Songs from the Aral Sea

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Elmira Janabergenova
LABELS: Silk Road House
ALBUM TITLE: Songs from the Aral Sea
PERFORMER: Elmira Janabergenova


It’s both excellent and rather unexpected that the folk styles of Central Asia, most notably the bardic singing of Kazakhstan, should have evaded contamination from global pop. So deep are this tradition’s roots that the Soviets decided they had to harness rather than eradicate it, inserting politically-correct lyrics and substituting collective-farm champions for village stars. An hour with Elmira Janabergenova, who grew up by the Aral Sea when it actually was a sea, gives some idea of its quality and scope. One singer with a two-string dombra lute? Yes, but what sounds, and what poetry: while the dombra evokes heat, excitement, and the drumming of horses’ hooves, Janabergenova’s vibrato-free timbre has a wonderful versatility as she responds to the eloquence of her texts. Some of these are prayers, others are homespun moralities, and one is a lament for the vanished Aral Sea: ‘Your mighty waves are now just a dream’. All her lyrics reflect the power of metaphor: as this singer-songwriter puts it, thought becomes a wave, and speech a boat gliding on towards oblivion, like human life itself.


Michael Church