You’ve probably never given any thought to Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia. Surrounded by other ‘stans (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan), it’s not exactly on anyone’s tour itinerary.
It also has a reputation as a nasty place, with plenty of human rights violations (including forced child labour) to go around and a secret police that was brutal and ruthless.
The good news is that the country’s second president, a dude named Shavkat Mirziyoyev, things are starting to look up. This includes for people involved in the arts, who not that long ago found themselves under plenty of repression.
With the new guy in charge, rock music is slowly coming out of the shadows in Uzbekistan. This article gives us an idea of what’s happening and how the power of music is stronger than any government.
If you’re an agent, promoter or booker and think you’ve had a rough day try doing your job in Uzbekistan where rock music was unofficially banned by the government, the KGB sits in the front row of your shows and there’s only one venue to play in, of a country of 31 million people. This is the story of Никита Макаренко (Nikita Makarenko), an Ukrainian — Kazakhstani promoter of Ilkhom Rock Fest in Uzbekistan who has built the rock scene while sticking two middle fingers up to the Old Regime as they tried every effort to shut him down.
I met Nikita in his hometown of Tashkent before one of his shows and he graciously explained the political situation of Uzbekistan, how sanctions affected music and what sets Uzbek rock apart from the rest of the world. He is a fascinating, sharp-witted and creative marketer.
Nikita runs the monthly Ilkhom Rock Fest held at the famous Ilkhom Theater — the first independent theatre in the USSR and the only non-State run alternative music venue in Uzbekistan. Ilkhom Rock Fest is a rock/theater hybrid show where the bands come up with daring ideas and produce the show themselves, and attendees remain seated throughout the show as if they’re watching a stage performance. The structure is very intentionally designed — for the performers it is very confronting and for the audience they hear the music in a different way
Keep reading. This is fascinating.