Turkmenistan’s singers caught in a vicious circle
Culture and History, Turkmenistan, Videoblog4 Comments
Turkmen authorities have sentenced two popular young singers, Maksat Kakabayew, a.k.a. Maro, and Myrat Owezow, to prison sentences, the first to two years in prison, the second to two years in a labor colony. It appears that the pair of singers, and indeed, singers in general, have run afoul of official ideology and the government’s vision of morality.
Explaining why Kakabayew and Owezow were even on trial to begin with is difficult because they haven’t violated any crimes per se. The Chronicles of Turkmenistan has been covering their cases, but the information it’s collected (here and here) doesn’t cast much light on the situation.
Remarks made by the arresting police officers suggest that the singers’ foppish hairstyles offended official sensitivities. Their lyrics may have also been a culprit, as these did not have the standard panegyrics for the president. Speculation has also fallen upon an interview Kakabayew made with the Turkish satellite channel TMB.
When news of the arrests and subsequent sentences broke, the singers’ young fans on the Turkmenet filled chat forums with expressions of shock. From there the story spread to the general public, whose negative reaction seemed to have prompted the decision by the authorities to snoop around Kakabayew’s past and revive a resolved dispute from a year ago between his family and a neighbor in their neighborhood of Ashgabat. As a result, Kakabayew’s father, brother, and brother-in-law have also been sentenced to two years in prison. It seems the authorities thought this could lend more legitimacy to their harsh treatment of the singers.
As odd and shocking as this case is, Kakabayew and Owezow are only two of a small legion of Turkmen artists who have been blacklisted. But the problems they and other singers face aren’t entirely political. The situation is actually very complex. For example, ordinary people often blame our nation’s pop and hip hop singers for copying Turkish, Arabic, and Uzbek songs instead of genuinely developing Turkmen musical culture. Meanwhile, there aren’t many opportunities to sell CDs off the black marker, and concert venues are very few — they are lucky if they can make some money singing at private wedding parties, which could get you blacklisted for “subversion” — and they are left to the mercy of the authorities, who send them from one concert to the other to perform free of charge. Those who manage to appear on state television are required to obey official prescriptions to the letter.
Worst of all — and as I indicated above, this may be partially why Kakabayew and Owezow got in trouble — since the Niyazov era, pop singers have been required to sing songs that praise the leader or “outstanding achievements of the country”. Those who don’t obey this law are banned from performing public, which increases the odds of them eventually being charged with “subversion”. Around and around they go in a vicious circle, and all for nothing more than the love of voice…