Tashkent-based singer Laylo Rikhsieva (Laylo) January 22 released a song and music video titled “Home” dedicated to environmental problems “happening in my hometown as a result of the destructive, all-consuming character of human nature.”

The video includes subtitles in Uzbek, Russian, English, and Karakalpak.

Within a day, the music video got over 11,000 views on YouTube, was repeatedly shared and received positive reviews across various social media platforms.

The music video references the Aral Sea tragedy, the Sardoba reservoir disaster, mass tree felling, construction sites and air pollution. As a consequence, people “can't breathe.”

Gazeta.uz interviewed Laylo Rikhsiyeva, discussing the song’s creation, the message in the video and her connection to Yunus Rajabi, a composer and People’s Artist of Uzbekistan.

— Can you share a bit about yourself?

— I'm a 24-year-old from Tashkent, with an academic background in marketing. Though I started my education at Westminster University in Tashkent, I made the decision to drop out in my fourth year, recognizing that my true passion lies in music. Currently, I’m a freelance artist.

aral sea, home, laylo, laylo rikhsiyeva, sardoba, interview

— How did your music career begin?

— It all started during the quarantine, when we were confined within four walls. It was probably the only thing in my life I could occupy myself with. You know, when a hobby turned into something more, nothing made me happier than making music. At some point, I decided that I needed to be bold and stop trying to pursue two things at a time.

I don’t have a musical background. I learn to play all the instruments by interacting with them.

— Is “Home” the first song you’ve chosen to share with the public?

— It's actually not my first song. I’ve had numerous releases since 2020. In May, an incident occurred as I terminated a collaboration with a producer I was working with at that time. We shared the rights to the songs, which I can’t currently use as I ended the collaboration.

I’ve been operating independently solo since May. “Home” is my first track entirely created by me, including the video and lyrics. I crafted it using the CapCut program on my old laptop sitting in my kitchen. It’s such a Hollywood story (laughs).

— How did you come up with the idea for the song?

— In general, over the last year I have reevaluated my feelings towards my homeland and Uzbekistan in general. I saw the richness of our culture and the beauty of my family, and I felt a healthy sense of patriotism.

I’m generally someone who is sensitive to the air quality, and around October, I began noticing unsettling changes. Trees were being cut down, buildings demolished, and new structures erected in their place. It genuinely felt painful to me. In October, I poured my feelings into the song. Until January, I didn’t want to release it, thinking it wasn’t ready.

I later realized those emotions were there for a reason. There were our national instruments. I reached out to my uncles, recognized folk artists in Uzbekistan.

Rikhsiy Rajabi.Rikhsiy Rajabi.

I am the great-granddaughter of Rikhsiy Rajabi, a brother of Yunus Rajabi (People's Artist of Uzbekistan, composer, mentor of many maqomists, collector of Uzbek musical heritage. A metro station and a street in Tashkent are named after him — ed.).

It turned out the entire dynasty of Yunus Rajabi ventured into music. From the younger generation of Rikhsiy Rajabi’s dynasty, it’s only me. So, for me, this song also became a bridge, a connection to my family as my relatives helped to record it.

On January 16, I felt the urge to release the song due to the critical air quality in the country. I spent four days in my kitchen, making the video and manually selecting materials, editing everything, filming in my basement at home. And that’s how it all came together.

— How did you create the lyrics?

— The lyrics were written in a single day, though it took me a while to do it. I had instrumental music, because I connect more with music than words. But then I watched a movie, a Turkish one, I think, featuring a scene where an elderly man stands in a cemetery talking to his late wife. He tells her about the ongoing events in their town, noting, “They took everything from me — you, my favorite workshop studio, and all I have left is this land and the sky. They’re already taking the land apart piece by piece. And if they could, they’d sell the sky too.”

That sentence made me exclaim, “Oh, no!” and I went to write the lyrics (laughs). In about 20 minutes, I recorded that song.

aral sea, home, laylo, laylo rikhsiyeva, sardoba, interview

— What music genre do you associate your work with?

— I'm not sure if there is a specific genre for it. I don’t really understand it as I’m a music lover. It doesn’t mean that I’ll write all my songs in that style. If I feel like writing jazz, I’ll write jazz because it would reflect my feelings at that moment.

I don’t categorize into genres, but this particular song could be referred to as “cinematic pop” as it gives off a movie-like vibe.

