This is kind of the Scooter (or how this band was called) of cheesy clubby-popsy music. Hardly any voice, that lady. Besides that, the song is predictable; bases on elements we’ve heard a million times before; it’s cheap and shallow. The content motif (lyrics) is also cheap and silly — I mean, a 13 year old who’s in love writes better poetry than this.
Then, by my best knowledge, you shouldn’t climb around historic monuments. It’s either forbidden anyway, or it’s simply a bad idea because you damage ancient building substance. Isn’t this an UNESCO world heritage site or something? Is the Arc really in a condition that we should encourage people to run all over it? Hmm.
As for me, I also can’t figure out the symbolism of this black car. It’s a Soviet “ZIL” (Завод имени Лихачёва — ЗиЛ) that was created only for Communist Party top-level bosses. It’s a very rare car. Perhaps this is an allusion to the song of Boris Grebenshikov “Blue Light”, in which he sings, “My death driving black car with a blue flame”? Unfortunately, it brings to mind corrupt aristocracy, just as it used to in Soviet days…
“People would prefer to have gold or silver or platinum, some tangible asset that can preserve their wealth. So, while we’re sitting out in this isolated part of Central Asia and it seems unconnected to much of the rest of the world, this is obviously very central issue to what’s going on economically and financially right now in Europe and North America.” — Dr. Robert Moran, hydrologist/geologist
This past September, Bankwatch and I made a documentary about the Kumtor mine. You can view the video via YouTube. Some weeks later I was invited to join a State Commission which was visiting the Kumtor goldmine to do an environmental monitoring and take water samples. While we were out there, though, I also took a long series of photographs, originally posted by Bankwatch on Flickr but which I’m now re-posting with permission here to help spread the word about what’s happening in Kyrgyzstan’s mountains.
With the help of a fellow Turkmen citizen-journalist, I’ve obtained and translated this official media coverage of our nation’s recent presidential election.
Ferghana.ru has uploaded an amazing video of the Abadan blast. At 0:31 there is an explosion, the shockwave of which appears to topple the cameraman.
Meanwhile, a report from RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service makes Ashgabat sound like a small war zone:
Heavy smoke was seen in Ashgabat and small fires were reported on a mountain behind the military base, which also has an air strip.