Kol-Fest: Pioneer in the Kyrgyz festival landscape

AKIPRESS.COM – Local sustainable development through a world event of arts and music – this is the principle of the Kyrgyz music festival Kol-Fest. Ahead of the festival’s third edition, one of its founders, Chingiz Batyrbekov, talks about how it can be successful and how Kol-Fest is changing the music scene in Central Asia.

Three days full of music of various genres on three stages between art galleries and yurt camps overlooking Lake Issyk-Kul. From July 15 to 17, the Kol Festival invites musicians, artists and visitors from all over the world to this experience.

After being established in 2019 as Kyrgyzstan’s first music festival and having to cancel in 2020 due to a pandemic, the festival’s future was unclear last year. But founder and chairman Chingiz Batyrbekov, who is actually a political scientist and professor of human rights at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek and a former United Nations employee, was willing to take the risk and plan an event. important in times of pandemic. And the largely voluntary effort paid off. Exceeding all expectations, around 1000 guests attended the Kol Festival. In an interview with Novastan, Chingiz talks about the background of this success, how a music festival, sustainability as well as socio-economic development are linked and what he wishes for the future of Kol-Fest.

– How was born the idea to organize for the first time a music festival in Kyrgyzstan?

In 2018, the World Nomad Games were held in Kyrgyzstan for the third time and the interest from the tourism industry was immense. Kyrgyzstan has become an interesting country with an interesting culture, still unknown to mass tourism. Some acquaintances from Germany, who had also visited the nomadic games, asked if there were any music festivals. At the time, there were none, but the Nomad Games showed that international events were possible, that the interest was there, and that tourists were coming to the country. Around the same time, the arts and music scene grew more and more in Bishkek and throughout the region. In Uzbekistan, the Stihia (electronic music festival at the bottom of the dry Aral Sea, editor’s note) was already taking place. Several festivals were already taking place in Kazakhstan.

Something was moving and it was the right time to organize a music festival. So my friend David, who is a German diplomat but also a DJ from Berlin in his spare time, and I went there. We were able to recruit three other Germans for our project. At that time it was all just a loose association of friends – some from the music industry, some from development cooperation. We were united by our values. Humanitarian development, the advancement of Kyrgyzstan in the world is important to all of us. And finally, the 2019 festival was a great success: we received positive feedback from the vast majority. We knew we had to keep going.

– The first Kol Festival was on the theme Diversity and Interaction, last year it was Recovery. What does it look like this year?

This year our motto is Crossroads, which has many meanings. On the one hand, this reflects our principle of intercultural encounter, and on the other hand, we are at a crossroads in the face of the world political situation. And the Kol-Fest itself is also at a crossroads this year. This year we want to improve the organization of the infrastructure and decide on the direction the festival should take in terms of audience and music. Our multi-genre concept makes it possible to hear different genres in one place, but maybe it would be better to bring together people who are totally passionate about music. So we are faced with many questions on how to move forward.

– From your point of view, what makes the Kol-Fest unique?

Our goal is to create a community-oriented setting where people from different cultures are connected by their common values ​​and interests. It’s about allowing the experience of spending several days together, listening to music from around the world of different genres. We want to bring together in a 50/50 ratio people from Central Asia and people from other parts of the world. We understood that the representation of Central Asia is very important. Unfortunately, we could not organize the participation of Turkmen musicians, even if the contacts are indeed there, but at least four States out of five are represented. All this makes our festival unique in any case.

– With the Kol Festival and associated tourism, you want to strengthen the sustainable development of the region. How do you estimate your impact? Are you in contact with the tourist industry and the population? What do they think of the Kol Festival?

We have set up a forum this year with representatives from the tourism industry and other relevant stakeholders to specifically discuss the role of Kol Festival. Now that we are hosting the festival for the third time, we can better assess how it is perceived by the population.

We also received suggestions to hold the festival in a remote location. But it is important for us that the inhabitants of the villages are part of the Kol Festival, understand the values ​​and see what it brings to them. This year we are also organizing a concert for the locals, on the one hand to say thank you and on the other hand to show that electronic music can be beautiful and that they don’t have to worry. Tourist associations, on the other hand, understand of course the influence of the Kol Festival. Even though the festival itself only lasts three days, many keep coming back. Even the inhabitants of Bishkek are amazed at the beauty of the southern bank of the Issyk-Kul. So, through the forum, we want to see what our interests and those of the tourism industry are, where our common goals lie. The results of this will also point the way for the future of Kol-Fest.

– What has been the impact of Kol-Fest on the Central Asian music scene so far?

When we started in 2019, there was not a single music festival of such scale in the country. And this summer, there are at least four major music events taking place in Kyrgyzstan, and that’s not including the multitude of smaller events. Of course, I cannot say that Kol Festival is responsible for this. But we see how our DJs are increasingly organizing their own projects, networking with other musicians. So Kol-Fest became a kind of platform.

And regional networking within Central Asia has also increased. We are cooperating with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan this year, including Stihia Festival, which is a big feature for us. We visited them, they visit us, we share the same challenges and we both have good approaches to solving them. We also invited guests from the music and art industry from different countries to share their experiences with our musicians and artists. We have also created a forum for this purpose.

Central Asian musicians and artists can learn here how they can perform at international festivals, which platforms they can use, in other words, how they can fit into the international art industry. and music. The Kol Festival wants to help make the Central Asian music scene known worldwide. In the early 2000s, there was a big movement of festivals from Western Europe to the East, so maybe it’s our turn next (laughs).

– What is your vision of the future of the Kol Festival?

First of all, our goal is to make Kol-Fest economically sustainable and independent from donor organizations. For example, this year we received great support from the Swiss development agency, but this is not sustainable in the long term. As well as funding the festival itself, we aim to run a year-round office with a few permanent staff. So we wouldn’t have to take a six-month break between events, we could keep in touch with the musicians and plan bigger projects. To achieve this, I see a great opportunity in cooperation with our Central Asian partners. If we establish ourselves as a Central Asian Union, we could more easily take advantage of funding opportunities. Such a platform would give our musicians greater freedom outside of the current limited framework. Only as a pop musician can you currently make a living from music. Otherwise, a musical career is difficult, for most it is more of a passion. Overall, we want to grow, but in small steps. We don’t just want to grow in number, but in quality. The core community, our value base and our claim to sustainability must remain.

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