Music festival fills dying sea with an ‘ocean of sounds’

Revelers attend the Stihia electronic music festival in the town of Muynak on Sept 14, 2018. Source: AFP PHOTO/Stanislav KHODJAEV

“LET’S fill the Aral Sea with an ocean of sounds. If we cannot fill it with water right now, let’s start with the sounds,” implored Stihia organizer Otabek Suleimanov.

Stihia, which means “element” in Russian, was the first electronic music festival held in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan. From Sept 14, 2018 (Friday) right into the early hours of Sept 15, 2018 (Saturday), revelers cheered as they danced along to driving beats and strobe lights.

But this was not an ordinary electronic music festival.

Staged in an area of desert dotted with rusting boats of the dried-out Aral Sea, Stihia was a festival with a mission.

The festival, which was approved by the protocol of Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan, aims to “raise global awareness about the desiccation of the Aral Sea and encourage both its revitalization and a more responsible and rational approach to using water in the region.”

For the uninitiated, the Aral Sea, which lies between Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south, was one of the four largest lakes in the world.

The 67,339 square kilometers sea used to supply tens of thousands of tons of fish every year until human activity destroyed it.

Today it is known as one of the world’s largest man-made environmental catastrophes.

Aral Sea After

Source: NASA.

The venue for Stihia is Muynak, once a fishing town on the shores of the sea, now a dust-swept patch in the Central Asian country.

At the heavily-policed festival, a mock-up lighthouse loomed over revelers as a reminder of the receding sea, close to where a real lighthouse once stood.

According to AFP, citing Stihia’s organizer, the event drew DJs from across the former Soviet Union and Europe as well as 60 foreign tourists and around 7,000 locals.

“I wanted to witness the concert and the light show,” AFP quoted 25-year-old Muynak state hospital nurse Guldona Turakulova as saying.

“This is the first time I have seen anything like this. I really want my Muynak to become a place that attracts (people) again.”

Having recently opened up to international tourism, Uzbekistan’s government endorsed the music festival hoping it will help attract tourism to the economically depressed region.

Under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan has lifted or relaxed visa restrictions for citizens of dozens of countries as it looks to diversify away from exports of water-intensive crops such as cotton that played a key role in the Aral Sea’s downfall.

Stihia organizer Suleimanov told AFP he was hopeful of holding Stihia again next year despite logistical challenges.

“This was just a pilot. We hope more and more people will come next time,” he said.