Despite its isolation, in the past few years a unique Turkmen urban culture has materialized. Western rappers remain popular, but the rise of Turkmen artists has fed the youth subculture that didn't exist a short time ago. The Turkmen government has tried to control the spread of this new form of expression by prohibiting the use of swear words and banning Turkmen artists to leave the country for concerts. This has forced Hip Hop underground. Many aspiring Turkmen rap artists are students abroad and they listen to new songs and distribute their work through online Turkmen rap websites. http://www.tmhits.com/ began in 2005 and was the first music video portal in Ashgabat. They post hundreds of songs and music videos that anyone anywhere in the world can access. Illegal distribution and online downloading are the main ways that Turkmen rap and Hip Hop artists circulate their music because of a lack of record companies and official sponsors. Rap music holds connotations of violence and rebellion, but from what I have seen so far, Turkmen rap music is not nearly as violent as American rap. I offered to help my student write a rap song in English and when I asked him what he would like to sing about, he replied, "mothers." Okay. A rap song about mothers. This isn't exactly what comes to my mind when I think of rap music, but this disparity reflects the differences between the American and the Turkmen rap culture. Someone like AKON who has a past criminal record and who raps about murder and redemption can be idolized in America and around the world, but a Turkmen rapper must still tread carefully and remember that even harmless rap subculture in Turkmenistan can be seen as a threat to overall order by the authorities.
When asked about why rap is popular in Turkmenistan, Zumarchas, one of the most famous Turkmen Hip Hop artists, said:
My aim is to tell about my life and to share my experiences with the people. I think everyone has got a problem somewhere. The more you share those things the more life becomes easier, it helps to foster thinking. By singing about them, we [the rappers] are turning these life experiences into artwork. It’s a different feeling, it’s a kind of self-realization and boosting self-confidence. And the people have got interest in those real life experiences.
To listen to some Turkmen rap and to watch some Turkmen music videos, click on the following links:
City Turkmenabat by Mano Faruh
iStreet by RuDe featuring Arman (Darkroom Posse Music)
Palestine by Zumarchas and Syke (Note: This video contains graphic images of Palestine after bombings)
When speaking about how he created 'Palestine,' Zumarchas explained:
The ‘Palestine’ song came as it came and there was nothing planned about it. My band partner Nazar had sent me some beats to consider for our album ‘1 Galam 1 Deprek EP’ and suddenly dispute and struggle crossed my mind. It was the time when Palestine, a Muslim country, was being bombed. So, I began to write the [lyrics] with Syke.
There are two things about the song. First, Syke and I were not in a good relationship earlier. We were attacking each other with ‘disrespect’ songs publicly. But some time later we decided to give it up and became friends. There was a surprise reaction to ‘Palestine’ with the listeners [in which they asked] ‘What’s happening to these guys?’ when in fact we were trying to send out a message of peace, as I say at the end of the song, ‘with this song we are calling upon the people to peace.’ We intended to show to them the result of a fight in an intelligent way.
Secondly, with this song we wanted to contribute to the end to tribalism [among Turkmens] as people from Teke and Yomut and other tribes in chat forums are attacking each other. We did a lot of work on writing the lyrics of the song and out came a good result. Our listenership increased and we got a lot of attention from Turkmenistan.
I would like to say thank you to Muhammed from tmhits.com who commented on my original blog post and brought up some good points for me to consider further.