Rappers Put Patriotism on Full Display in Tajikistan

Screenshot from music video "Tajikistan" by rappers Abada, Mr. Skap, and Sam Salamov. Uploaded on YouTube by TAJRAP on April 6, 2016.

Screenshot from music video “Tajikistan” by rappers Abada, Mr. Skap, and Sam Salamov. Uploaded on YouTube by TAJRAP on April 6, 2016.

In January 2014, authorities in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, banned rap music from public buses.

As they explained at the time, many rap tracks were not only “immoral” but were also directed against the Central Asian country's government.

The country's Minister of Education supported the ban, suggesting that tunes that “do not conform to national culture” should not be allowed in public places.

Some local rappers complained that the authorities were intimidating them into censoring political lyrics.

That homegrown rap hit a raw nerve for officials made sense. Unlike musicians representing other genres, rappers did not shy away from addressing even the most politically sensitive subjects.

The message from above was clear: if rappers wanted to gain acceptance and possibly public approval, they had to find inspiration in “indigenous” musical genres and become more “patriotic”.

Patriotic rap

And this is exactly what many rappers have chosen to do.

In recent years, the local rap scene has seen a proliferation in tracks professing patriotic sentiment, bragging about the nation's rich cultural heritage and praising the country's larger-than-life president, Emomali Rakhmon.

Although these tracks are still kept off state-owned radio and television for the most part, they are widely shared on social networking sites.

Local rap music websites rap.tj and tajrap.ru, where Internet users download the latest tracks and music videos to share via social networks, are increasingly popular in the country.

Global Voices picked out a few samples of “patriotic” rap widely shared on social media.

Abada, Mr. Skap and Sam Salamov in their 2016 track Tojikiston put their patriotism on full display, urging listeners to be proud of the nation and “raise its flag”.

The track celebrates the country's independence, achieved “with God's help,” and the fact that Tajiks have managed to preserve a nation state despite a civil war and political turbulence during the 1990s.

The patriotic verses are accompanied by the odd image of President Rakhmon, a shot of the national flag flying atop the world's second largest flagpole and key national heritage sites across the country.

In another 2016 track, Mefakhram ki tojikam (I Am Proud to Be a Tajik), MCs Abada and Masani profess loyalty to the Motherland and condemn the regional divisions that continue to plague the country.

The song contains references to a number of “national heroes” — both real and mythical individuals — who play an important role in Tajikistan's national ideology.

The lyrics also recall the civil war fought in the 1990s and praise the nation for choosing unity over violence and division.

In an earlier track Qadri sulh (The Price of Peace), Masani follows the dominant political narrative in the country, praising the virtues of peace over material wealth.

Masani's patriotism also veers into nationalism at certain points.

The rapper alludes for instance to the country's rich cultural heritage as including Samarkand and Bukhara, two cities incorporated into larger neighbour Uzbekistan as part of the Soviet nation-crafting effort in the 1920s.

Several generations of Tajiks have pined after the fabled silk road citadels where Tajik-speakers still live, while openly contemplating the possibility of reuniting them with the rest of Tajikistan.

Many more tracks feature similar narratives.

ViSenT's Tojikiston Vatanum (Tajikistan is my Motherland) and Azia's Tojikistoni yagonam (Tajikistan, My Only One) declare an unending willingness to do anything and everything for the nation.

Shukri obodi Vatan (Thankful for Prosperity in the Motherland) by Fazo and Maryo and Tojikistonam obod bosh (Prosper, My Tajikistan) by Ayz1 featuring Professor M exhibit similarly patriotic sentiments, crediting independence in 1991 and the post-civil war peace deal signed in 1997 as the basis for everything good in the country.

The latter track also stresses that Tajiks should remain true to Islam.

‘I Choose Emomali Rakhmon’

Many rappers demonstrate their patriotism by exalting Emomali Rakhmon, who has led the country since 1992.

In his music video Diyori arjmand (Dear Motherland), Boron (aka Boboi Boron, Behruz Majidiyon) reverently refers to Rakhmon as “God’s shadow” (soyai Khudovand) in the “heaven on Earth” that is Tajikistan.

The video begins with the sleepy rapper waking up to the voice of Rakhmon on a television set.

The president announces that young people are the future of Tajikistan and urges them to prove that they love the country by taking ownership of that future.

Visibly moved by Rakhmon's words, Boron starts rapping. His lyrics are full of references to familiar nationalist themes.

He sings, for example, about the tragedy of the “coarse division” (taqsimoti tabarona) of Central Asia in the 1920s that left Bukhara and Samarkand outside of the new Tajik republic.

This was followed by another tragedy, a civil war that was provoked, according to the rapper, by unnamed “third forces”.

These tragedies, however, did not break the Tajik nation.

Boron suggests that the sixteenth session of the Supreme Assembly in 1992 (when Rakhmon came to power) gave the country its “Leader of the Nation, grandpa Emomali”, who put an end to the fighting, brought home refugees, and created a peaceful and prosperous country.

The lyrics are accompanied by footage showing the president kickstarting major infrastructure projects and unveiling monuments to national heroes, as well as surviving an assassination attempt.

The video echoes government messaging so closely that it has become one of the few rap tracks to make it onto state-owned television so far.

In April 2016, the video was aired on government-run TV Safina.

Another widely shared rap song is simply titled Emomali Rakhmon by Professor M.

The track was apparently recorded just before the 2013 presidential elections, however, it has only become popular in recent months when pro-government youth groups began sharing it widely on social networks.

The track begins with the rapper reminding his listeners that Rakhmon is a “national hero” who had done a lot of great things before most of them could even speak.

Then, the track turns to history, beginning as the national historical narrative begins with the Samanid dynasty.

After the Samanid empire, the first-ever Tajik state according to the country's historians, the rapper notes Tajiks had to endure centuries of “torture” by “alien” rulers, culminating in the Soviet period that deprived them of their history and religion.

But, according to the rapper, God saved the Tajik people in the midst of a civil war by sending them Emomali Rakhmon who has become a “sun” shining onto the nation (a comparison that is rather popular in the country).

The singer, then, lists the “sunny” leader's achievements in service of the nation: building hydro-power plants, roads and tunnels, and, in what may be a surprise claim to some observers of the country, democracy.

The lyrics are repeatedly broken up by a catchy and somewhat ironic chorus, “I Choose Emomali Rahmon”.

In fact the new slew of rap songs in Tajikistan is remarkable for its dogged devotion to a very narrow range of themes.

Rain 104 in Tajikistan claims that the country with all its historical and cultural heritage would not have recovered from the civil war without Rakhmon.

In Tojikiston dorem (We have Tajikistan), Mr. Skap refers to him as the “best king” who deeply cares about young people.

Sektor 4 also confers a royal status on Rakhmon in his song, which once again is titled Tajikistan.

It may take a little longer to find out whether this massive injection of patriotism will help local rap music win full approval from the state, but authorities will no doubt be pleased that these rhymers are moving in the right direction.

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