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By Maksim Yeniseyev
DUSHANBE – Rock music in Tajikistan is about more than just providing entertainment. Today’s rising stars see music as a way to spread positive messages and to revive interest in the country’s folk music traditions.
Al-Azif, a black metal band from Dushanbe, for example, conveys a message of abstention from tobacco and alcohol, both through its lyrics and through its lifestyle, musicians said.
“Contrary to widespread stereotypes, being a rock musician is really hard work,” said the leader of Dushanbe’s black metal band Al-Azif, who calls himself Jack Rock onstage. “In this country, this work is done purely for the joy of it, by the way. If you’re high on drugs or alcohol, you can’t possibly play good music. Our band is resolutely against any ‘dope’ – we never allow ourselves a drop of alcohol at either rehearsals or concerts, and it’s the same way with drugs.”
Al-Azif put that message to music in “The Abyss.” Its lyrics say that it is better not to start taking drugs or alcohol because if you fall into the abyss, escape can be next to impossible.
Tajik rockers are also known for trying to find their own sound, either through technique or choice of instruments.
Members of the Dushanbe-based Red Planet rock group, for example, “seek to combine different musical styles and trends in our creative work,” drummer Khursheda Fazilova said. “We think live sound is key, so we don’t use any backing tracks.”
Other groups have introduced modernised folk instruments – electric dombras and rubabs – instead of electric guitars.
“Thanks to them, the art of folk instrument making is reviving,” Negmatullo, a dombra player, said.
Those instruments give rock music a Tajik sound, Al-Azif and other musicians said, adding they introduce folk motifs to make the music more appealing to listeners.
But being a rock star in Tajikistan is challenging, in terms of performing and making money.
“Rock concerts are held once every three months or so in Dushanbe,” said Kirill Kuzmin, a musical producer from Dushanbe.
With so few opportunities to play, the number of bands can almost be counted on your hands.
“There are five to seven rock bands in the capital, but none in the south or the Pamirs. In Sughd Oblast up north, there is the Last Rame group,” Kuzmin said.
Red Planet performances typically draw several hundred listeners, but the staging of concerts “can hardly be called professional yet, though,” Fazilova said.
Bands need to purchase equipment, rent premises for rehearsals and organise concerts, “but we seek to solve these issues on our own and find the money,” Fazilova said. “Government agencies are helping a lot. The Youth Palace, for example, offered us a room for rehearsals recently and pledged to organise a recording studio.”
Many musicians work traditional jobs, too, Jack Rock said.
“Our drummer, for example, is a physician, and our bass guitarist is an airport technician,” he said. “Time and again, we go an hour’s distance to the rehearsal site and back literally on foot and hungry, since we are economising on everything to be able to buy good instruments and equipment.”
But they don’t lose heart, he added.
“Ours is only a budding rock group, but we’ve composed music for a whole disc already and have staged several concerts,” Jack Rock said. “We have our own channel on YouTube for posting our video clips, and we released several songs in France under the Tian An Men 89 Records label on the album ‘Dushanbe Punk and Rock.’”
Such hurdles ultimately influence the music, another musician said.
“Tajikistan is an interesting country as regards its musical traditions,” Stanislav Toropchin, drummer of the Tears of the Sun rock band, said. “It’s great that this country is developing its own, original, rock music trends. Despite limited audiences and different hurdles, and often without seeing any clear prospects (of success), youth play rock music enthusiastically.”