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Tajikistan: A 'Risky' Rapper Makes It Big

By Humoyuni Shahriyor

"I went to Russia, a big city,
"Suffering, snow and rain,
"No jobs, no home,
"Hungry, alone in a strange city,
"Running and avoiding police officials,
"I heard only these words,
"'Sergeant Andreev, your documents?'
"The life starts, guys,
"This is Russia for you ...."

Dushanbe, 12 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Firuz Emomov, a former Tajik labor migrant in Russia, is a famous rapper not only in Tajikistan, but in many foreign countries. His records, under the stage name Dr. Emfir, can be heard in almost every record store, market, discotheque, car, or bus.

"To be a stranger is strange. When I was there [in Russia], we were busy with all kinds of jobs in order to earn something to survive," he says. "We didn't like being hungry. I wanted to be able to wear some nice clothes and have some shoes to wear."

"The sky is blue and without clouds,
"I saw you once, my love,
"Oh my love, oh my love, oh my love, oh my love,
"You look at me very often ...."

Firuz, 28, was brought up in a village near the southern mountainous city of Kulob, in a poor family. He did not have a father. We know what it's like to be brought up without a father in a place like Tajikistan, where your father is your main support if you want to have any success in life.
"As Russians say, I am a risky guy. I can put up with all sorts of difficulties. I have never asked anybody's advice. Never." - Firuz

But Firuz, following a tough childhood, entered art school. He left after two months and went to Russia to seek a job. His story, about how he suffered as a migrant worker in Russia, is described vividly in his songs. This is not only his tale. It's also the description of the way millions of Tajik youth feel when they are forced to leave home, earn a living for their families abroad, and send pennies home.

"The secret's eternal, neither you know nor I,
"And answers to the riddle neither you know nor I,
"Behind the veil there is much talk about us, why
"When the veil falls, neither you remain nor I."

This rubai was written by Omar Khayyam and makes up the beginning of one of Firuz's raps.

"Many well-known stars in Tajik show business told me that nobody listens to me," Firuz says. "They said: 'What is this guy singing? What is he saying?'"

I ask Firuz why he chose this unusual path. Why didn't he choose to work in a regular business or just sing pop songs?

"As Russians say, I am a risky guy," he replies. "I can put up with all sorts of difficulties. I have never asked anybody's advice. Never."

There are few young people in Tajikistan who act without seeking the advice of their elders or who start their own business independently.

At first, Firuz's mother, Fayzigul Karimova, did not like the strange style of singing chosen by her son. But then she realized that young people liked it, and that it describes the difficulties faced by today's Tajik youth. So this woman from a small village started to think deeper about her son's decision.

"Frankly speaking, I like national and traditional poems, and at first I did not like Firuz's songs," she says. "But now I agree with what he does, and I like his songs."

When young people in Tajikistan speak of rap music, they mean Firuz. And when they speak of Firuz, they are talking about rap music. Firuz's first album was released a few weeks ago. Aziz Aliev, the head of Navo, a popular Tajik record company, says there has already been strong demand from customers.

"Indeed, Dr. Emfir turned rap into Tajik. His raps capture the listeners' ears and hearts. Text plays an important role in rap, and the texts of Firuz's songs are close to the feelings of young people," Aliev says.

"[Dr. Emfir's music] sounds very much like the sort of music coming out of America, the singing dialect of the American West Coast in the beginning of the '90s, like Tupak Shakur," says Simon Warner, a researcher of modern music at Leeds University in Britain. "And then, as we get to the chorus, there are also some of the sounds of the Middle East."

Dr. Emfir's songs are close to the hearts of Tajik youth, especially among Tajik labor migrants. "His language is very simple and understandable," one Tajik migrant worker says. "His songs are about us, about our problems. I like it."

For the first time in Tajikistan, rap and pop music are being mixed, and Dr. Emfir is singing together with the popular Tajik singer Parvina Shukrulloeva. Their song has made it to the top of the charts.

Firuz considers himself to be an ordinary young man who has experienced the pains of migration in Russia, someone who knows what it's like to be without a penny in his pocket. But he's also a man who has managed to overcome his difficulties, despite choosing an unusual career for himself in the traditional society of his native land, Tajikistan.

Now he has become a star, adored by thousands of young Tajiks.

"Enough suffering," says Firuz. "Enough living in a strange land. Enough of being a dropout. Enough escapism through drugs and alcohol."

(This story was originally broadcast by RFE/RL's Tajik Service and was a finalist in RFE/RL's June 2005 Division of Broadcasting Innovation Excellence award for the "best story on youth at a crossroads.")

According to research by the Asian Development Bank and UNICEF, there are now more than 70,000 school-age children in Kyrgyzstan working to earn money for their families instead of attending school. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent Jannat Toktosunova went to the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek to meet some of these children:

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Also see:

International Youth Day A Time For Governments To Remember Commitments

Tajik Teen Uses School As Springboard To Better Life

Russia: In City Of Riches, 'Average' Family Focuses On The Essentials

Tajikistan: Nasiba's Wedding Song

Moldova: Young People Breathing Life Into Village

Armenia: Young Dancers Dream of Ballet Renaissance

Tatarstan: Budding Shopkeeper Says, 'Close Your Eyes And Just Do It'