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How One Singer Is Taking On Censorship In Uzbekistan

A screenshot from the video of Lola Yuldosheva's song Tell Me About Your Love.
A screenshot from the video of Lola Yuldosheva's song Tell Me About Your Love.

The latest music video by popular Uzbek singer Lola Yuldosheva has been hailed by many critics and fans as a “social protest” and “revolutionary” for criticizing censorship in her native Uzbekistan.

The video, Sevgingni Menga Ait (Tell Me About Your Love), depicts Yuldosheva as a singer who performs in front of a two-person panel in order to get the mandatory license needed by singers and musicians in Uzbekistan.

Accompanied by two backup singers, Lola sports a Western-style outfit that includes a pair of over-the-knee boots, a wide-brimmed hat, dark shades, and a long, wide coat.

Before she performs, a panel member reminds her that officials must ensure that artists in Uzbekistan “observe national traditions,” a term frequently used by officials in charge of issuing licenses.

The clip shows the singer presenting her song and being interrupted by the panel, seemingly unhappy with her clothing.

“Sorry, but we have our own Uzbek traditions and clothes,” an official in the video tells Lola. “What does that hat signify? Your European-style clothes don’t match our national mentality.”

The official goes on to say that Uzbeks shouldn’t forget their “own traditions,” as her colleague claps in agreement.

Under Scrutiny

The artist sings her song again after swapping her hat with a wig and replacing her female backup singers with two male musicians, one clad in a white shirt, the other, a suit and tie.

Uzbek authorities routinely scrutinize a musician’s lyrics, outfit, and hairstyle when they need to receive or renew the license each one needs in order to perform in Uzbekistan.

Fall afoul of the panel and all opportunities to play concerts or perform at events are over.

One popular male singer, Sanjar Javberdiev (better known as San Jay), complained he wasn’t able to perform at public events because of his beard, appealing to President Shavkat Mirziyoev for permission.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev

Several female artists have been disqualified from getting a license after their dresses were deemed too revealing and immodest.

Yuldosheva’s new music video was praised by Uzbek film producer Abdulaziz Mahmudov, who described it as a deeply “meaningful clip that...reflects how art is treated” in Uzbekistan.

"The government tries to insert whatever it wants inside people’s minds, but it’s impossible to change people’s mindset with force and through censorship," Mahmudov told RFE/RL.

“There are many so-called morality guardians everywhere in our country, especially in Uzbekkonsert and Uzbekkino [the bodies overseeing Uzbekistan’s music and cinema industries, respectively]. These guardians in fact present censorship,” Mahmudov said.

Prominent Uzbek blogger Nurbek Alimov hailed the music video as a “revolution by Lola” and hailed the singer’s impressive “bravery.”

Yuldosheva demonstrated that “everybody has the right to push their boundaries, to wear what they want, and to choose the style they like,” Alimov said.

Officials, however, were unimpressed.

Mavluda Askarkhujaeva, the head of the Culture Ministry’s press office, insisted that “all clips, all music and songs must adhere to the Uzbek mentality.”

In March 2015, Yuldosheva got an official warning over a dress she wore during a concert in Tashkent. Authorities decided that the red dress -- which exposed her legs -- “conflicted with the national mentality.”

At the same time, officials warned female singers across the country not to appear “half naked” in concerts and not make any sexually suggestive moves on stage.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Shukhrat Bobojon.

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