Monday, October 8th, 2018

Zere – Girl

Now approaching Manas International…


Jessica Doyle: In May in northern Kyrgyzstan, 20-year-old Bulurai Turdaliyeva was kidnapped (for the second time) to be forced into marriage to a jealous asshole; when he was apprehended, the local police left the two of them alone at the station long enough for him to stab her to death. Turaliyeva’s case was unusual even before she was killed, not in the kidnapping itself (it’s called ala kachuu, and it’s technically illegal, but still believed to be widespread) but that her parents supported her — in many cases the victim is pressured by her own family to agree to the forced marriage rather than risk dishonor. Turdaliyeva’s murder prompted Zere Asylbek, herself 19, to record this song: “I wanted to say,” she explained later, “we should respect each other, we should respect the choice of girls, especially.” For which she is now receiving death threats. None of this is necessarily a comment on “Girl” as a song, except as much as it’s easier to appreciate Zere’s swirling, cool, the-boil-is-under-the-surface restraint once you know more of what she’s up against.

Anna Suiter: “Girl”, in both its lyrical and video subject, takes a very clear aim at the treatment of women in Kyrgyzstan. Maybe it’s not the typical “rallying cry” type of song you would expect though. Instead the tone is a bit dark, rather than explicitly inspiring. Considering the vehement negative feedback (including death threats) that this song has managed to unfortunately inspire, it’s a relief that it manages to look forward regardless.

Alfred Soto: I’m not in the position where I’m comfortable judging the effort of a singer whose received death threats for appearing in a bra in her native Kyrgyzstan. But her insistent way with a lyric in the verses and chorus key change would’ve gotten my applause anyway. 

Iain Mew: Zere makes a powerful first impression over piano and beats that leave just the right space for tension. From there I kept expecting it to explode outwards and make full use of the force in her voice, but it stays completely contained, circling uneasily in a way that is careful, atmospheric, and nonetheless a bit of an anti-climax.

Juana Giaimo: Although the lyrics are a complete mystery to me, I only need to see the title and the music video to know the power this song helds. The piano chords and the kind of trip hop production make a suitable base for Zere’s soulful voice to grow like the waves, the mountains, and all the girls in the video, trying to find their voice and self-acceptance. 

Joshua Minsoo Kim: In Aminatou Echard’s documentary Jamilia, the director utilizes Chingiz Aytamatov’s famous novel as a springboard for honest discussion about living as a woman in Kyrgyzstan. In the story, the titular character’s husband is away at war and we come to understand through his letters that his views are abhorrent, aligned with the prevailing notion that women are little more than property to be owned by men. Jamilia eventually runs away with a new lover, undeterred by the fact that such an act would be deemed highly immoral. From the film, we learn that despite the book’s popularity and presence in school curriculum for decades, much hasn’t changed: women are still afraid to speak out, let alone leave husbands they don’t love. There are moments of hope, though, and we partially see it through how a female teacher stresses the importance of working hard for the generation below her. These girls must receive “full support” she says, granted opportunities to know that their voices are both heard and valid. At the end of the movie we see a bit of her vision coming to fruition as a young student details her time spent at a camp that discussed gender equality. This girl firmly proclaims that she wants to “live a happy life, life in which patriarchy will not touch [her].” For her and Zere Asylbek, there are people in their lives supporting such feminist principles; Asylbek has said that her parents and brothers give her “confidence and strength.” Most women in Kyrgyzstan don’t have such luxury, so Asylbek becomes a voice for those afraid to utter a single dissenting word. Inspired by the recent kidnappings and murder of Burulai Turdalieva, “Girl” asserts the need for change. “[I am] not afraid of threats; fear will not lead to anything and will not solve the problem,” she’s said. And in her vocalizing radiates that same unshakable courage. The production swirls with the understanding that opposition awaits: the piano chords are plaintive but firm, the tumbling beat creates an uneasy tension, and the vocal sample highlights how lonely such a fight may be. It’s all understated, allowing for Zere’s presence and vocals to be of primary focus — her message is thus the song’s most crucial component. She declares that no one will tell her what to do or what to wear, and that women are people too; they must be granted freedom of speech. One can hope that for many, “Girl” will make known that Jamilia isn’t just a character in a story, that Turdalieva’s death need not be an unsurprising event, that such realities are even possible.

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One Response to “Zere – Girl”

  1. I wish the time passed, I wish a new time came
    When they wouldn’t preach to me how I should spend my life
    When they wouldn’t tell me ‘Do like this,’ ‘Don’t do like that’
    Why should I be like you want, or like the majority wants,
    I am a person, and I have my freedom of speech.
    Where is your respect for me? I’ll respect you. You respect me. You and I, together, Hey, dear, join me, We will create our freedom.