Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Multiculturalism in the "Land of 100 Nations"

Continuing the "international friendship" theme just a little longer, there's been a lot of multiculturalism going on around here lately. First off, after the TV spot I was asked to do a repeat performance at an "International Unity Day" related dinner event - a few of the people who participated in the TV taping were there, but a lot of other people and traditions were represented as well: Chechen and Azeri dancing; Russian, Tajik, and Uzbek pop singers; and a Turkmen folk singer. It was fun, and hey - free food! But when I played the kobyz this time, I was a little annoyed because nobody really paid attention (I think too much liquor had been consumed by that time).

A few days later was the actual holiday (May 1st) - they had a big concert outside the Palace of the Republic, where again lots of different "national" groups performed their "national" music and dance, wearing their "national" dress. And yes, all of this "national" spirit is a cultural holdover from Soviet times... Incidentally, this often becomes a frsutrating issue when people ask me to represent the U.S. by wearing American "national" dress (suggestions, anyone?).

An even wider variety of costumes and music was presented here - everything from Greek to Dungan to Korean to Jewish.... of course many of these performances weren't "traditional" according to the strict definition of the word. But the priority for these types of events isn't authenticity, but representation. One could argue, though, that this representation is kind of superfluous if these cultural groups only appear once a year...!

The third event that highlighted KZ-style multiculturalism was a dance concert sponsored by the Indian consulate (as well as two different tea companies). Not only Indian classical dance, but Kazakh "national" dance as well as Korean and Chinese martial arts were featured on the program. Each group performed separately at first, but in contrast to the separateness of the other concerts, towards the end the Kazakh dancers and Indian barata natyam dancers shared the stage and danced together. Then the last number of the dance program brought all the different performing groups together in a big, choreographed group finale.

The music for the finale was provided by a very famous Kazakh pop-traditional musician, Edil Husseinov, who does this interesting, neo-shamanistic act (costume, throat singing, traditional Kazakh instruments, etc.). I will admit that I rolled my eyes a couple of times due to the slight "It's a Small World After All" cheese-factor of the finale; but I could also appreciate the statement being made about honoring diversity and bringing lots of different kinds of people and traditions together. And I should point out, the house was PACKED for this concert, which is rarely true for other types of events (including Kazakh traditional and Western classical music).

So, what to make of all these displays of multiculturalism? To be honest, for me they sometimes inspire flashbacks to college campus "Diversity Days" where people would dress up, put on a concert, try some different kinds of food, and then go back to real life the next day. That's basically how it works here, too, but I guess it could be a lot worse - at least there are such things here, where people can see and appreciate the diversity that is here in Kazakhstan. It's just too bad it only comes around once a year...!

1 comment:

beto dotô said...

seen? you're becoming a celebrity!

So for the "American national dress" how about a "pull my finger" shirt and a cap with those beer holders?