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The Wonderful Kingdom of Papa Alaev

Does music liberate or confine this family? Papa Alaev has the majestic voice of thunder and the overbearing hand of a despot, which he uses to chastise and control his family of musicians - Israeli doc looks at folk music and orthodox social norms

Fittingly marketed as “Tajikistan’s answer to the Jackson family”, The Wonderful Kingdom of Papa Alaev will take you into the heart of a celebrated folk music clan from Tajikistan that migrated to Israel, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The octogenarian Allo Papa Alaev rules his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with the iron fist of a tyrant, but when they get together on stage their differences seem to disappear, where they simply exhude musical joy. In fact, the family feuds seem to be a catalyst for their stamina.

All of Papa Alaev’s offspring except for his daughter Ada live in a single-family house in Tel Aviv. Papa Alaev resents his defecting child, whom he views as a sinner. He is profoundly misogynous and racist, and most of his family seems to reflect or at least tolerate his old-fashioned values, oppressive demeanour, unpredictable tantrums and antics. Marriage is to happen only within the Buhkarin ethnic group, and women will always remain secondary. A female sums it up succintly: “I’m very proud to be my father’s daughter despite him not being so proud of me”. Such orthodox values are sure to make liberal Westerners cringe.

But Papa Alaev is also certain to get you moving. You will catch yourself gently tapping your feet and swinging your hips on your sofa or seat. And you will marvel at his desimbodied voice, and the unwavering strength of his crystal-clear and hypnotic chant, plus the supporting drumbeats. It’s not surprising that the president of Tajikistan recently labelled the old man “a national treasure”. The large and unusual troupe consistently attracts large hordes of fans of all ages as they tour the small Middle Eastern country.

This 71-minute doc will look at some of the drama that unfolds behind the stage, but these fall-outs are never fully investigated. It’s difficult to glue the pieces together. The final third of the movie is the most fascinating part, when you experience the musicality of the clan at full throttle – so make sure you stick to the end. Ultimately, the movie is an ode to an extraordinatry music act, and an increasingly rare family model – modern pundits will dissmiss it as too archaic and reactionary. This is a warm tribute to a rich, beautiful and yet doomed kingdom.

The Wonderful Kingdom of Papa Alaev has been showing in leading music and film festivals around the world, including Womex and Hot Docsclick here in order to find out more about distribution and exhibition of the film.

You can also watch the film trailer below:


By Victor Fraga - 29-11-2016

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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