Of all the performers in the upper echelon of Uyghur pop music, Möminjan is perhaps the most widely traveled independent artist. Möminjan and his brother, the famous composer Ablet Ablikim, grew up in the shadow of their famous uncle Abdulla, the King of Uyghur pop. He and his brother have been following in their uncle’s footsteps for more than a decade; they even recorded a song together called “We Brothers” (Qerindash Biz), which sounds a bit like a Uyghur version of the Everly Brothers.
As a history student at Xinjiang University, Möminjan developed interests outside the family business. In the mid-2000s he went through the long, arduous process of obtaining a passport without an Ürümchi hukou and went to Malaysia to study English.
After he came back he recorded a song called “I’ll be Home Soon, Mom.” In it, Möminjan explains how life apart from family puts an almost unbearable strain on family relations. Using a novel form of theatrical performance, Möminjan performs the way dreams can be punctured by alienation and loneliness. In perhaps one of the most tightly drawn portrayals of child-parent relations in Uyghur pop culture, Möminjan shows how aspiration can sometimes lead to bereavement. On stage, a performer’s mom dies while he’s abroad, but he only learns about her death after returning home.
It is in the context of this drama that we see Möminjan singing unabashedly of his deep love for his parents:
I’ll be home soon, Mom.
When I say “mom” there is a longing (fire – piraq) in my heart,
But I am helpless because we are so far apart.
When you say “my son” there is a longing in your heart,
Even though days are long, I will return soon mom,
I really don’t want to leave you.
I want to turn my dreams over your head.
Prayers fall with your tears,
I will return home soon, mom.
I will return home soon, dad.
I will return home soon, mom.
I am unable to alleviate your pain,
All I wish is to see you once more.
And I often deceive myself by saying…
Möminjan brings together two major themes in Uyghur pop culture in this song: the relationship between parents and children and the desire to go elsewhere. The first of these themes – filial piety – is a common refrain in pop music. Almost every singer has a couple of songs, if not more, devoted to this theme. But the second theme – going abroad – is not as frequently celebrated.
In repositioning the ideal love of parents in a globalized world, Mominjan is drawing our attention to the roots and routes of a Uyghur moral system. By directing one’s longing toward parents while in a foreign land, Möminjan is making the claim that parents should be thought of as the most important object of affection both for himself, as a son, and by extension, the many other Uyghurs who increasingly find themselves living the life of a migrant either in Ürümchi, the cities of Eastern China, or a foreign country.
Due to various political, economic reasons many young Uyghurs are obsessed with going elsewhere; many dream of places where the even the trash on the streets is made of gold. A Uyghur acquaintance of mine told me recently that he would rather drive a taxi or do manual work than take up a relatively prestigious job in Xinjiang. For many people, going abroad, especially to North America or Europe, is already a mark of a huge personal success. Those who successfully become naturalized citizens of Western countries will receive a hero’s welcome upon returning to their homeland. Möminjan portrays the way these successes are mixed with the failure by directing young Uyghurs to consider the realities of a life abroad and treasure what is most important: their families.
But despite this earnest portrayal of loneliness and loss away from home. Möminjan is still situating himself as a purveyor of tools for travel. As the money and figurehead behind the English training center Saba, and his widely successful collaborations with famous artists in Kazakhistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey, Möminjan still provides an important model of international success.
Beige Wind runs the website The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, which attempts to recognize and create dialogue around the ways minority people create a durable existence, and, in turn, how these voices from the margins implicate all of us in simultaneously distinctive and connected ways.