Italian by nationality, singer-songwriter Son Pascal is making musical waves in Kazakhstan. Pascal, who arrived in Kazakhstan from London less than a year ago, made his name in the country with a humorous adaptation of singer Sting's “Englishman in New York.”
His “Englishman in Shymkent” – Shymkent is a town in the southern Kazakhstan – gathered more than 200,000 views on YouTube and became the most searched-for music clip on google.kz.
This summer, his celebrity in the Central Asian state exploded when he followed up that hit with a the feel-good jam “You Should Speak Kazaksha”. Produced by Alen Niyazbekov, the song was an instant hit on video-sharing platforms and has been lapped up by the Kazakh media.
By imploring Kazakhs and others to speak the state language, Pascal has also won friends in high places. The country's politicians, including President Nursultan Nazarbayev, frequently complain of the corrosive influence of Russian-language pop culture and speak of the need to do more in order to promote the use of Kazakh in the public domain.
Last week Global Voices Online caught up with Son Pascal and asked him a few questions about his love for all things Kazakh.
Global Voices (GV): Along with “You should speak Kazakhsha” you also have the “Паскальжан”(Paskaljan) series of homemade videos where you learn Kazakh with netizens in a fun and casual setting. How did you come to learn Kazakh? Is it easy or difficult compared to other languages?
Son Pascal (SP): I didn't really learn Kazakh yet, I just speak a bit, it's not that difficult compared to Russian but the fact that not everyone speaks this language on a daily basis [Russian is widely spoken as a first languague in Kazakhstan] makes it longer to learn for me.
GV: When did you decide that you want to stay and write music in Kazakhstan?
SP: I decided to stay as I understood myself to have some chances in your market, and I really love living in Almaty [biggest eastern city in Kazakhstan].
GV: “You Should Speak Kazaksha” has been very popular among internet users. What was the idea of the song?
GV: How important do you think music is to the preservation of a language?
SP: This song came to life really easily – I was having shashlik [kebab on a metal skewer] with my friend Gallardo [Kazakh rapper featured on the video] and we were jamming with my ukulele [Kazakh national instrument]. I think it's important for a country not to forget its culture and its roots, as I feel proud to be Italian so you guys should be proud to be Kazakh.
SP: Music in the form of a song or an opera work is literature, which is one of the main things to help protect and divulgate a language. It might be classical, like a poem of Abay [Abay Qunanbaiuli is a celebrated Kazakh poet of the 19th century] and it can be pop, like a song by Beibit Korgan [local pop singer] or even Son Pascal!