Curated and run by musicians and DJs, Qaravanistan is a media platform celebrating talent from Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Using music as a single starting point, Qaravanistan allows DJs to tell intimate stories of self-exploration, vulnerability and belonging, providing a small mirror on the societies and countries from which they come. Launched earlier this year, Qaravanistan already spotlighted eight queer musicians from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Initially planned as a Silk Road-themed party in Moscow, Qaravanistan moved online when COVID-19 restrictions hit. “We see the Silk Road as a concept connecting East and West, allowing for cultural exchanges between countries that seemingly have nothing in common,” says Qaravanistan’s co-founder Liza Androshina. Their featured DJs include a journalist promoting parties as a safer space for female DJs in Kyrgyzstan, a producer standing for diversity in Azerbaijan, and a street dance ambassador and TikTok influencer from Kazakhstan.
As a pop-up project, Qaravanistan will be updated weekly throughout 2022, before culminating in an offline gig — pandemic permitting. In the meantime, the Qaravanistan team has shared some of their favourite mixtapes with The Calvert Journal: taking you on a journey down the Silk Road with meditative instrumental intros, hyper grove interventions, and local pop bangers.
Born to an Iranian-Armenian family in the United States, non-binary activist and DJ Haramik first moved to Yerevan to advocate for human rights and diversity. Their queer parties, Princess Diaries, are designed to fight anti-LGBTQ+ stigma in a country where queerness is still taboo. Haramik grew up with the sounds of Cher and Iranian singer Googoosh, and started playing piano as a teenager. It was only when Haramik moved to Armenia that they finally embraced techno, growing to love the genre’s pulsating loopy, trippy vibes.
An activist, sound designer, DJ, and mother, Acell is at the forefront of independent community bULt — hosting spoken-word events, techno parties, and film screenings. Her musical preferences vary from contemporary classical, and experimental music, to Kazakh folk songs, and Georgian techno. She believes that “a special kind of transmission and communication takes place on the dance floor”, and that the nomadic lifestyle of her ancestors still defines her as an artist today.
Before moving into music, Aidai reported on the ground during Kyrgyzstan’s Flower Revolutions. As a founder of party night Sinergy, she seeks to provide a safer space for female DJs in Bishkek. Her impulsive mixtape reflects the artist’s fears, anger, and lust for change, and is meant to help the listener “deal with the personal furies on a long trip somewhere far,” says the DJ. Although Aidai still feels some disapproval from her family over her queer identity, she also says there’s been a huge move forward towards embracing diversity in Kyrgyzstan in recent years.
Mutali is best known as Almaty’s queer TikTok creator and the founder of GROOVCHIK, a party night drawing heavily on the local street dance culture, and voguing. According to Mutali, Kazakhstan’s queer community is one of the most close-knit and prolific in the region. Mutali’s mixtape is playful and fast-flowing, revealing the artist’s fascination with pop music as a genre that unites us all.
Omi grew up in close connection to the Krishnaite community in Kyiv, an experience that nurtured her vision of collective singing and dancing as a way of safe self-expression. She later studied percussion and vocals in India, but was ultimately expelled from school and moved to live with her mother in Kazakhstan. Rave culture became her escape from reality in this new country, helping her transition to life as a trans woman with aid from support groups and NGOs. Omi’s mix is contemplative and melodic, including remastered mantras that Omi used to listen to in India, and tracks by Kazakh DJs and producers Kostya Timoshenko and Roma Bazhanov — her long-term friends and mentors.