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  • Rashid

Revolutionary Uzbek music of the 1990s

Despite being a number one Metallica fan growing up, I listened to a variety of music, including hip hop and mainstream pop. In the recent waves of nostalgia, longing and the misery of being "homesick" for something that might not be there anymore, or may not have even been there in the first place, I revisited some of the old Uzbek songs that played on every corner in the 1990s. I would like to share some with you.

While being a rough decade in terms of economic hardships, mafia, nation-building and inter-ethnic clashes, the 1990s was also a revolutionary period in some spheres, including pop culture. One of the first hip hop bands in Uzbekistan, and possibly in Central Asia, was a collective called Al-Vakil. Check them out. Quite good, IMHO, even for today's standards.

Despite being labelled as "the Kings of Uzbek hip hop" there is very little information about them online. One short and odd Wikipedia article in Uzbek and a few YouTube videos. A Tashkent-based band with three core members (an Uzbek, a Tatar and an Armenian - a post-Soviet dream) and a fluctuating fourth one - they had their high and low moments.

The band was active between 1994 and 1999 and ceased to exist when two of the members were accused of murdering a 26-year-old pop singer Laylo Alieva in Tashkent and sentenced to capital punishment. Upon appeals of family members, the death sentences were replaced with 20 years of imprisonment and later reduced a bit. Little is known about the band members. According to that Wikipedia article, the one band member that did not serve any prison sentences died of heart issues in 2009. Two others live abroad - in Moscow and Italy.

Laylo Alieva was at the peak of her popularity when she was murdered in April 1998. Here is one of the most popular songs of hers released in 1992. You can still hear it played in cafes and taxis in Tashkent.

If there is limited information about Al-Vakil, there is even less about Laylo. There are some YouTube videos and a couple of TV programmes that remember her legacy. Everything about Laylo's murder and the court case is odd and smothered in conspiracy. Laylo was murdered with extreme cruelty. She was stabbed over 30 times. Al-Vakil band members were accused of robbing her. But why would a popular band with tons of money rob a colleague and murder her with such unusual cruelty? We might never be able to find the answers. During her extremely short life, Laylo recorded 21 songs. She is survived by her son.

A more optimistic story is that of the boy band "Bolalar" (which can be translated as "children", or "guys"). The band's leader Tohir Sodiqov is an extremely talented musician and singer with a signature wheezing in his voice. The band began its journey back in the 1980s and by the mid-1990s was giving 4 concerts per day. In 1995 I had the chance to see them live as a 9-year-old boy. I was impressed. It was my first concert. The music was phonogramme but Sodiqov sang LIVE - unheard of not only for the 1990s but even for many of the contemporary singers in the country. Here is a sample.

I will wrap up today's quick musical journey with a girl band "Setora" (Star). Active between 1998 and 2005 when they left their label and lost some of the copyrights. Consequently, from 2006 to 2008 they performed under the name SeTanho.

Three school friends Kamila, Laylo and Feruza formed the band and became the "Spice Girls" of Uzbekistan. Two of them live in Tashkent and have their own businesses next to singing at corporate gigs and weddings. One of the friends moved to the US and you can apparently enjoy her voice in Samarkand restaurant in Pennsylvania.

Every video Setora produced is a story and quality-wise a revolution of its time. Here is a sample.

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Billy McLaren
Billy McLaren
Nov 11, 2022

Hey Rashid. Really interesting article! The Laylo Alieva story is very sad. Kind of reminds me of Selena in the US in a way.

Thanks for writing!

Nov 16, 2022
Replying to

Yes, Billy. A very short journey of such a talented person. This happens far too often. Thanks for reading me!

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