HIROSHIMA – One of Kazakhstan’s leading singers hopes the power of music will help Japan’s antinuclear movement spread, just as her signature song became the symbol of a movement that forced the shutdown of a former Soviet nuclear test site in 1991.
“Songs have the power to raise people’s spirits and to unite them,” Roza Rymbayeva, 54, said during a recent trip to Hiroshima.
Rymbayeva, officially designated as Kazakhstan’s national artist in 1979, said the power and melancholy of her antinuclear song “Zaman-ai” (“Oh Such Times”) sends a message about “protecting nature, children, our country and our future.”
Part of the song describes the radioactive contamination of her homeland: “Devastating our forefathers’ land, Polluting this rich and teeming terrain, Must we suffer forever for these crimes?”
Rymbayeva performed “Zaman-ai” in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in late July as part of an event to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the city’s atomic bombing.
In an interview, Rymbayeva said she hopes to “share these messages with Japan as it has gone through similar pain,” referring to the August 1945 A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
She also urged Japanese activists to compose their own protest song to serve as an antinuclear rallying cry, just like “Zaman-ai” did.
The Soviet Union secretly conducted more than 450 nuclear tests over four decades from 1949 at its primary test site near Rymbayeva’s hometown of Semipalatinsk, now known as Semey, in northeastern Kazakhstan.
The singer says more than 1 million Kazakhs have been afflicted with various illnesses and disorders thought to have been caused by radiation exposure, including many of her relatives.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who shut down the Semipalatinsk test site in 1991, estimates that more than 1.5 million people have developed health problems as a result of radioactive contamination.
Rymbayeva was only a schoolgirl when the Soviets were testing their nuclear weapons at the Semipalatinsk facility.
“Nobody had any idea what was really happening” at the test site, she said. “So I was astonished to find out (later) that there was a closed facility where the military conducted nuclear tests.”
Inspired by Kazakh politician and poet Olzhas Suleimenov, she asked a composer to write an antinuclear song for her in the late 1980s, resulting in “Zaman-ai.” She sang it at numerous antinuclear rallies before the site was finally closed.
Rymbayeva said she is concerned about the possible health effects on Japanese, especially children, from radioactive materials emitted during the Fukushima nuclear crisis, considering what she witnessed in her hometown.
“Each person should take the issue more seriously” to expand antinuclear protests to a level that will influence the Japanese government, she said, referring to recent demonstrations.
Noting that the tests at the Semipalatinsk site were concealed from the public, she said, “I will sing the song with the hope that the Japanese government will disclose information to allay concerns among residents.”