Of dutars and mixtapes: a veteran’s view of 20 years in the Turkmen music scene
Culture and History, Media and Internet, Turkmenistan3 Comments
Editor’s note: neweurasia’s Annasoltan interviews a veteran of the Turkmen music scene to explore the last 20 years of artistic development — or un-development — in Turkmenistan.
Is Turkmenistan entering an artistic resurgence? Yes, if we were to believe the official media, in which even Berdimuhamedov has been shown performing a love song with an electric guitar. But what do my nation’s artists think?
I’ve done a lot of coverage about the interaction between the Turkmen music scene, the digital world of the Turkmenet, and our political establishment (“Turkmen on the Turntables”, “TolkunFM — a potential revolution in Turkmen musical life”, Pioneering the Turkmenet” and “Turkmenistan’s singers caught in a vicious circle”). Recently I had a chat with a middle-aged singer and composer, Annaberdi from Ashgabat, a real man of the “analog” era– the dutar. His account of the travails of the music scene in Turkmenistan over the last 20 years raises a lot of questions about not only the past, but a crisis of identity among our nation’s singers and musicians — a crisis fostered by economics, politics, and technology.
“[In the Eighties, when I began my education,] one had to be dedicated and talented enough to start a career as a musician, not like today when money is the decisive factor for training.
“After independence, there was so much expectation that our national arts would receive a heightened role and recognition after so many years of negligence and severe restrictions under Soviet rule. However, instead of being elevated, the national arts were degraded, [and since then] a lot of talent has been wasted and the authenticity of Turkmen artwork has been lost.
“First we faced the economic hardship of the early 1990s, when the cycle of Soviet economic supply chain broke down after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The people had to sell their personal belongings to make a living. It was a time when many young people fell victim to drug addiction. So, the people had not enough money to buy music cassettes. But then the traditional Turkmen wedding party experienced a revival, with families spending huge amounts of money, which created an opportunity for singers to earn good money.
“Yet, soon another blow to the musicians came: a situation was created where the best singer became the person who most praised the leader and sang songs in front of him. This became a precondition to appear on TV, even if a singer was already famous. Only ideological songs were promoted while others were banned.
“[However,] it’s true that in both periods singers were expected to praise the political system and the leadership — and vice versa, that is, the singers who have received the title ‘reputation earning singer’ or ‘people’s singer’. They have traditionally seen it as a sort of ‘duty’ to praise the leadership and because they are popular some people tend to believe what they say.
“The institutions for skillful learning that were available during Soviet rule are out of reach now. Instead of creating original songs of their own, today’s Turkmen singers are making their jobs easy by copying already-existing songs from Turkish, Uzbek, Azeri, Persian and Arabic, and singing them in Turkmen. I cannot understand their stardom-like behavior for doing that; the singers of the previous time had earned more respect from the people.”
“I was brought up with the Turkmen folk instrument ‘dutar’, so to speak the Turkmen guitar. I have composed several songs [for this instrument] but there are no buyers any more, as they see no need to buy them when it is easy to copy the songs of others. What happens is that we are not able to make ourselves internationally known with our own national art instrument, and at the same time we have of course no chance to make a name with the copied versions of ‘popular’ Turkmen songs.
“Consequently, we now have real nostalgia for the good Turkmen singers of the past, those who had received professional training such as Atabay and Atageldi Garyagdiyev, to recall a few names. [Many] are angry about the plagiarists because they see these as a betrayal and not contributing to the development of a national culture.
“[Yet,] the singers of our time are not able to make money from their video clips; instead, they have to pay from their own pocket large amounts for the production of these clips. What they can earn from the CDs, DVDs and concerts is not real money, but reputation. Appearing on TV is the key to becoming famous.
“Because the copyright law is not executed there are cheaper fake copies sold in the shops. [Meanwhile,] previously singers were singing with their own voices, but now many of the new singers use technology to make sound their voice better.
“Yet, it does not help to lose hope. We the Turkmens are brought up to see the good things in life and to think optimistically. We are an independent nation now and I am hopeful that the future will bring progress.”