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Kyrgyz Songwriter-President To Test Pop Waters With Album

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (left) has pledged to leave politics once his current term ends. His office said that "the president plans to be engaged in creative activities," including writing books, once he steps down.

The hits just keep coming from Central Asia.

The latest foray into pop culture by a sitting head of state has been announced in Central Asia, a region where comfortably ensconced leaders seem eager to showcase their vigor and talent by bursting into song or dancing at public events.

But Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev is taking the phenomenon to another level.

Atambaev's office says the president will release an album as a singer-songwriter ahead of his 60th birthday on September 17, with only about a year left in his lone six-year term. (There's a one-term limit set out in the six-year-old Kyrgyz Constitution.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tunes appear to hew to the autobiographical.

His office said the album will comprise 10 songs in Russian and his native Kyrgyz. Atambaev reportedly recorded five Russian-language songs last month and plans to work on the Kyrgyz songs during his August vacation.

Two video clips of the Atambaev songs -- Against All Odds and I Can't Live Without You -- were uploaded on YouTube earlier this month.

In one, Atambaev says he wrote Against All Odds during his student years in the Russian capital, Moscow. "Like a motto, this song helped me to overcome many difficulties in my life," Atambaev says in the throwback clip, which features excerpts from the Soviet-era Kyrgyz film Provincial Romance, filmed in the 1980s.

Atambaev, who became Kyrgyz president in 2011 after three short stints as prime minister, has pledged to leave politics once his current term ends in 2017. His office said this month that "the president plans to be engaged in creative activities," including writing books, once he steps down.

Graceful political exits are a rarity in post-Soviet Central Asia, where no president outside Kyrgyzstan has left office since independence except through civil war (Tajikistan) or in a casket (Turkmenistan).

Atambaev's daughter Aliya Shagieva wrote on Facebook that her father, an economist by training, had liked "composing music, writing poetry, and drawing since his childhood."

Central Asia's presidents have a history of tapping into popular culture by hook or by crook to enhance their images, despite the lack of recourse for their citizens to the ballot box.

Trained dentist and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has authored numerous books that were made obligatory reading for citizens, and has performed in concert for VIP and other guests. His predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, known as Turkmenbashi or "father of Turkmen," wrote books that instantly became part of rigidly enforced curricula before he died suddenly in 2006.

Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev likes to play traditional Kazakh musical instruments, while Tajikistan's Emomali Rahmon has -- more than once -- grabbed the microphone during concerts to sing along with performers.

In Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov's most recent artistic performance was a dance during a concert after a regional summit in Tashkent in June, as his Russian, Chinese, and Central Asian counterparts looked on.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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