Gulnara Karimova is the elder daughter of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov. A sometime diplomat, professor and businessperson, she received a master degree from Harvard and founded of several charities and NGOs related to Uzbekistan. Despite her achievements she is better known for her jet-set lifestyle and attempt at being a pop star and fashion designer. In 2009, she arranged for Sting to be paid $1 million to perform in Uzbekistan.

Owen Matthews wrote in Newsweek: “ Under the stage name GooGoosha, she was Uzbekistan’s most famous pop star, performing “Bésame Mucho” with Julio Iglesias. She signed Gerard Depardieu for a film she’d scripted. (It was never made.) She debuted a fashion line in New York in 2012. She designed jewelry for Chopard and perfumes—Victorious for men and Mysterieuse for women. [Source: Owen Matthews, Newsweek, June 26, 2014]

Miriam Elder wrote in The Guardian, “She has released two albums under the stage name Googoosha. Unlike the performers banned from playing live, Karimov's songs, often love ballads with lyrics based on her saccharine poems, are mainly sung in English. The "motherland" has not featured in her songs. Her latest video, How Dare, centres on a half-naked man writhing in a chair.” [Source: Miriam Elder, The Guardian, June 21, 2013]

In 2006, Karimova released her first music video singing a song called “Unutma Meni” (Don't Forget Me) under the stage name "Googoosha", apparently her father's nickname for her. According to commentators, the video was part of a campaign to promote her popularity in Uzbekistan. She also performed in a later music video, singing a duet of “Besame Mucho” with Julio Iglesias. In December 2012, Googoosha released a duet with French actor Gérard Depardieu. During his visit to Uzbekistan, the French actor agreed to star in an Uzbek film. Gulnara Karimova wrote a screenplay for "The Theft of the White Cocoon", a story about the origin of the famed Central Asian silk, and set in the 5th and 6th centuries. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Googoosha’s first single “Round Run” was released in April 2012 with various remixes by DJ White Shadow, Razor N Guido of USA and Max Fadeev of Russia. The remix from the album "has been on air in many radio stations and been played at more than 100 night clubs in the US", and reached 5th place in the US Billboard Breakouts for Hot Dance Club Play section. In June 2012 Karimova released her self-titled debut album in the US and other countries on iTunes. The album was also expected to be released in Asia, Russia and a number of other European countries.

Uzbekistan Bans Pop Acts for Failing to Praise the Motherland

In 2013, five pop acts in Uzbekistan were banned from performing live for failing to sing songs that "praise the motherland". Miriam Elder wrote in The Guardian, “The performers had their licenses revoked by the national culture agency, Uzbeknavo, because their songs were deemed "meaningless from musical and lyrical standpoints" and "lack artistic value", according to a statement carried by the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti. "Their songs do not conform to our nation's cultural traditions, they contradict our moral heritage and mentality," said the Uzbeknavo. "We should not forget about our duty to praise our motherland, our people and their happiness." [Source: Miriam Elder, The Guardian, June 21, 2013]

“The agency targeted the singers Dilfuza Rahimova, Otabek Mutalhojaev and Dilshod Rahmonov, as well as the groups Ummon and Mango, who all feature modernised Uzbek rhythms and a pop aesthetic. Seven other acts were issued a warning and were given until 1 July to "eliminate creative shortcomings".

A number of performers, including folk singer Sherali Juraev and comedian Obid Asomov, have also vanished from Uzbekistan state television amid reports that authorities have questioned their loyalty to the government. In 2011 Uzbek state television condemned rap and rock as "Satanic" and a source of evil. However, officials were later forced to back down and say rap was acceptable as long as singers picked patriotic themes.

Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan's president, had no trouble pursuing her own musical career despite the fact that the 'motherland' was not featured in her songs and, according to a 2005 U.S. diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks "she remains the single most hated person in the country".

