Steppeing out

Dana Kazhimova amd Laula are bringing the sounds of the steppes – and the dobra – to the next World Music Cafe.

WHEN Dana Kazhimova went to watch a couple of friends perform the traditional music and dance of her native Kazakhstan, she had no idea of the impact it would have.

“I was not a Kazakh dancing type of person,” she said.

While she’d done the compulsory national dancing in primary school and her father had taught her Kazakhstan’s most popular instrument the dobra when she was seven, like most Kazakhs Ms Kazhimova’s gaze was on the modern sights and sounds coming through their screens. These days Kazakh teens are into hip hop, R&B and even a central Asian version of the K-Pop phenomenon.

Ms Kazhimova left Kazakhstan in 2010, spending a couple of years working in the United Arab Emirates and another three in Egypt before moving to Australia with her husband in 2015. She hadn’t really thought about those old dances or songs.

But there’s something about the country’s endless grassy steppes and the memories of its nomadic lifestyle which her friends’ performance awoke.

“My eyes were teary,” she says.

“Two years ago when I saw those two friends at an event and I saw the dance and heard the music it just lit me up.”

She happily accepted an invitation to join the dance group Laula, and when her skills with the Dobra became apparent her friend eagerly handed over her own.

Ms Kazhimova’s father is a bit of a musical celebrity back in Kazakhstan, being director of one of the country’s philharmonic orchestras and writing and singing regularly for them.

“So for a long time I grew up with music all around me, and we used to go to many concerts.

“But when you care there, you don’t really appreciate it. 

“I was young and I used to think ‘what is the deal with Kazakhstan’, but then you get older and wiser and when you hear the songs it reminds you.”

Ms Kazhimova says there’s something special about the dobra, particularly when big groups get together to play.

“When an orchestra with tens and tens of people playing dombra together, it reaches your soul.”

She says Kazakh music is very much influenced by the steppes and the nomadic lifestyle.

One of the pieces is by Kazakh composer Seken Turisbekov called Waves of Emotions, which was written after the death of his child, while the second is a fast piece which represents the horses running through the grass of the steppes.

The horse plays a central role in Kazakh history as a provider of transportation, food, labour and companionship, while some archaeologists believe it was where they were first domesticated.

The costumes of the Kazakhs are also striking. “We get so many compliments about the costumes and people are always coming up to us to take photographs,” Ms Kazhimova says of the bright and long-flowing dresses and distinctive pointed hats.

Ms Kazhimova will be playing with Laula at the next World Music Cafe, an initiative of Multicultural Futures that highlights culture from around the world.

Laula will be joined by highly talented guzheng (traditional 21-string Chinese zither) player Shutong Liu and French-Australian singer Geraldine Rey on Friday June 24 – coinciding with refugee week.

Although this cafe’s performers aren’t refugees themselves, Multicultural Futures also provides newcomers with opportunities to pick up skills by helping organise the event, MCing or running the catering. Mentoring the kitchen team is well-known chef Nimrod Kazoom who has built a cult following for his stunning artistic cuisine.

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