ASTANA – With music festival season at its peak, it is the perfect time to present Kazakhstan’s top artists. From Q-pop (Qazaq-pop) and R&B to Kazakh rap, soul, indie music and DJs, music lovers all over the world can find their favorite contemporary Kazakh artists for any occasion.
When the world proclaimed Dimash Kudaibergen a “seven-octave man”, they were not exaggerating. Performing the cover of “S.O.S. d’un terrien en détresse” at the I Am Singer contest for established professional singers in 2017 in Beijing, Dimash stunned the audience and the judges with his incredible range that earned him worldwide acclaim.
At the time, Dimash could not have imagined that his music and voice would take him across the world filling stadiums in London, New York, Moscow, Kuala Lumpur, Antalya, Yerevan and many other cities.
To confine Dimash simply to one music genre would be to miss his enormous artistic range and vocal span, as well as the cultural and social impact he continues to have around the world.
From enormous show production and intense emotional presence to virtuoso dombra play and, of course, that peerless vocal talent, there is rarely another artist who could match Dimash’s stadium-filling performance.
His enormous fan base called Dears follows him around the globe attending multiple concerts and fan-organized events, inspired by his exceptional voice and cheerful character.
Ninety One is considered Kazakhstan’s biggest Q-pop phenomenon, selling out stadiums around the country and dominating the local charts while building a legion of fans, known as EagleZ.
This boisterous four-piece debuted in 2015, gathering serious hype for their bold appearance, which does not fit any convention, and unapologetic and uncompromising themes in their music.
The band’s name represents the year Kazakhstan gained independence – 1991.
Ninety One first conquered the Kazakh charts with “Aiyptama” (Don’t blame me) and “Kaitadan” (Again) songs from their first mini-album released in 2015.
Mixing styles, combining singing, rapping and dancing, the band refuses to fit into any conventional category. Artists talk about issues that young people can relate to, such as love, friendship, being authentic and true to oneself.
Their song “Bari biled” (Everybody knows) sparked conversations on environmental issues and the protection of nature.
Pop is combined with romance in their most recent Gap album released on July 7. It contains sweet motifs in songs like “Ottegi” (Oxygen) and “Aperem ai” (I’ll give you) that describe the delight of someone adoring you.
Imanbek, Kazakhstan’s star DJ, has made history as the first Kazakh artist to win a Grammy Award in the Best Remixed Recording category for his remix of Saint Jhn’s 2016 song “Roses.”
American rapper Saint Jhn released his song in 2016, though it found wider success when the remixed version by Imanbek was released three years later in 2019.
After going viral on TikTok, the single “Roses” landed the No. 1 spot on the top of the United Kingdom, Australia and Netherlands songs charts and on Shazam. This song transformed Imanbek into a global star with consecutive works with Cher Lloyd, David Guetta, Afrojack, Don Diablo, Zara Larsson and Rita Ora, among other stars.
Before he became one of Kazakhstan’s most pronounced DJs, Imanbek was working at a railroad station, making remixes in his spare time.
Fusing deep house, hip-hop and minimal techno, Imanbek creates true club beats with shades of pop songs.
Wear headphones to hear his newest track “Atomsound,” which features recorded sounds of a nuclear reactor turned into a unique mix.
There are not many singer-songwriters who could silence a stadium with a ukulele and vocal, but Galymzhan Moldanazar is not just any singer. He is an indie artist who has his own unique style of performance. With the delicate lyrics in his songs, audiences are invited to listen closely, creating a rarely experienced serene atmosphere.
There’s a chilly melancholia atmosphere built into the songs like “Alystama” (Don’t go away) and “Makhabbatym” (My love) with home-recorded acoustics, sounds of ukulele and back choir singers.
Moldanazar also has songs devoted to the dancefloor. Tracks like “Akpen birge” (With white), “Ozin gana” (Only you) and “Kosh bol” (Goodbye) give the 80s electronic music themes mixed with disco. They stand out in the context of the Kazakh language.
Whether he is performing a straight punk dance show or slow jams, Moldanazar delivers each song with total sincerity and emotion, synchronizing with the energy of the audience.
Listening to Miras Zhugunusov is much like taking a joyous, lovely walk with one’s sweetheart. There is this raw beauty to a lot of his songs.
Zhugunusov started out very young as part of the Zhygunusov Brothers trio along with his brothers Rustem and Muhammed-Ali. Each of them, separately, was a finalist and participant in multiple international music contests.
The singer’s solo career began in 2019. He first broke into the Kazakh charts with the track “Andetemin” (I am singing), when he released the mini-album of six songs that carry the same name.
As a solo performer, Zhugunusov has grown into his own mellow style bringing out vulnerability and emotion with a subtle rasp in his voice. He excels in romantic wordplay as he sings about love, compassion, loneliness and perseverance.
Love songs such as “Zymyran” (Rocket), “Sen turaly” (About you) and “Senimen” (With you) are deeply relatable, and they became unconditional love anthems. His “Kesh” (Forgive) is a soulful accompaniment to a heartache.
With a playful hat, emotive lyricism and nuanced soulful voice, Marhaba Sabi is among a few soul artists whose oeuvre is well-suited to both festivals and intimate occasions.
For Sabi, who delved into music at an early age, singing is second nature. As a young vocalist, she took part in the Kazakhstan Dauysy (The Kazakh Voice) contest and in the 2014 Slavic Bazaar competition, Sabi and Israeli Diana Golby tied for third place.
Sabi’s music is marked out by its soft power. Many music lovers gravitate towards her soothing and soulful sounds in songs like “Qoi, kursinbe” (Quit sighing) and “Qazaqsha” (In Kazakh).
In 2019, she had a breakthrough with “Unaidy magan” (I like), a track with her classy, featherlight and uplifting style of soul music.
There are some great pop songs emerging from Sabi as well, like her most recent single “Tym bólek” (Too different).
Kazakh hip-hop and rap has been in the shadows for too long. Yenlik is among a fresh wave of writers and performers who are bringing their hidden talents to light at the center of Kazakhstan’s emerging hip-hop and R&B scene.
In the wake of her career as an English teacher at her hometown school, Yenlik decided to channel her energy into something more inspiring to her, so she quit her job and focused on music full-time.
Success came with her “Dop” (Ball) track released in 2021. Taking cues from dance-pop and R&B, the song is a joyous piece reminiscent of the wholesome days of childhood.
Her sound matured with more sophisticated pieces like “Bir kem dunie” (Imperfect world) and “Bipl.”
Yenlik revealed her tender and soulful side in her cover of “Men dep oila” (Think of me), a famous 80s piece originally sung by Aizhan Nurmagambetova.