Yulduz Usmonova, one of Uzbekistan’s most popular singers, was essentially banned from performing on government-run media in 2007 over alleged antigovernment remarks and wasn’t allowed to publically perform until 2012. Radio Free Europe reported: A popular Uzbek pop singer has reportedly received official permission to stage her first concert in her homeland since 2007...The 48-year-old singer disappeared from state television some five years ago following several interviews with Western media and amid rumors that she had fallen out of favor with Gulnara Karimova, the influential daughter of longstanding President Islam Karimov. She later lived part-time in Turkey, citing political persecution at home. [Source: Radio Free Europe, February 29, 2012

Sting in Uzbekistan

Sting performed a concert in Uzbekistan in 2009 as part of the annual Art Week Style.Uz project initiated in 2006 by Karimova. Earlier, he had participated in an Yangi Avlod-arranged festival. After his concert, several commentators accused him of hypocrisy for playing in that country and supporting Karimova. The singer justified his action in an October 2010 interview, saying that there is no cultural embargo on Uzbekistan and "... If this should happen, Uzbek community would become more paranoid, more aggressive towards us (i.e. Western people). Arts , journalism, enterprises, circulation of ideas – and I personally believe in the power of music – are all matters that do well/are helpful to totalitarian regimes. Regarding Karimova, she is much more sensitive to culture. So why not? Let’s keep the doors open."

Sting essentially agreed to headline Gulnara Karimova's alleged arts festival. Later Sting said: "I played in Uzbekistan a few months ago. The concert was organized by the president's daughter and I believe sponsored by Unicef.” Unicef said it was "quite surprised" by the claim. He added. “I supported wholeheartedly the cultural boycott of South Africa under the apartheid regime because it was a special case and specifically targeted the younger demographic of the ruling white middle class." [Source: Marina Hyde, The Guardian, February 22, 2010 ==]

Sting also said: "I am well aware of the Uzbek president's appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that. I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular...I seriously doubt whether the President of Uzbekistan cares in the slightest whether artists like myself come to play in his country, he is hermetically sealed in his own medieval, tyrannical mindset." ==

Outrage Over Sting Playing in Uzbekistan

Marina Hyde wrote in The Guardian: “Once again we must ponder the question "how much money is enough?", inspired by reports that Sting accepted between £1m and £2m to perform for the glory of the brutal despotic regime in Uzbekistan. The services of Sting - whose personal fortune is estimated well north of £150m - were engaged by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter and anointed heir of dictator Islam Karimov. To explore Islam Karimov's human rights record in full would take too long: suffice to say he is condemned approximately every 10 minutes by organisations from the UN to Amnesty, accused of such delights as boiling his enemies, slaughtering his poverty-stricken people when they protest, and conscripting armies of children for slave labour. Oh, and the Aral Sea on which his country sits - once the world's fourth biggest lake - has lost 80 percent of its volume, partly as a result of Karimov siphoning it off to intensively irrigate his remote desert cotton fields.” [Source: Marina Hyde, The Guardian, February 22, 2010 ==]

“Even if you accept Sting's live performances as "ideas and art", you can't really help but question this notion of "open commerce", considering the tickets for his concert cost more than 45 times the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan. 45 times! As for his distaste for the regime, the picture above shows Sting being repulsed by it all at a fashion show during the "cultural" week, which also seems to have served as a vehicle for promoting Gulnara Karimova's jewellery. ==

“You will note that Sting conspicuously declines to deflect the heat by stating that he donated all or indeed any of his monstrous fee to charity. And I could go on - but at this point it feels right to hand over to former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray. "This really is transparent bollocks," observes Murray on his blog. "He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?

Why does he think it was worth over a million quid to the regime to hear him warble a few notes? "I agree with him that cultural isolation does not help. I am often asked about the morality of going to Uzbekistan, and I always answer - go, mix with ordinary people, tell them about other ways of life, avoid state owned establishments and official tours. What Sting did was the opposite. To invoke Unicef as a cover, sat next to a woman who has made hundreds of millions from state forced child labour in the cotton fields, is pretty sick."

Tashkent Iosis Rock Festival

Tashkent hosts the Iosis Rock Festival. On its experience performing there, the Afghanistan-based, British group White City posted: “May 19, 2011White City  Tour Ru: wow. WOW. WOOOOW. Rarely at a gig have I felt so at home. My voice may have been shot, I may have been half-dead from the constant touring and I may have been sweating more than an overweight kid in a sweetshop supermarket dash, but with the help of the hundred rocking kids, White City found that last bit of energy to make a show to end the tour properly. There were stage-dives and fights, there was clambering on the speakers and a sea of hands making the devil’s rock sign. We were playing with a bunch of other rock and metal bands as part of the Iosis one-day rockfest. Our stagemates were very impressive, from the growls of local band Termin Vox to the pop rock of visiting Kazakh band, Deepresssonic. Thanks also to Deema from Formalgayt, who organised the night and our Tashkent recording session (but more of that later… :)) We’ll miss you Tashkent. Wait for us!”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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