Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All in the Name of International Friendship...

Last week a girl who works in the international section of the Conservatory asked if I'd like to be included in a program that will be shown on the "Kazakhstan" network for the May 1st holiday -- International Friendship Day. Back in the day, May 1st was a day to celebrate workers' rights, and following the post-Soviet convention, the day was retained as a holiday but for a totally different reason. Nowadays, the holiday is supposed to celebrate the brotherhood of all the 120 some-odd national groups who live in Kazakhstan. It of course comes with a fair share of inflated overtures to harmony between peoples and how great Kazakhstan is for having such peaceful inter-ethnic relations.

Anyway, I said I'd do it -- even though I get freaked out when I have to perform, I didn't want to miss the opportunity (not just to be on TV, but also to see what goes into making a program like this). So this morning I showed up at the Assembly of Nations building, where each of the various diaspora groups of Kazakhstan share offices. These offices are supposed to organize cultural activities and events in support of the national groups they represent, although their actual effectiveness is questionable. So why was I invited? Apparently, they wanted a foreign "guest" who played a Kazakh instrument to (I guess) extend the concept of fraternal relations between peoples - not only across "nations" (read ethnic groups), but also across nation-states. I've gotten kind of used to this kind of tokenism by now, in fact it's kind of fun to see how my presence somehow affects what these programs are trying to accomplish.

I got there around 10:30am, and found the lady with whom I had briefly spoken the previous day about the where's and when's. She looked at me and asked "where's your dress?" I replied that I didn't have one - and anyway, she hadn't told me to bring one! Well, she said I couldn't wear what I had on (my best pair of pants and a nice sweater, mind you!). I was afraid I might be sent home. Fortunately, though, she happened to have another outfit that another performer was supposed to wear - she decided that I could wear this until the other performer needed it. Then shoes became an issue - the suit was white and my shoes were black - but there was nothing to be done at that point, so she consulted with the cameraman and got him to promise that he wouldn't include my feet in the shot. My make-up was apparently a third issue, which she and another girl later corrected (i.e., eyeliner. lots of eyeliner.). I tried to excuse my oversight by saying that Americans are just much more casual in general - but honestly, this was the third time I'd been on Kazakh TV and my clothes and make-up had never been an issue before!

Anyway. Long story short, I was at the taping ALL DAY. There were about ten different groups they had to tape (twice), as well as all the introductions by the program host. Everyone was asked to sit at one of five tables set up around the big circular room as the other participants did their performances. Around noon, they set these tables with food and drink - but for a long time we couldn't figure out if we were supposed to eat lunch or just leave the food there for decoration! I just sat and stared at it until other people
started picking at it about half an hour later.

While the program certainly didn't include all of the national groups of Kazakhstan, there were Ukrainian, Tatar, Chechen, Greek, and of course Kazakh representatives there. Each group sang or played a song. And finally, after watching them for five hours it was my turn!
I sat in front of the camera and the host asked if I would say a greeting in Kazakh. She told me exactly what to say, and I repeated it into the camera. Check. Then I played one piece - the folk kyui "Munlik-Zarlik." Luckily they did two takes because I really messed up the first one! Oh by the way, the hat was also loaned to me by the girl in the gold dress in this photo. The other girl (in white) is the host of the show.

This last photo was of the other performer for whom the white dress was actually intended (on the right)...she was a vocalist who sang a song in flowery celebration of Kazakhstan. All the "peoples" were supposed to hold hands and sway side-to-side behind her. It's hard to say whether people really enjoy this kind of cheesy stuff, but there sure is a whole lot of it - but being that this is the former Soviet Union, it's just kind of expected.

So, that was my adventure in Kazakhstani broadcasting for today! I hope to get a copy of the program soon, if anyone's interested. Of course, if you happen to be in Almaty on May 1st, it will be shown on the Kazakhstan channel at 10:30am!


Marie Smith said...

WOW! I'll have to let everyone at UPS know that you are a tv star now! :-) Hope all is well with you.

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