Turkmen on the turntables: “Inshallah, the future will bring change”
Editor’s note: Turkmenistan may be second only to North Korea in its self-imposed isolation, but this hasn’t stopped the global phenomenon of “urban culture”, especially in the form of Hip Hop. neweurasia’s Annasoltan explores how Hip Hop can thrive — or die — in a totalitarian police state. Read her previous entries in this post series, including exclusive remarks from Zumer Chas of Darkroom Posse, here. Also, read Chris Schuepp’s 2008 guest post on underground pop music in Turkmenistan here.
Given the meteoric rise in popularity of Hip Hop in Turkmenistan, what approach are the Turkmen authorities taking toward the music form and the restive youth subculture it represents?
Several Turkmen rappers were been called to prosecutor’s office last summer when they returned during the holiday season to Turkmenistan. Apparently, during the meeting they told to sign a petition vowing to give up using swear language in their songs — or face imprisonment. Other rappers complained of difficulties acquiring exit visas to leave the country for shows abroad. Indeed, some, like Syke, have been barred from leaving altogether, and when this past summer the authorities banned some students from leaving the country, among the targeted group were many aspiring rappers.
The authorities have not given any explanation so far. Ever since Turkmen Hip Hop emerged a few summers ago, their EPs and LPs have not appeared on the open market in Turkmenistan. According to Zumer Chas, Turkmen Hip Hop’s biggest name, there are also difficulties with promotion in the nearest available market, Turkey. Instead, Turkmen rap songs are sold illegally via piracy sites. Zumer and others say they have no influence over such black market dealings, adding that they make no profit from them, either.
It may well be that the attention some rappers have received alarms the authorities. They may perceive Hip Hop as disruptive. Certainly, the message of Turkmen Hip flies in the face of the government’s official personality cult, much less its paradisical self-image.
Normally any aspiring singer would yearn for the kind of publicity Zumer is getting, but Zumer is not a normal singer, nor is his situation normal. In fact, conversely, it seems that the more popularity Zumer gains, the more he has shunned publicity. He has closed his website and hasn’t given any concert in Turkmenistan this year. Recently, he canceled a question-and-answer session on the Web.
When I caught up to him a little while ago, I was able to ask him how feels about the publicity. His response was enlightening, not only about the man himself, but about the situation for other rappers in the country:
In my hometown in Turkmenbashy, if I leave my house I’m joined by several other young people who follow me on footstep, and we have to send them away because it could send the wrong signal, such as if were a noisy group protesting something or so.
In a better climate and with strong sponsors rap can be developed further. My studies keep me busy so I’ve not been concentrating much on these issues recently. [Nevertheless] there is some progress, and inshallah, the future will bring more change.