Her songs provide solace and strength to women and girls
This article was written by Nurbek Bekmurzaev and originally published on the Global Voices (GV) webpage on August 7, 2023. It is republished here according to the media partnership between GV and Shouts.
Last July, Kyrgyz singer Zere Asylbek, widely known as Zere, released a new album called “Men Kaidamyn” (Where Am I) with 12 songs in the Kyrgyz language. It became her third album since her musical debut in 2018, when she made headlines for the music video of her song “Kyz” (Girl) and became famous overnight.
Here is the music video of the song “Kyz.”
“Kyz” was as famous as it was polarizing due to the feminist message it relayed by encouraging girls to be free of restrictive social norms and live their lives as they like and see fit. The new album picks up where her two previous ones from 2018 “Bashtalos” and 2021 “EKEK” albums left off. It continues discussing gender inequality while exploring other social and political problems in Kyrgyzstan against the background of her intimate and personal experiences and stories from childhood.
There are several personal stories told throughout the songs in the new album. Through them Zere shares her childhood memories of spending summer holidays in her maternal grandparents’ home in Jalalabad in southern Kyrgyzstan, listening to fairy tales, the words of wisdom shared by her late paternal grandfather, and the conversations she held with her mother about famous historical figures from the past. These intimate stories serve as parts to songs about gender inequality, discrimination, corruption, domestic violence and other issues in the country.
In the song called “Jangak” (Walnut), Zere shares her childhood dreams and says that she thought she could be anybody and do anything with her life. However, adulthood and restrictive social norms surrounding women taught her that she should have been more careful with her dreams. In another song called “Men Kaidamyn,” she starts off with the fairytale she heard often during childhood and goes on to question where she and other people were when the country witnessed major incidents of injustice and abuse.
Here is the audio version of the song “Men Kaidymyn.”
She then asks Kyrgyz people where they were during the “voting fair” when peoples’ votes were being bought and the future of the country was being decided — it is common in Kyrgyzstan for politicians to distribute money during elections and collect votes. She also asks where people were at when female activists were attacked during a feminist march by the members of the nationalist group called Chorolor while the police officers present just stood and watched. The incident took place on March 8, 2020.
In “Jakshy Kyz” (Good Girl), Zere tackles gender inequality and domestic violence. She asks her listeners if there is a word “human girl” between the two terms “good girl” and “bad girl,” referring to the two labels women and girls in Kyrgyzstan society receive most of the time, instead of being looked at as a human. She fails to find an answer to this question using the old Kyrgyz proverbs and asks what kind of wisdom will the men who beat their wives today leave for the next generation.
This is not the first song in which Zere talks about domestic violence. Her song “Jeneke” (Sister-in-law), which came out in her second album in 2021, tackled the similar issue. Although domestic violence is criminalized in Kyrgyzstan, the situation continues to deteriorate with the number of domestic violence cases growing.
Here is the music video of the song “Jeneke.”
One of Zere’s main messages is hidden in the song called “Vau” (Wow) in which she invites listeners to imagine a future in which she has achieved all her dreams. She pictures a society where all the problems have been solved and she has no haters and everybody likes her. The song ends abruptly with the reminder that even then there will still be people who will call her “bad girl.” It reminds women and girls in Kyrgyzstan that there will always be people who will try to shame them for their behavior and they should just ignore their criticism and live their life beyond restrictive norms.