Can music and feminism help heal border conflicts in Central Asia?

Screenshot from Manizha's YouTube channel showing her latest song, “Now or Never” about a young rural Kyrgyz woman learning to play ice-hockey

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were recently embroiled in yet another deadly border dispute that led to a massive wave of refugees. But for Tajik-Russian singer and Eurovision star Manizha, Kyrgyzstan is where girls learn to play ice hockey and get empowered, as she shows in her latest music video.

Manizha is a phenomenon in the post-Soviet music scene: born in Tajikistan, she had to flee the country's civil war with her family to Russia, where she became a hip-hop singer, mixing Tajik, Russian, and English to eventually gain international fame when she represented Russia in the 2021 Eurovision contest.

What sets Manizha apart from other pop artists in Russia is that she openly tackles issues that remain taboo for mainstream Tajik or Russian society: the rejection of the patriarchy, the place of women in traditional societies, the acceptance of LGBTQ+ persons, and the recognition of the key role played by millions of Central Asian migrants who remain largely invisible in Russia. Many were outraged that she was representing Russia at Eurovision, and called on parliament to ban her from singing under the Russian flag, while the head of the culture committee of the State Duma criticized her song with an outspoken title “Russian woman” for not representing Russian values.

On October 12, she released a music video for her song called “Now or Never,” where she mixes Russian, Kyrgyz, and English. The video's main character is a rural Kyrgyz girl who, despite all the home chores that are traditionally attributed to women, finds the courage and energy to learn ice hockey and joins Kyrgyzstan's only women's ice hockey team. The production of the video, which Manizha directed herself, was contributed by a number of women, including the Kyrgyz filmmaker Aya Ibraeva as film director and co-producer.

The video describes in detail the daily life in a mountainous region, the basic conditions to train and the determination of the team play.

A scene from “Now or Never “song showing the reality of daily life for Kyrgyz rural women., Screenshot from Manizha's YouTube channel.

As the main character concludes, this experience has empowered her to now study coding, a profession still dominated by men around the world, and as a means to support herself and her family. But as she concludes in the song: “Hockey has changed my life forever, it turns out the world is bigger than my village.”

And while Manizha does not make any mention of the latest conflict between Tajiks and Kyrgyz, the song comes at a crucial moment with a message of women's solidarity and shared hardship. Find Global Voices’ playlist with Manizha's top feminist hits here:

 

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