Turkmen on the turntables: a brief history of Turkmen Hip Hop
Editor’s Note: To those haters who sayin’ Turkmenistan’s got nuttin’ goin’ on, NewEurasia’s Khan gotz a report for you: a history o’ the country’s Hip Hop scene. Damn straight.
Back in 2009, NewEurasia’s Annasoltan started up a series entitled, “Turkmen on the turntables”, about the incipient Turkmen Hip Hop scene. This scene is probably the most under-reported music scene in the Turkic world. I don’t want to let awareness of it in the rest of the world drop, so I’m going to take the mic from Annasoltan with a respectful nod to her good work.
From sprinkling water to drag racing
Contrary to common wisdom, Hip Hop in Turkmenistan did not start with Azat Orazow, who simply remixed Eminem’s “Without Me” with his own Turkmen lyrics and called it, “Suw Sep” (“Sprinkle Water”). Actually, it was kind of a smart remix — funny lyrics and funny images — which made it a real cause of laughter in our society, but also because of that, something of a small success.
In fact, Turkmen Hip Hop goes back to 2000 with someone who went by the performance nick “partyboy”, also known as “dz-ed”. He provided background rapping to Gulshat Gurdowa’s song, “Menin hereketim”. After that he went into the army, basically giving up Hip Hop. It was another four years before the music would appear in Turkmenistan when a group of students from Ashgabat started rapping about patriotism, decency and other similar themes. The truth is, their style was quite simple, and they also eventually gave up two years later.
And then from Turkmenbaşy came Zumer Chas of Darkroom Posse in 2004-2005, who changed everything (and whom Annasoltan interviewed back in 2009). He had just finished his education in a Turkmen-Turkish high school in Balkan welayat. In fact, it was because of the school that he fell under the influence by Turkish rappers like Sagopa Kajmer and Ceza, and indirectly — because Hip Hop is ultimately an artform from the United States — American rappers [Ed.: For reasons like these, the Turkmen-Turkish school system has been mostly shut down. Read our coverage here]. His lyrics are melancholic ad meaningful, as he really wants to be politically sensitive. For example, his most famous song, Palestine, is about the troubles of the West Bank under the Israeli military occupation. Because he is primarily a political rapper, listeners are divided about the quality of his music: some love his lyrics first and foremost, but others feel that his sound and instrumentation isn’t good.
Since the rise of Zumer, a small scene has begun to emerge. For example, there is Narzes, who wraps in Turkmen and English, for example, his song, “Not coming down”. Many listeners think that his music is definitely the highest quality of the scene in terms of its production value, instrumentation and lyrics [Ed.: Check it out, this is well-done stuff!]. Another rapper, Iska, is known for rapping about street life in our country, and he is very popular because of this. Other names include Zemzem, who is notable because he comes from Mary, Rude, Taha, Mantic, Aragon, Orazzi, Era89 and Twister.
As our nation’s biggest city, Aşgabat is also producing a lot of talent. One noteworthy performer from there is Syke, another graduate of a Turkmen-Turkish high school, who can actually sing. He first appeared in a video clip of “Senki dal”, a song of a young lady singer called Mahri, with a group of other boys. Listeners tend to call Syke’s lyrical content “çyraçy” (pronounced: “chyrachy”), meaing that he is a guy’s guy, caring only about driving fast cars. However, I don’t think non-Turkmen readers should underestimate his importance for the scene, because even though he’s rapping for teenage boys, his music is still challenging to official social norms. For example, he has a song entitled, “Garagolja gyz”, which means, “Bad girl”, a girl who does a societally forbidden thing: getting into the car of a çyraçy.
In many ways, we can say that our Hip Hop scene is pretty much divided between Balkan and Aşgabat, which is to say, really between Zumer and Syke. Of course, they aren’t often in Turkmenistan, but in Turkey, but that doesn’t mean their two kingdoms aren’t real — nor has it stopped them from going to war.
War between the rappers
Everyone knows that Hip Hop isn’t just a music form, but it’s also a culture. Part of that culture is a tradition of arguing and insulting each other — dissing. Fights have broken out between rappers from Aşgabat and Balkan. This “war” appears to have started when Makes wrote a diss against Zumer; soon, all of the Aşgabat was against him. Highlights include three songs from Syke: “Jelepler” (“whores”), “Şatlara diss” (“diss to the joyful ones”), and the punch, “Rezin gurjak” (“plastic doll”). Zumer, of course, counter-attacked; in fact, this was the first time he had ever resorted to personal attacks in his lyrics. However, after a while he moved to Istanbul. Eventually, he and Syke, who is also studying in Istabul, and a third rapper, Ildeniz, made peace, putting the enmity between the two cities to an end.
In my opinion, dissing is a terrible Hip Hop tradition. Yes, it felts well into our culture: both the Turkmen and Sunni Islam have long traditions, going back centuries, of duelling poets. However, it also drives wedges between people, and nearly broke our Hip Hop scene into two competing camps. In fact, ultimately the police intervened! Syke was actually forbidden to go abroad because of his abusive lyrics, so as to set an example to the other rappers.
Unfortunately, the peace has proven to be fragile. Direct dissing is no longer allowed, but it continues indirectly, as rappers sing against each other but without using names.
How you can listen
tmrap.com and turkmenrap.ucoz.ru are two popular websites for Turkmen Hip Hop. You can often hear young Turkmen listening to the music on their phones, too, so the next time you’re in Balkan or Aşgabat, keep your ears open!