The organisers behind the first-ever Eurovision Asia are thinking big. If all goes according to plan, more than 20 countries — stretching from the UAE all the way to French Polynesia via China and Japan — will sing-it-out like never before. And if we’re lucky, it may well include a generous helping of former Soviet countries including Tajikistan.
The landlocked nation of about 8.7 million people lies between Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Pakistan. And while most Europeans don’t know it’s been ruled by people of many faiths — including Buddhists, Christians, Zoroastrians and Muslims — they’ll surely come to love its rich musical traditions, if only they give Tajik pop a chance. Drawing on Russian folk as well as Chinese and Afghani traditions, Tajik music has been described as a little bit of everything and also something entirely its own. Modern music in Tajikistan brings together disparate sounds and rhythms to create something totally unique.
With the possibility of Tajik participation at Eurovision Asia on the horizon, we traveled the Silk Road via Spotify and YouTube and reached out to our friends in Dushanbe to get the lowdown on who’s hot. Here are five names that bubbled to the surface…
Tajikistan: Our dream acts for Eurovision Asia
Rap has had a hard time in Tajikstan. Since 2014, hip-hop has been banned from buses, minicabs, public spaces and state TV and radio, and the country’s few private stations refuse to play it for fear of losing their licenses. However, rap artists such as Baron are ensuring their music is heard by praising President Rahmon and all his government has to offer. In his most popular single “Diyori arjmand” (Dear Motherland), he refers to Rahmon as “God’s shadow” in the “heaven on Earth” that is Tajikistan.
His music video tells quite the story. Baron, waking up to the voice of Rahmon on TV announcing that young people are the future of Tajikistan, is inspired to prove his love for the country. He discusses the resilience of the Tajik nation and thanks Rahmon for creating a peaceful and prosperous country. These lyrics are accompanied by footage of the president kickstarting major infrastructure projects and unveiling monuments to national heroes, as well as surviving an assassination attempt. Yasssss!
Baron’s patriotic music has brought him a lot of success in Tajikistan. He has become one of the few rap artists to make it onto state-owned television and, in April 2016, the video for “Dear Motherland” aired on government-run TV Safina. European audiences may even recognise Baron, as he was interviewed for a BBC television series about life in dictatorships by filmmaker Benjamin Zand. As Tajikistan’s hip hop golden boy, perhaps he could secure Safina’s ticket for Asiavision?
Sadriddin Najmiddin had humble beginnings in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, before going on to study in the city’s Arts Institute. Now Sadriddin counts tens of thousands of fans, and a collection of iconic music videos covering your typical themes of love and romance. Think of him as your Tajik Justin Bieber, only a whole lot classier. According to local press, many mistake Sadriddin for being Afghan or even Indian. But this has not held him back from gaining popularity in Tajikistan.
What is Eurovision without the Eurovision hunks? The Next Top Male Models, as well as Eurodivas who we’ll get to later, are the bread and milk of our Eurovision diet. Could Asiavision adopt the same formula? If so, Sadriddin Najmiddin would be first in the queue for Tajikistan’s ticket to Asiavision. Already a favourite among Afghan audiences, Sadriddin has the looks and the voice to charm an entire continent. He is a name that many audiences would recognise, having collaborated with Tajikistan’s greats in the music industry like Shabnam Surayo. But even if his name and language are completely new to others, who wouldn’t want to vote for that face?
Shabnam Surayo has music in her genes. Not only are her mother and sister both well known singers in Tajikistan, but Shabnam has regularly hit the top spot on Tajik charts since 2006. She’s a seasoned pro! Her popularity has reached international heights, with Shabnam now a household name with Tajik and Afghan people around the globe. She is recognised for her many collaborations with Tajik and Afghan singers, as well as covers of classic hits from the region. Her duet with Sadriddin is naturally one of our favourites.
Conchita, Ani Lorak, Dana International — divas are a staple of Eurovision. And as with these three they frequently perform well on the scoreboard. If Tajikstan wants to entrust one of their greatest divas with their debut at Asiavision, Shabnam Surayo is surely the lady for the job. Her music fuses traditional Tajik elements and modern pop, so would appeal to the masses across Asia. Her radio friendly songs and stage presence could create the original Asiavision diva. Tajikstan may well be the woman Asia needs.
In 2003 Tahmina Niyazova won “Stars of the New Century”, a new music competition in Tajikistan. Having participated in several local competitions, Tahmina later took to the international stage, winning 2008’s Five Stars Intervision in Russia. Representing her country has become quite the norm for Tahmina. She participated in the Festival of Youth for the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2009, hosted in Baku, as well as the International Music Festival in Montenegro in 2012. Her entry “Boom Boom Boom” finished 5th, allowing Tahmina to work with Macedonian video Producer Dario Jankovic while shooting the video in Montenegro.
Tahmina is clearly a seasoned pro at music competitions and could be the perfect candidate to represent Tajikistan at Asiavision. As well as making waves abroad at these song contests, she sings in English which is rare for the majority of Tajik artists. Some would argue that this makes Tahmina the most appealing artist as far as distant countries like India and the UAE are concerned. Her hit “You don’t own me anymore” was even written by Serbians, showing off her ability to build bridges and appeal to a broader demographic. She seems to be a very safe option for Tajikistan to send to Asiavision.
Nigina Amonqulova describes the popular tone of her voice as “soft and loving”, and boy do we agree. Before making a name for herself in Tajikistan by reviving old and forgotten folk songs, making them more popular than they had ever been before, she planned to be a doctor. However luckily for all of us, she changed her career path after recognising her popularity. Nigina’s unique style and her growing popularity have already helped her take home several prizes from local festivals. Could Asiavision be her next?
Nigina’s bright costumes honour Tajik tradition and they would not be forgotten on the Eurovision stage. Her melodies may well be new to foreign ears, but that’s not a problem. It certainly didn’t hurt Eurovision acts like Jamala. Furthermore, if Tajikstan want to use Asiavision as a means of showcasing their unique history and culture, surely Nigina is the perfect candidate with her brand of patriotism, which seems more sincere and subtle than with acts like Baron.
What do you make of these five acts? Do you think any of them have what it takes to win Eurovision Asia? Do you think that Tajikistan should go for a lesser known act? Or its biggest stars? Let us know what you’re thinking down below!