• Joel Dwek

KAZAKHSTAN: iD - Dimash Kudaibergen

Updated: Jan 20

Classical crossover pop with operatic influences, iD shows a different side to Kazakh music

Kazakhstan is a central Asian state, a former part of the Soviet Union, and that is where I suspect most people’s knowledge about the nation begins and ends. Rather unfairly in the West, Kazakhstan and the ‘stans’ in general have become a bit of a punchline, akin to Timbuctoo in the past, in part due to a certain comedian and his Kazakh alter ego, but he picked that exact nationality because people know very little about Kazakhstan. I do, however, know one fact about Kazakhstan, and that is that apples first came from Kazakhstan, and the country has a wide variety of flavoursome apples. I don’t really know why I know that, or what use it is, but I do know it, and now, you do too. However, as much as I’m sure you’d love me to, I’m not here to talk about apples – although, as a follow up blog, Around the World in 200 Fruit isn’t a terrible idea – I’m here to talk about something else I have discovered from Kazakhstan, which is their music scene, in particular the music of Kazakh classical crossover sensation, Dimash Kudaibergen.

“It is an album of an artist cementing his popularity by doing what he does best, and in this case that happens to be melodramatic, operatic, classical pop.”

Kudaibergen has a genuinely brilliant voice, with a large range, and that is evident on his 2019 album iD. It is no surprise to find out, therefore, that he was offered a place at the Astana National Opera, but instead decided to carve out a career in popular music. His style is, however, very classical and operatic. You can clearly hear those influences in both his singing and the instrumentation that he implements. He first rose to prominence in 2015 by winning the Slavianski Bazaar competition in Belarus, and he then went on to come second in the Chinese talent competition, the imaginatively titled Singer, which helped him break through into the Chinese market, and subsequently the Russian market too. It is into this landscape that ID is released, it is an album of an artist cementing his popularity by doing what he does best, and in this case that happens to be melodramatic, operatic, classical pop. It also allows a small window into a world we don’t get to see often, that of the modern pop culture of central Asia. Of course, they must also have talent competitions, pop idols, teen icons, and Dimash Kudaibergen is a part of that culture. When Danny and I have been scouring the world’s countries for music, we occasionally defer to the traditional end of the spectrum, feeling it to be more reflective of the country in question. And that can be true, but if we were to reverse engineer that, would the sea shanties, jigs, and folk music be an accurate representation of the music of the UK? Well, no, and to ignore the modern aspect of the culture would be to paint an inaccurate picture of what is a living, breathing, evolving country just like any other.

The album itself is pretty good. I can’t sit here and wax lyrical about how amazing it is, because it isn’t really my thing, but I enjoy enough. Kudaibergen’s voice is powerful enough that he can make any song he sings listenable, but equally there is little that makes this stand out from the crowd. He does occasionally get too sincere I feel, and makes a song like Screaming feel corny, and not in a good way. It is all in this classical, operatic mode, invoking shades of Queen and Freddie Mercury’s early years, though there is one notable exception, which is Give Me Your Love, which is an enjoyably cheesy pure pop number that wouldn’t be out of place in a club doing a retro ‘80s night. It’s a very fun song, and perhaps my favourite on the album as it shows he’s capable of not only doing the vocal theatrics, but also shows he can deliver good old-fashioned on-your-feet pop numbers too. Your mileage will vary with this album I feel, depending on your tolerance of operatic pop, but overall, being as objective as I can, there is little wrong with the album, inasmuch as the music is played well, the singing is really great, and there’s just enough variety in it to remain listenable throughout its 45 minute runtime.