Almaty, June 2018. I'm taking my time here in Kazakhstan. The plains are vast and splendid. Lakes and forests create a symphony of life, a living poetry that invites souls to lose themselves in their timeless beauty. I'm carried away by the calm and majestic rhythm of the mountains and canyons, immersed in a meditative silence. I've even toyed with the idea of solitude, but reality catches up with me: it's been three weeks since I arrived in Kazakhstan, and I haven't yet met a musician. In less than a week, I have to go to Uzbekistan for a performance.
Quickly, I return to the city of Almaty, hoping to record and film the encounter between the Oud and a stringed instrument. I've been tracking down the Qobyz. Its shape, its playing style, its ancient history intrigues me. I choose the simplest solution: I knock on the doors of the Almaty Conservatory, without avail. They don't understand my intent. With my three words of Russian and their ten words of English, communication isn't easy. I also sense that they have other priorities. Time is slipping away.
Desperate, I confide in my host, Gao, a beautiful Kazakh woman with almond-shaped eyes and prominent cheekbones, who runs an event agency. To my surprise, she tells me that she often hires traditional musicians for the weddings she organizes. Even better, she knows a Qobyz player named Ritta Urazgaliyeva. She gives her a call, and bingo, Ritta is at Gao's the next day. It just goes to show that the solution is often right in front of you...
Ritta even brought along other musicians: the accordionist Talgat Polatov and Dombyra player Beibarys Khamzin. They play several pieces from their repertoire. Among them, the fast-paced, melodically rich tune "Adai" catches my attention. Listening to it, I feel like a galloping horse on the steppes, the same plains I contemplated just a few days earlier... We work on this piece together all afternoon, over a cup of tea and baursak, a type of pastry, served by Gao, who also acts as our simultaneous interpreter (translating from my Spanish to Kazakh and vice versa).
Fully prepared, I record us with my microphones, and then I share my desire to film us playing this music in a natural setting not far from Almaty. Talgat tells me about "Bolshoye Almatinskoye Ozero," the grand lake of Almaty, nestled in the heart of the Alatau Mountains. The photos he shows me on his phone instantly convince me.
We set off the very next day toward this grand lake with its turquoise and crystalline waters, situated at an altitude of 2500 meters. Timur, Gao's partner, accompanies us on this journey. Although we can't communicate verbally, I sense a profound wisdom in him. Through Gao, I suggest that he takes part in the music video. His role will be to play he who walks, who meditates and who finds all the inspiration needed to reconnect with oneself in the natural environment. Timur agrees to play along. I film him around the lake, which offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the snowy peaks.
The musicians patiently wait despite the cold. Then it's their turn. They've brought a traditional costume for me to wear in front of the camera. "Traditional costumes to celebrate Kazakh culture, music to transcend our identity", says Ritta. That's the beauty of transcultural encounters, when everyone contributes, magic happens. Thanks, Ritta, Gao, Timur, Beibarys, and Talgat! The unchanging vastness of Kazakhstan's territory reflects the greatness of its people's hearts!
Album: The Musical Threads of the Silk Roads
Composer: Sagyrbaev Kurmangazy
Qobyz: Ritta Urazgaliyeva
Dombyra: Beibarys Khamzin
Accordion: Talgat Polatov
Music arrangement: Ibantuta
Field recording: Ibantuta
Studio recording: Patrick Fischer
Mixing: Patrick Fischer
Mastering: Jean-François Hustin
Video production: Ibantuta
Release year: 2023