— At the very beginning of the video, women’s voices are heard in Karakalpak language. “Biz qayerga boramiz? Biz hech qayerga bora olmaymiz. Shu yerda qolamiz” (“Where should we go? We have nowhere to go. We will stay here”). Where did this passage come from?

— I extensively researched materials concerning all the environmental issues that Uzbekistan has faced. To be honest, I didn’t use even half of the materials I came across, and I might share them in some way.

Specifically, these fragments of the Karakalpak people speaking are from a BBC program about the Aral Sea. I was watching it just for inspiration, but when I heard this particular phrase, I thought, “I need it,” and I included that line.

The second moment, where the man says, “Astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah” (“May Allah forgive me!”) is a phrase uttered during a warehouse explosion (in the Sergeli district of Tashkent).

The third moment, where the woman speaks about the approaching water, pertains to the Sardoba disaster. The fourth moment, where the woman mentions having no people or cars left, refers to a tornado in Nukus that tore off roofs.

A different work of the singer.

— Was this in 2018 during the dust storm?

— Yes, it was during the dust storm with tornadoes that were tearing off roofs here. The moment is depicted on the TV inside the video as the roof is lifted off the building.

— You have a series of shots in the video where you are shown against the backdrop of the lyrics from the song, “Can't breathe, need fresh air. They don’t really care, their daughters will be breathing in a foreign place.” Are these random photos or are we talking about specific individuals here?

— No, no, these are all sourced from Pinterest. Honestly, I’m not deeply involved in politics, I don’t follow the lives of politicians and their families. It’s more of a reference to businessmen engaged in real estate development. And why do they need so much money, while they have enough for all the benefits… That’s the way I see it.

aral sea, home, laylo, laylo rikhsiyeva, sardoba, interview

— How did you choose the shots and references, like the price tags on the rivers?

— It's symbolism in fact. I don’t like to express myself directly. I prefer people to think and interpret in their own way.

For me, this scene symbolizes the decisions made by the Soviet Union authorities that led to uneven utilization of our country’s water resources. There’s already a water shortage in our region because the flow of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers was altered, causing water to no longer reach the Aral Sea, resulting in its drying up.

This particular mistake cost the health and livelihood of an entire nation. In fact, I am very hurt… (The people in Karakalpakstan) did not deserve the situation they currently find themselves in.

— In another scene, your tears fill the dried up Aral Sea. It seems people’s tears can’t bring back the Aral Sea.

— It's a happy ending. Yes, I like to tell the truth., but sometimes you wish to dream that things will improve eventually. I’m that kind of person. I want to believe in better things.

aral sea, home, laylo, laylo rikhsiyeva, sardoba, interview

— At the beginning of the song, when it is mentioned that Tashkent leads the world in air pollution, the narrator says, “I guess all that we can do now is pray.” Is that the only possible way forward now?

— Of course not. There are ways to address this situation. I’m amazed by the resonance this song has provoked, not in the sense that “I'm a star now.” No, I remain completely grounded. It’s like all the attention isn’t directed at me, it’s focused on the problem.

I really appreciate the way the public is responding now. Following the song release I started seeing lots of publications on the topic of ecology in my feed. Everybody started to engage with this issue. That makes me so happy. Perhaps I triggered something in people’s hearts, which released all this outrage.

We’ve witnessed several times that when people start to collectively express their frustration, something changes.

As for the phrase “I guess all that we can do now is pray,” it doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t originate from a speaker. It’s my own text, to be honest. It represents more of a dystopian glimpse into the future that I wouldn’t want to witness.

aral sea, home, laylo, laylo rikhsiyeva, sardoba, interview

— Can this piece be regarded as a statement, a manifesto, or are you just sharing your pain?

— As my mother says, in the Soviet Union, people like me were called individuals with an active civil stance. I mean, I don’t know why, but at the moment when I was creating all this, I just wanted to do it and share it. I didn’t have the idea that someone would be coming for me. In fact, I wasn’t insulting anyone, I was simply portraying things as they are.

I hope there’s more of that in the work of our artists — to convey to the people what comes from us, the values torn from our hearts.

The singer currently has only one song on her YouTube channel, with most of them being shared on her Instagram.

Interview by Shukhrat Latipov.

In the summer, rapper Konsta (Sharif Abdullayev) released a song titled Havo (“Air”), addressing environmental issues in Tashkent. The lyrics shed light on the dusty air in the capital city, describing it as making it impossible to “take a deep breath.” The song reflects the city having become “like a cage” and that “white has become grey.”