Astana Jazz Scene Seeks its Groove

ASTANA – It has never been easy to find live jazz in the Kazakh capital, but with the launch of the Ubuntu Art Club monthly jazz nights, residents may soon witness high-quality, creative music being made locally.


The city offers little musical adventure and is not exactly the place for big jazz lovers. The harsh climate, dynamic infrastructural growth, construction boom, changing demographics and proximity to power have taken a toll and created a place that above all believes in pragmatism and opportunity. Thus, soulful jazz and unfussy blues seem unfit for the capital’s business-like style, ambitiousness, instancy and growing love for glitter and luxury. Yet refined musical taste and talent find ways to grow even in the least nurturing environments.

Live music bars are emerging, hinting at cultural growth and expansion of rhythmic diversity. One of the most-recent newcomers is the Ubuntu, founded by a group of young people. The venue represents a more underground take on nightlife and offers a variety of activities and entertainment for the artsy, new wave crowd. Tango nights, young fathers’ club, board games, acting classes, a co-working space and live jazz nights combine for a magical mix of unconventional yet fun ways of spending one’s evening. The club does not serve alcohol, but compensates the little failing with a great assortment of tea and cookies, a sense of community and a certain hint of edgy exclusiveness.

International Jazz Day, celebrated April 30, was marked with Ubuntu’s first live concert, where the band Funky Monkeys played a dozen good, old classical jazz arrangements. The performance started with covers of two songs by Batyrkhan Shukenov as a tribute to the priceless musical legacy of the famous artist, who died suddenly of a heart attack just two days earlier.

The band is composed solely of aspiring musicians who are students at the Kazakh National Arts Academy. Touched by jazz and inspired by their music teacher and mentor Karim Yengsep, Funky Monkeys offered the audience a little journey to the 1950-1960s with on-point renditions of Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” Percy Mayfield’s “Hit the Road Jack” and the famous Brazilian bossa nova song “The Girl from Ipanema.”

Classical pieces were followed by smooth covers on Sade’s songs and Latin jazz arrangements of more recent composers. The most surprising and engagingly-electrifying part of the concert was the virtuous improvisations. The band, consisting of a pianist, drummer, bassist, electric guitarist, acoustic guitarist, trumpeter, baritone and tenor saxophone players and two vocalists, offered a passionate performance and a range of soulful sound.

“We want to play music that touches people’s hearts, changes them, makes them discover new sensations and grow passionate about life and music. We feel a personal liberation and an artistic expression when we play jazz,” Azat Bekishev, the tenor saxophonist and band leader, told The Astana Times after the concert. “Most of us are classically trained; classical music genres are usually better financed and supported by the government, but we want to show that there are some good jazz musicians out there, too, and they deserve a notice.”

Bekishev added the band members were hoping to be able to give regular concerts featuring the music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and other great jazz musicians and even present their own original pieces in the near future.

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