A Fistful of Viral Video Stars from Central Asia

Dog fighting, whether filmed inside or outside the region, is one of several viral video genres that are popular in Central Asia. Wiki image.

Dog fighting, whether filmed inside or outside the region, is one of several viral video genres that are popular in Central Asia. Wiki image.

Like almost any other region in the world, post-Soviet Central Asia is no stranger to the viral video. The Harlem Shake shook its way through the region two years ago and dog fighting videos are as popular here as they are anywhere else on the Asian continent.

Despite being relative latecomers to the game, some of the countries have managed to build up quite an archive of domestically-sourced viral footage. Generally in languages other than English, this content gets little play beyond the Runet, or Russian-speaking Internet, but can serve as a talking point for local internet users for months on end.

Global Voices looks at some of the personalities that have lit up the regional internet for reasons good and bad in recent years.


With the region's fastest internet and biggest proportion of users it makes sense that Kazakhstan produces its fair share of popular clips.

One, with over 3,000,000 views, dates back to 2013, and shows an eight-year-old girl boxer with incredibly fast reflexes being trained by her father. Two years on, a follow-up clip indicates that she has improved and is now menacingly quick. Her father Rustam believes she will be ready for the ring in five years.

But the viral star that has grabbed most attention among local users in 2015 is MC Sailaubek, a rapping sensation from the mean streets of provincial city Atyrau in remote western Kazakhstan.

Sailaubek does not riff in any particular language but his YouTube debut in February was enough to propel him from complete obscurity to national stardom overnight, with the broader Russian speaking Internet also standing up and taking notice.

According to one internet user that claims to know Sailaubek's family, there is a sad story behind his rasping raps:

Разговаривала с семьей Сайлаубека и с ним лично. Итог разговора с его семьей: человек болен, его надо лечить, и поэтому старшая сестра категорически против, чтобы он куда-либо ехал. Семья Сайлаубека интеллигентная: старшая сестра преподаватель, старший брат академик, младший брат достаточно известная творческая личность в Атырау. В трезвом состоянии Сайлаубек очень скромный, стеснительный и неразговорчивый. Не женатый и нигде не работает и не работал. В молодости он получил сильную травму головы, и с тех пор он адекватный временами. Сестра со слезами на глазах говорила, что местные балыкшинские (район Атырау) ребята наливают Сайлаубеку водки и потом издеваются над ним, снимая на видео. После 50 граммов водки Сайлаубек совершенно меняется. Дорогие сообщники, давайте прекратим издеваться над ним.

I talked with the family of Sailaubek and him personally. In conclusion, this person is sick, requires treatment, and therefore his older sister is categorically against him going anywhere. Sailaubek's family is intelligent: the elder sister is a teacher, his elder brother an academic, his younger brother a well-known creative type in Atyrau. When sober Sailaubek is very modest, shy and taciturn, unmarried and unemployed. In his youth he received a severe head injury, and ever since he is only normal part of the time. His sister said tearfully that the local guys pour vodka for Sailaubek and then mock him, shooting videos of him. After 50 grams of vodka Sailaubek completely changes. Dear associates, let's stop mocking him.

But this version is belied by Sailaubek himself who seems to be completely thriving in his newfound status. In the last few months he has released a cover of Here Comes the Hotstepper, and entered into a war of words with Russian MC Timati, a bona-fide rapper from Russia, whom Sailaubek accused of rhyme-stealing and challenged to a rap battle.

Timati responded to Sailaubek magnanimously on Instagram, doubtless adding a few Kazakhs to his 2.7 million followers.

Arguably Sailaubek's greatest honour to date came on April 29 as one voter cast a vote for him at the weakly contested presidential elections. In the end, the ballot was declared despoiled and 75-year-old incumbent autocrat Nursultan Nazarbayev took 97.7% of the vote.


Internet use and social sharing took off fairly rapidly in Kyrgyzstan following the country's ‘Tulip Revolution’ in 2005, and YouTube videos were a key element in retelling the chaos of the country's second revolution five years ago.

However, although political violence never fails to bring in views, one of Kyrgyzstan's most heralded stars of the internet is this unnamed toddler who seems to have a bright future as a musical conductor ahead of her:

Another sensation worth checking out is Eldana Foureyes, Kyrgyzstan's most popular Instagrammer, who makes highly creative short clips that offer a snippet of life as a girl in Kyrgyz society.


There is only one outstanding viral video star from Tajikistan and it isn't this one-hit wonder who recorded a bizarre ode to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the run-up to the presidential elections in Russia.

It is ‘Tajik Jimmy’ who like millions of migrants from the world's most remittance-dependent country worked as a menial labourer in Russia, but unlike almost everyone else in the world, could do this:

‘Jimmy’ whose real name is Baimurat Allaberiyev, became a sensation when his rendition of a song from Bollywood blockbuster Disco Dancer hit the internet in 2009. He was subsequently invited on to Russian chat shows and profiled by the New York Times, who wrote:

…the voice seems to come out of nowhere — a clear, warbling Hindi falsetto, complete with percussion and twanging sitar solos. For an impoverished boy growing up on a Tajik collective farm, there was no greater pleasure than Bollywood films, which were approved by the Communist Party as a politically safe diversion. Mr. Allaberiyev’s family understood that he had a gift; by the age of 7 or 8, he could commit songs to memory and repeat them with eerie accuracy, after watching a movie twice.

Since the days of his early fame, Allaberiyev has married a St. Petersburg local and has earned money as a minor stage performer. The last online Russian news report referencing Allaberiyev was dated June 29. In it his official manager suggested the star had gone missing and was not contactable. Hopefully he has since been found.


This chap might be somewhat more familiar than the other viral video stars. He is Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and a man surrounded by a blossoming personality cult that has already seen him erect a gold leaf statue to himself on horseback and receive titles such as ‘Protector’ and ‘Peoples’ Horse breeder of Turkmenistan’.

It is Berdymukhamedov's love for horses that got him into a spot of bother in the video below. Here, shortly after winning a race he was probably not allowed to lose, he is filmed vaulting over the horse and face-planting on the ground.

The tragedy of Turkmenistan's totalitarian state is that there are few competitors to the president in the viral video stakes. In a country where his image and persona dominate public life completely, it can only ever be about him.


Similarly to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan is a very closed country, whose main international newsmakers are longtime dictator Islam Karimov and his feuding family. In fact, despite failing to trouble Shakira elder daughter Gulnara's music videos have racked up quite a lot of views on YouTube.

But Gulnara, who is currently under house arrest — apparently with her father's consent — might be disappointed to know that Uzbekistan's youth football team are far more of a web sensation than she is. Following a far more than feisty encounter with their colleagues from South Korea, they earned the moniker ‘Football's Most Violent Team’. It looks like a description well-earned:

1 comment

  • Keith

    Fascinating look at the videos that are popular and the stories behind the videos themselves. I’m curious how you determine what videos are popular in a particular country?

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