Pop Culture: Incongruously Played Songs

A year or two ago, I spent the summer trying in vain to be linguistically immersed in one language in Almaty, a large multi-lingual city full of speakers of Russian, English, Kazakh, Uzbek, and Uighur. As I filled out Kazakh worksheets late at night, male voices rumbled in the garden below. Someone in a lower apartment turned on their mp3 player and opened the window.

 

“This is my fate… oh-oh-oh-oh… I’m yours… don’t hesitate…” I catch Jason Mraz singing deep into the Kazakh night.

I decided to add this to an ongoing list of other American songs playing at surprising times on the airwaves in Central Asia:

 

ra-ra-rasputin, russia’s greatest love machine…

At a wedding, and again during a tour of holy Muslim sites in Sairan, southern Kazakhstan:

 

by the rivers of babylon, I lay me down… In a taxi swerving down the streets of Almaty. See also, the beautiful movie about Kazakhstan, Tulpan:

 

lo-lo-love you like a love song baby… At every fricking shopping mall in Astana, circa 2012. My local friend hates it because it has no ‘deep meaning’; I may have played it on repeat just because it’s bouncy:

 

and I think to myself, what a wonderful world, yes I think to myself… Late night out the window, after discussing the Soviet famine in Kazahkstan, with my host mother’s brother’s uncle:

 

I’m so two thousand eight, you so two thousand late… Walking around central Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and stepping around a bouncy-castle in the street near the theatre. It was 2009, so a timely message:

 

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