PBS – Sound Tracks – Music Without Borders
Reporter: Arun Rath
Segment: Oh Kazakhstan (Excerpt)
Marat Bisengaliev and the West Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra in Almaty, Kazakhstan perform “Zere: Part 1″ composed by Erran Baron Cohen.
When the mockumentary Borat opened in theaters in 2006, it delighted in offending all sorts of people, mainly Americans. But Kazakh officials were also not exactly thrilled about the portrayal of their country. The film was banned in Kazakhstan, and the government launched an advertising campaign to salvage the nation’s battered image. In all the controversy, virtuoso violinist Marat Bisengaliev, saw an opportunity. “Finally, there would be an interest for people to find out about the real Kazakhstan,” he tells reporter Arun Rath.
Marat went after the composer of the music for “Borat” — Erran Baron Cohen, the brother of the film’s star Sacha Baron Cohen. Erran had composed a mock Kazakh national anthem with the lyric: Kazakhstan’s prostitutes, cleanest in the region, except of course for Turkmenistan’s.
“They were going to use the real Kazakhstani national anthem and they couldn’t get permission,” explains Erran, who had just one night to compose a replacement. “The idea was to have this very big choir. But because it was the middle of the night, I couldn’t get a hold of anybody. So I just had to sing every part myself. So I multi-tracked about 40 times.”
When Marat called Erran out of the blue and asked him to write a symphony for the aggrieved country, Erran was incredulous. He thought it was a prank. “I mean, it was not their favorite movie.” But he eventually accepted Marat’s challenge to write a symphony including Kazakh folk music. It became known as “Zere.”
The symphony was performed to critical acclaim in England, but Marat had been apprehensive about performing Erran’s work in Kazakhstan. Feelings were still raw, and some called him a traitor. But he agreed to present the piece if Sound Tracks would film it. How would people react? Can music ever make amends?