Ethnic Uyghurs worldwide are mourning the sudden death of Kurash Kosan, 47, a fiercely nationalist singer whose hybrid compositions—using traditional instruments and modern lyrics—made him a household name throughout western China and Central Asia.
Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Uyghur American Association and the best-known Uyghur critic of Chinese rule in historically Uyghur regions, described Kosan’s death as “a huge loss.”
“His music is so powerful,” Kadeer told RFA’s Uyghur service. “He was a preeminent Uyghur musician, artist, singer, and cultural historian. He used his voice, his lyrics to express the suffering of our people. This is such a huge loss for us all.”
Kosan suffered a heart attack Oct. 29, according to a relative.
Erzim dadey (Folk song)
Ah, muz dawan bilen,
Bir yaxshini qiynaydiken,
Bir yaman bilen,
erzim bayan eylep kétey.
Caravans ride their horses on an icy mountain pass
Fate tortures a good man through a bad one
I’ll tell the world my complaints.
Barghinimda bahar idi,
Ah, Yansam zémistan,
Kechmes könglüm, kéchelemti?
erzim bayan eylep kétey.
It was spring when I went,
It was already a winter when I returned,
My heart won't let me, how can it,
Qara deydu, qara deydu,
Qara mende yoq,
Gunah mende yoq,
Erzim bayan eylep kétey,
qara mende yoq,
Erzim bayan eylep kétey.
Atlirini heydeydiken, Ah, muz dawan bilen, Bir yaxshini qiynaydiken, Bir yaman bilen, erzim bayan eylep kétey.
Caravans ride their horses on an icy mountain pass Fate tortures a good man through a bad one I’ll tell the world my complaints.
Barghinimda bahar idi, Ah, Yansam zémistan, Kechmes könglüm, kéchelemti? Sendin ayrilsam, erzim bayan eylep kétey.
It was spring when I went, It was already a winter when I returned, My heart won't let me, how can it, leave you.
Qara deydu, qara deydu, Qara mende yoq, Qaramuqning qasraqidek, Gunah mende yoq, Erzim bayan eylep kétey, Qaramuqning qasraqidek, qara mende yoq, Erzim bayan eylep kétey.
“He came home at 8:30 p.m., sat down for dinner, and suddenly began having heart problems. Within a minute, he was starting to turn blue, having difficulty breathing, and he became very weak.”
“A Swedish paramedic team arrived five minutes later, and they worked for half an hour to save him. He seemed to recover a little bit, then they took him to the hospital. After 30 minutes or so after he was taken to the hospital, they announced that there was no hope, and he was already gone,” the man said.
“All the Uyghurs in Sweden arrived at the hospital very quickly... about 70 or 80 of them spent all night at the hospital. We sat by his bedside, said good-bye to him, and prayed for his soul. In the early morning, he was moved to the morgue.”
He was buried Nov. 1, in Kosan’s adopted Swedish hometown of Eskilstuna.
Alice Egyed, ethnomusicologist and music librarian at Radio Free Asia, described Kosan’s music as “very distinctively Uyghur. He mastered every genre of traditional Uyghur music, and he was one of its best performers and interpreters.”
“Mr. Kosan’s own compositions are like rich sound tapestries, interwoven with elements of Uyghur folk and traditional music elements. His sudden death is a great loss not only for the Uyghur but also for the entire music world,” Egyed said.
Kurash Kosan was born July 21, 1959, in Urumqi, a predominantly Uyghur city in what is now the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China. His father, Sultan Mahmud, was jailed and banished repeatedly by three different governments as a Uyghur nationalist.
Kosan studied art, Uyghur literature, Mandarin Chinese, and music composition.
His cassette albums of the 1990s—“Hesret” and “Echinish”—sold more than 160,000 copies each, while his song “Yerni Satmangla” (“Do not sell your land”) is widely known throughout the Uyghur-speaking world.
He was honored by Chinese and Uyghur authorities, although Chinese authorities later identified him as a troublemaker and banned him from singing publicly or speaking to groups larger than eight people.
The authorities also closed his Kosan Culture & Art Co. He was sentenced to three years under house arrest and fled to Turkey in 1996, Kyrgyzstan, and finally to Sweden in 1999
Settled in Sweden, Kosan released three albums: “Uyghur folk songs” in 2002, “Tunes of Kuchar,” and “Wake Up Turkestan 5” in 2004.
Kosan also served as president of the World Uyghur Youth Congress and president of the Sweden Uyghur Association.
Ablimit Tursun, a friend of Kosan’s for 20 years and a German resident, remembered Kosan as a uniquely committed advocate for Uyghur causes before he fled from China.
Kosan began lobbying for Uyghur autonomy “even when he was living in the motherland. He used his voice and his songs to express our people’s suffering and sadness, on the stage, on television, on the radio,” Tursun said.
According to official figures published in 2001, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region comprised 8.7 million Uyghurs or 47 percent of the population, while Han Chinese accounted for 7.5 million residents or 40.6 percent.
Other groups accounted for 2 .3 million, or 12.39 percent.
Uyghur people in the region, who constitute a distinct Turkic ethnic group, have chafed for years under Chinese rule. Some want greater autonomy, while others favor independence.
China accuses some Uyghurs of violent agitation and blames these groups for a number of deaths in the region.
Original reporting by RFA´s Uyghur service. Director: Dolkun Kamberi. Produced for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han. Edited by Luisetta Mudie.