Demonstrating Kyrgyz cultural links to both Russia and the West, Gorod 312 prove themselves to be a group with a genuine range of talents
Not only because it is home to the largest walnut forest in the world, Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan has always been a country that has intrigued me. Perhaps the lack of exposure that the UK has to the Central Asian nations that has meant I found myself rather uninformed about the culture and politics of the region, but one thing that struck me when I first heard this album was the simple fact it was sung in Russian. Having lived in an ex-communist state under the influence of the Soviet Union (the Czech Republic), I rather naively assumed a shared sense of vitriol amongst the Soviet Union's former subjects. However, the more research I did, the more I learnt and understood that the Kyrgyz people seem to adopt a rather different attitude.
“... the group seemingly break the mould from their compatriots traditions and instead create something wildly different that perhaps speaks to the younger generation in a different way.”
Though they arguably share stronger ties with both Turkey and neighbours Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan’s memories of their time under Soviet rule is looked back upon somewhat fondly it seems. To this day, their previous occupier’s memorabilia is still on display in public squares and Russian was listed as an official language in the Kyrgyz constitution at the request of Boris Yeltsin in 1995. Despite being a country with a predominantly Muslim population, the Russians seem to have embraced the visiting Kyrgyz fairly well despite a poor track record with Russian race-relations. That said, one must question whether that is because Kyrgyzstan have seemingly sworn blind allegiance to the Russians and is a secular state, making them somewhat more palatable.
Gorod 312 have an obvious appreciation for the homeland, especially given their shout-out to Bishkek by including the local calling code in their name, in a similar way to recently featured Palauan rapper BfolkMuzik680. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz outfit have gone to ply their trade out in Moscow, perhaps because there is greater opportunity for stardom there. Whilst the Kyrgyz pride themselves as being party-folk, with dance and song integral to their culture, this album highlights how the group seemingly break the mould from their compatriots traditions and instead create something wildly different that perhaps speaks to the younger generation in a different way.
When I first listened to this album I was stunned by the number of genres and styles on the record, most of which were performed with such quality. Whilst the album goes on for a fair while, totting up to 69 minutes, there is ample time for the band to explore their talents and experiment with different styles, with each listener bound to find something they connect with on the record. The album kicks off with a great alternative rock number, Пружина (Spring), which has a hit of grunge to it reminding me of The Cranberries. Though the band try out different subgenres of rock throughout, it perhaps never feels as angry and raw as the opener. That said, the closest it gets is much later on in the album on Амигос (Friends). Singer Svetlana "Aya" Nazarenko’s vocals become raspier than ever and the track has an almost ‘let’s smash the patriarchy’ feel to it in an almost Alanis Morissette kind of way. The comparisons between Nazarenko and Morissette’s style are apparent throughout particularly on the pop-rock songs Небо в алмазах (The sky is in diamonds) and Обижаться (Take Offence), the latter of which is probably the album’s greatest earworms.
Gorod 312 play around with blues-rock, sounding almost like Dire Straits on Береги себя (Take care of yourself). However, I feel that this is probably least when they are in their element as on the less emotive tracks like this and on the title-track Вне зоны доступа (Out of range). For me, they typically kill it most when Nazarenko releases the fire from her soul, which always seems a surprise especially after the different range of tantalizing intros that they hit the listener with. For example, the best track for me is probably power ballad Останусь (Stay). Its touchingly soft, almost jazz like start conjures up a real feeling of warmth before the authenticity of Nazarenko’s emotions become apparent. Other songs begin in a rather different fashion with По средствам (Affordable) even relying on a rather obvious reggae beat which were it not for the astute experimentalism on the album probably wouldn’t work so well. Overall, the album gives an insight into the influence that Western music has had even in countries where one might expect it to be somewhat limited, however, more so than that it demonstrates the wide-ranging talent of Gorod 312 for which they are to be commended.