Music by nature strikes a personal chord in each listener. Being a child of the 1960s myself, I must confess to liking the psychedelic rock genre, songs like the Rolling Stones’ 2000 Light Years from Home and Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun. So imagine my delight when I was turned on to an instant neo-psychedelic classic on YouTube, performed by none other than Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan’s despot-in-chief.
Turkmenistan’s propaganda mills have already let the world know that Berdymukhamedov is not just a statesman, he’s also an author, surgeon, skilled equestrian, hockey fan, speed racer and public bus rider. Why did it take so long, then, for Berdymukhamedov to reveal his talent as a guitarist? I feel slightly cheated to have been denied the pleasure of his musical genius for these past few years.
Annoyingly, the YouTube video, which was posted in late 2011, does not provide the name of the song Berdymukhamedov sings, so I’m having trouble finding it on iTunes. The YouTube liner notes only state that the song is of Berdymukhamedov’s “own” composition.
The rhythm and melody has a definite Turkmen touch, a nod to the East that is ever so slightly reminiscent of the sitar riffs in the greatest of the Beatles’ psych songs, Tomorrow Never Knows. The lyrics are nothing to write home about, but the background image scrolling on the stage in the video – falling snowflakes set against a blue background – is absolutely mesmerizing. It gave me a 1967 flashback. After all, you can’t get much more psychedelic than the thought of snow in Ashgabat.
The song has a somewhat annoying prelude, featuring a drummer who obviously thinks he’s the reincarnation of Buddy Rich, but who clearly doesn’t know the difference between a traditional grip and a matched grip.
Things don’t really pick up until Berdymukhamedov puts down his accordion and starts strumming his acoustic guitar. I particularly grooved to the way Arkadag handled his instrument, confident and dominant. Pure grace as he choked it. And the way he finished chords with arm flourishes reminded me a little of the windmills made famous by Pete Townshend, the virtuoso of The Who.
The backup singers give the tune lots of texture. They sing with great passion, or is it pure terror?
If there’s one flaw in Berdymukhamedov’s stage presence, it’s his costume. It’s way too Andy Williams wholesome. My sartorial advice would be to lose the green knit sweater and put on something with fringe. If you’re gonna be playing like Jimi, might as well dress like Jimi.
I’m hoping that Berdymukhamedov decides to stretch himself, and does some psychedelic rock covers of the Beatles. Magical Mystery Tour and I am the Walrus are two tunes that come to mind when I think of Berdymukhamedov and Turkmenistan.
Editor's Note: Justin Burke is the Managing Editor of EurasiaNet.