Singer reveals she has received death threats over footage of her singing in a bra
Zere Asylbek, a 19-year-old singer living in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, has recently had to file a complaint with the authorities after receiving numerous death threats - all for a music video. In the video, she criticised the sexism faced by women in her country, and all around the world, but the focus for many of her critics was what she was wearing.
In recent years, her country has seen lawmakers consider bills to stop women travelling abroad alone and to prohibit them from wearing skirts at work, whereas many have protested their refusal to address widespread domestic violence, discrimination, and assault.
Zere's song, 'Kyz' (which means 'girl') approached the problem of gender discrimination in the country both in its lyrics and music video, drawing both enthusiastic support from fans and ire from conservatives, who believe that her choice of dress insults their national values.
Kyz is her first song, and has more than 330,000 views on YouTube as of writing. In the video, she can be seen dressed in a suit jacket and skirt with a bra underneath, accompanied by a woman wearing a hijab, a woman wearing a Kyrgzy-style headscarf and a woman with a partly shaved head, in an attempt to champion the country's diversity.
The lyrics were translated by Bermet Talant, a Kyrgyz journalist for eurasianet. Zere sings:
"I wish the time passed, I wish (a new) time came
When they wouldn’t preach to me how I should spend my life
When they wouldn’t tell me "Do like this," "Don’t do like that"
Why should I be like you want, or like the majority wants,
I am a person, and I have my freedom of speech.
Where is your respect for me?
I’ll respect you. You respect me.
You and I, together,
Hey, dear, join me,
We will create our freedom."
Asylbek told AFP that she had filed reports with police in the capital Bishkek, after receiving numerous threats of physical violence - including several death threats. One anonymous Facebook post promised to kill her if the video was not deleted, while another commented that they "would gladly join" them in doing so, and will "rip your head off."
Despite the awful side of the feedback, the central message of the video has inspired many in the country. Speaking to AFP last week, Asylbek explained that the message was to "respect the person you really are" while "respecting the choices, opinions and ways of life of others".
In an interview with Sheisnomad last month, she said:
“All of us are different. It is wrong to judge a book by its cover and put people in two camps: good or bad, black or white. People particularly like to judge girls by their dress and style.
“Almost all girls in our country are shamed on a daily basis. We constantly hear remarks and unsolicited advice. It is important not to drown in someone’s opinions and generally accepted standards, not to lose yourself.
"I wrote a song about what concerns me the most at the moment, and it is the freedom of women and people in general."
Zere – a student who also runs a YouTube channel with English lessons for kids - was also praised by her father in a Facebook post. “Some people ask me, ‘Is this crone your daughter? How can an educator like you have a daughter like her?’" he wrote. “Yes, Zere is my daughter: a freethinking daughter of free Kyrgyzstan.”
According to him, she had grown more politically conscious after an incident in May this year, in which a man killed a woman after attempting to abduct her for a forced marriage. Burulai Turdaaly kyzy, a 20-year-old Kyrgyz woman, was stabbed to death, while being held in a police station holding cell with the man who had kidnapped her.
The murder sparked protests across the country, with law enforcement accused of ignoring the ongoing problem of women being kidnapped for marriage. Hopefully, artists and activists like Zere can help bring about great change in the country.