Sounds of Turan at Bozar Palais de Fine Arts last Friday in Brussels brought the thunder and beauty of Kazakh music to the heart of Europe.
In an auditorium packed with Brussels residents, cultural workers, and representatives of the European and Belgian institutions, the anticipation was tangible with a buzz in the air that reflected the thirst for Kazakh culture in the European capital, as Kazakhstan and the European Union celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations.
The evening commenced with a hair-raising set from Turan, a folk ensemble of Kazakh musicians Maxat (Maksat) Medeubek, who is the group’s throat singer, Bauirzhan Bekmukhanbetov, Serik Nurmoldaev, Erzhigit Aliyev and Zhantu Dadabayev. Playing an array of ancient string, percussion and woodwind instruments, from the kyl-kobyz to the dangyra, they filled Victor Horta’s Hall M with a modern take on their region’s natural majesty and Turkic culture, evoking its tribal, nomadic history.
Songs with names like The Eagle (trained by Kazakhs for hunting) used thunderous rolling, building drums, eerie throat-singing, bird-like calls and steppe winds, and rousing ensemble string work at speeds and with timing that demonstrated how perfectly these musicians know each other and their craft.
A highlight for me was their performance of The Goat, which included traditional puppet work. With incredible skill and dexterity, the musicians managed to play their instruments while operating stringed wooden goats that danced on small tables in front of them. It was delightful, an interplay between the cute and minute and the vast and soaring that mesmerised the audience.
Also soaring was the voice of opera tenor Medet Chotabaev, who followed Turan, accompanied by pianist Dina Meirmanova and cellist Talgar Tolkynkhanuly, performing a range of original works and crowd pleasers by international composers. Chotabaev’s performance actually brought me to tears with its effortless texture and colour. It’s one of those voices that seems to have an infinite range and volume dial.
The evening included another treat – the premiere of “Crossroads” – composed and performed by Aktoty Raimkulova, a revered Kazakh artist formerly serving as Minister for Culture and was met with a standing ovation by an audience who responded to a final number from Turan by dancing and clapping along in the aisles.
Keep an eye out for tickets in a venue near you as this stirring Sounds of Turan world tour of Kazakh concert artists continues to the Netherlands, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, and other European countries.