Kazakh pop stars Ninety One break taboo on political speak

ALMATY (Reuters) – References to George Orwell and Aldous Huxley aren’t precisely what one would anticipate to listen to in a pop music, particularly within the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, the place the political scene is dominated by a celebration for nearly three a long time.

So when common native band Ninety One launched a music and music video titled “Taboo” within the closing days of 2020, they had been prone to acquire consideration past their common fan base.

Having garnered over 3 million views on YouTube, the music appears to have struck a chord with Kazakhs weary of the pandemic, financial hardships, corruption and the dearth of significant political competitors.

Written largely in Kazakh, the music makes use of an intricate pun to seek advice from, amongst different issues, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and highly effective former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, earlier than itemizing just a few common grievances.

“Orwell wouldn’t have been stunned by our nation, Huxley would have been silent and in full settlement,” the lyrics say, referring to the authors of the dystopian sci-fi novels “1984” and “Courageous New World”.

The music mentions the countless depreciation of the Tenge forex and the “dementors” of public markets – pairing the improbable soul suckers from the Harry Potter books and movies with an space of ​​public life usually thought to be the area of corrupt officers.

“Say ‘Neo, get up!’ and you are a dissident, ”he continues – a nod to Keanu Reeves’ cult movie“ The Matrix ”- earlier than making an obvious reference to a extensively criticized resolution to rejoice Nazarbayev’s eightieth birthday final July. with fireworks amid a peak of COVID- 19 instances and deaths.

Authorities within the capital Nur-Sultan – named after the previous president – defended the transfer, claiming the fireworks had been ready upfront, paid for by non-public sponsors and supposed to spice up staff’ morale. medical. Kazakhstan held a nationwide day of mourning for victims of COVID-19 per week later.


Ninety One, whose identify refers back to the 12 months oil-rich Kazakhstan gained independence, has all the time been a maverick on the pop scene of the previous Soviet republic.

Shunned by native TV stations, the group relied on YouTube and social media to determine themselves because the pioneers of “Q-Pop” – the nation is spelled “Qazaqstan” in its personal Latin style.

Additionally unusually, Ninety One by no means performs at non-public events that are a significant supply of earnings for a lot of Kazakh artists.

Group producer Yerbolat Bedelkhan mentioned that whereas the concept of ​​releasing a music centered on social points has been on the desk for a very long time, the group has been pushed to a big extent by what they hear from followers.

“Our followers are younger folks and the voice of younger folks should be heard,” he mentioned in an interview. “Music is gentle energy.”

In keeping with group member Zaq, the music, produced in collaboration with native rap group Irina Kairatovna, additionally highlights the self-censorship adopted by Kazakh society normally and showbusiness particularly.

“Why” taboo “? As a result of it looks like we aren’t allowed to say loads of issues, ”he mentioned. “However no person truly mentioned it wasn’t allowed… It is the folks themselves who assume they should not say sure issues.

Band member Ace described the observe as an train in “music journalism”.

In contrast to the remainder of the lyrics, the music’s refrain is upbeat, with traces like “the darkish days are over, there isn’t any restrict but to return”.

Nonetheless, on the finish of the clip, during which all of the performers are seated at a spherical desk, everybody leaves the assembly angrily, refusing to shake palms with the 2 backing singers – whom some viewers noticed as symbolizing Tokayev and Nazarbayev.

The band and their producer, nonetheless, won’t touch upon the music’s allegories, referring to their very own lyrics: “The that means is in your head and these are simply letters.”

Modifying by Alex Richardson

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