Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

Ninety One – Bäri Biled

Next up, some political (?) Q-pop courtesy of Haru…


Alfred Soto:Kazakh boy band deserves a spotlight, and the beat is serviceable. What it services it makes clear with pure momentum.

Will Adams: The synthpop + acoustica production is sweet and not very befitting of a protest song, but it wisely makes space for the message to come through. This happens most compellingly in the bridge, where the chorus intertwines with ZaQ’s appeals to global togetherness. Even via translation, the message — “everyone knows what we need / everyone knows but does nothing” — hits hard.

Ian Mathers: “Everyone knows what we need, everyone knows but does nothing — it does seem like this is more and more the consensus, right? Even if this is just another pebble in what is hopefully eventually a landslide, we’ve got to get there somehow. The content here is strong enough it probably could have gotten by without being quite this catchy, and vice versa; I’m thankful they went for both, though.

Edward Okulicz: I’m puzzling over whether this song would seem unremarkable if I could understand the language. Reading a translation suggests it has political and environmental themes placed front and centre, and I’d struggle to not find it corny in English, but as it is, it’s completely unremarkable, other than being a credible-sounding boy band song of good quality. Folk and hip-hop have traditionally been the forms that did protest or consciousness-raising the best; have the Kazakhs cracked the code for pure pop, or would a person who speaks the Kazakh language find it corny? Not that this is key to whether the song is good, because it is — I love how the opening bars hint at a ballad, and then pull the rug immediately out from under it. I love how the Kazakh language sounds utterly normal when sung — singing smooths language — but when spoken jolts me out of complacency. While surely made for a domestic audience, the craft is universal and the context keeps me wondering.

Jessica Doyle: Vector #1: while political protest has never been fully legitimate in the history of the Republic of Kazakhstan, b. 1991, its illegitimacy has been more apparent in 2019 than usual, as a quasi-handover (followed by the new president proving insufficiently Medvedevian) and a sputtering economy have led to expressions of public unhappiness both tragic and comic, with consistently repressive replies. (Vector #1.5: ZaQ, on a radio show, discussing the lack of freedom of speech [at 9:13]: “We have a lot to talk about, but those conversations get saved to my phone’s memos and don’t spread from there.”) Vector #2: two weeks before dropping “Bari Biled” Ninety One performed in Yining, China, in that part of Xinjiang province with a large Kazakh population. Shawn Zhang’s list includes three “re-education” camps near Yining. (One way to get sent to one of those camps, by the way, is to share Kazakh songs.) Vector #3: Kazakhstan has been a recipient of lots of Belt & Road money (as well as Chinese surveillance technology, alongside other Central Asian countries), so the Kazakhstani government is not terribly open to talking about the Xinjiang camps either. Vector #4: An Almaty-based commentator I follow greeted “Bari Biled” with no cynicism whatsoever, just gratitude that Ninety One was talking about issues that needed to be talked about, especially within Kazakhstan. And yet (Vector #5) they performed “Bari Biled” without a hitch at QFEST in Almaty, which implies either that “Bari Biled” is toothless enough that some bureaucrat could sign off on its performance (see: BTS performing “Am I Wrong” on music show stages in 2016), or maybe that things are currently unsettled enough that genuine protest might slip through (see: BTS performing “Am I Wrong” on music show stages in 2016). Or maybe neither! We are veering off in different directions, seemingly going nowhere; and I find myself thinking of Hazel Southwell’s reflections on reporting in Riyadh, and how easy but unsatisfying it is to project one’s own fears of judgment and desires for power onto strangers living with a different set of balances to strike. In “Bari Biled” the voices are muted rather than propulsive (for those of you who prefer a more openly anguished Ninety One, there’s “Olar“) and the guys leave themselves wide open to accusations of cheesiness, hypocrisy, naïvité, grandiosity, what have you. And I can’t tell you, for all my research, what change they can actually make or what limits they’re up against. This is what we’ve got. I would much rather have it than not.

Kylo Nocom: Politi-pop that accepts our impending doom always irks me, even if attempts at being inspiring include sloganeering bullshit or flagrant displays of being a god awful human being. I feel like the general approach to “The Greatest” and “Love It if We Made It” was that it’s just smarter to just sit back and watch our world fuck itself over. “Bäri Biled” recognizes the same problems of inactivity yet never condescends. Yet it’s not very smart or clever; in fact, it reminds me far too much of “One Tribe” by the Black Eyed Peas, trying to inspire on the dancefloor and ending up promoting… unity? Even then, however, I still adore this; though its message is blurred, resulting in some shoddy woke rapping for the last minute, I prefer pop that vows to provide an escape while still trying to set things right.

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One Response to “Ninety One – Bäri Biled”

  1. well, yeah.
    it’s cheesy yet far better than the complete lack of hope we feel watching news and other media.
    it had to be toothless to be played, shown and openly talked about everywhere in kz.
    they chose to make it like that so that the message would have found the listeners.
    problem of silencing freedom of speech in that country does exist
    91 are not all talk – they’ve actually led community cleaning days in their city, even inviting other artists to join it.
    they were cleaning trash yall.
    i saw a lot young people follow suit and do this in their cities/countries as well.
    all that was talked about and shown in the mv, at first glance may seem too all over the place but its actually all problems that kz (and the world) faces right now.
    pollution, war, domestic abuse, (teenage) suicide, lack of freedom of speech. what they couldn’t say they’ve shown. 91 are very involved into production, concept development, artistry and etc.
    but apart from that they gave us hope – yeah, we feel lonely and powerless but maybe together we’d be capable of doing smth!