Ilyas Gafarov: ‘For us, music became a universal language through which we find new soulmates’

The director of Yummy Music indie label wonders why there is almost no contemporary Tatar music in mass youth events

Ilyas Gafarov, director of Yummy Music indie label celebrating the 10th anniversary this year, asked a question on social media: why wasn’t there found room for contemporary Tatar artists on Youth Day at Uram Park and the urban graduation ball. On Realnoe Vremya’s request, he developed this idea in an op-ed column.

I was lucky to study in Faculty of Tatar Philology

I remember when I wrote my first texts at school, I sent them to editor-in-chief of Tatarstan is My Homeland newspaper Minnazim Safarov for a review. I was so ashamed of showing them to somebody, but he told me something absolutely correct: “It is normal if a youngster writes poems at 15-16, it would be strange if they didn’t.” His words really helped me to overcome the fear of inflated expectations in the future when we decided to create our first band — Ittifaq.

The younger generation of urban Tatars have a complex about imperfect language skills (I don’t know how it is now but they used to have it) because the majority thinks in Russian and translates when writing or saying. Perhaps, this is why many don’t dare to start writing and singing in Tatar expecting a storm of criticism. I was lucky to study in Faculty of Tatar Philology, absorb Tatar classics’ literature and language. I used these skills when writing text during the following years consciously and unconsciously. When we released our first tracks, the first album with the guys, we didn’t have any fear of criticism. Also, we were surrounded by soulmates — journalists, public activists, musicians — who understood that something had to be done to Tatar music right away. While Nurbek Batulla hadn’t yet formulated his brilliant manifest that “we have to make mistakes, the more the better.”

Every successful concert was a small contribution to the fight against stereotypes

Also in 2007, we have the first successful promotion experience with Zulya Kamalova’s concert at Yellow Jacket club. These were the times when neither the pop culture nor most fashionable establishments of Kazan accepted contemporary Tatar music, and if they did, the most unpopular days were offered: Wednesday or Sunday. Therefore every successful concert was a small contribution to the fight against stereotypes about Tatar music.

To our surprise, not only Tatarstan but also representatives of many other ethnicities could be seen at our concerts who were united by the love to quality, unusual local music. We already understood by that moment that quality live sound and energy transmitted from the stage is the main path to any independent artist’s success. We took this principle to all sites — from the campaign I Speak Tatar to our artists’ solo concerts. Now this experience came in handy in our work with big festivals — both where we are the organisers and where we are guests.

The national component as part of Kazan’s cultural landscape

We didn’t notice ourselves how the principle “national is topical” (formulated by the Tatar Youth Forum) turned into a kind of trend that spread in design, media and education. Perhaps because we dealt with this daily and applied this principle everywhere. Then this resulted in such projects as Tatarka (the lyrics to the first singles we wrote), Jadid Fest, Tat Cult Fest, Tat Cult Lab. Now the national component is considered not as exotic but a part of Kazan’s cultural landscape, and even Aigel band released an album completely in Tatar.

For us, music became a universal language through which we find new soulmates because the same problems exist in other republics of Russia too. Many put the diversity of our musical stage as an example, while here we were criticised for not using enough national instruments, pentatonic, references to Tatar classic. If an artist wants to play the instruments that are close to him or her, why not give total freedom? In the end the melody of the language is our main national component that perfectly combines with hip-hop, rock and electronic music. When you listen to K-pop in Korean or rap in French or indie rock in Icelandic, you don’t know the translation of the text. But the value of the music doesn’t go down because of this, for those who understand the language, it is a deeper immersion into the meaning of these songs.

Refusal of Tatar music on Youth Day in Kazan

At National Literature Festival at Red Square this year, we discussed the decentralisation of music in Russia with our colleagues. Some time later, Afisha.Daily music editorial board picked up the topic, and there was a separate stage with a showcase of contemporary Tatar music at Ural Music Night this year. Yandex prepares a very interesting project dedicated to Russian ethnicities’ music, while the Moscow-based Institute of Music Initiatives released an album New Criticism where Russian music phenomena from regions are considered.

Tatar music was refused on Youth Day only here in Kazan, in favour of Niletto, Dava and Ivanushki International, which looks not only unpatriotic but also not outdated.

At the same time, Werk organises a three-day music marathon with local artists, we give a five-hour concert at Sol bar by our 10th anniversary, while Harajiev Smokes Virginia records a single and video with Tatar rapper Usal. Such a day of development is closer to us, and it is much more viable. It is easy to be an art manager when you have a gigantic budget and you can bring any headliner, but such an approach isn’t topical anymore. Small accomplishments of the local stage facilitating the appearance of new heroes, reconsideration of our identity and focus on local staff — these are the new trends of our time we want to deliver to everybody.

Ilyas Gafarov

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.