Dimash Kudaibergen: Dear Boy From Kazakhstan
I HAVE heard an angel sing, and his name is Dimash. No, that’s not some made-up name of a hip hop or rap star.
He’s a young man from Kazakhstan and he has become the latest singing sensation in China.
I discovered Dimash Kudaibergen during a YouTube surfing session a few weeks ago.
The first song I heard him sing was a most unusual Russian number, Opera 2, that requires hair-raising vocal acrobatics that most pop stars wouldn’t be able to handle.
He is good-looking and massively popular in China. Interesting, isn’t it? If you can make just 1% of that huge nation of 1.386 billion people your fans, you’re a megastar.
Vitas made his mark in China when he sang at a Beijing event in 2006. His subsequent appearances and concerts attracted such enormous crowds of screaming fans, he needed a battalion of bodyguards. But 11 years on, he is perhaps getting a bit “old” – at all of 36.
And so the timing for a fresh, young foreign star as his successor is perfect. Enter Dimash.
He was invited to take part in a contest, Singer 2017, organised by Hunan Television for established performers.
At 22, Dimash is the youngest contestant facing formidable, seasoned rivals like Sandy Lam from Hong Kong, Teresa Carpio from the Philippines, Terry Lin from Taiwan and Michael Wong from Malaysia.
But the competition has proven to be the perfect vehicle for him. The setting, musicians, audience and the quality of the competition have brought out the best in him.
Like Vitas, this young Kazakh has a truly unique voice; I don’t know his vocal range but his control and dexterity must be heard to be believed. I find him absolutely enthralling. He is a tenor, baritone and soprano who can tackle the most vocally challenging of songs.
It helps plenty that he is tall – 190cm – and handsome; his features an appealing mix of Asian with a dash of Caucasian. He has great stage presence, sartorial style and comes across as polite and respectful.
Dimash – or Di Ma Xi as he is called by the Chinese – stunned the audience and his opponents in the first round of Singer on Jan 21.
He was top-ranked with his goosebump-raising French number, S.O.S d’un terrien en détresse, or “S.O.S. of a Man in Distress”.
This song is much loved in France, first sung by the late Daniel Balavoine, and written for a 1976 rock opera, Starmania.
As the title indicates, S.O.S. is about a man who questions his existence and his confusion about the world he lives in. This I learned from the English translation of the lyrics.
But one doesn’t need to know the meaning of the words to feel the pain and despair of the song. Dimash’s emotionally wrenching interpretation with his soaring vocals conveys it all.
This has become my favourite – well, the only – French song on my phone playlist. There are many versions of it on YouTube by many singers, whose French is definitely better than Dimash’s, but none, to me, sang it better than he.
Dimash is Kazakh cultural royalty. His parents, both famous singers, are “honoured artistes of culture” in their country. He started singing at the age of five.
He is also an accomplished composer and musician on the piano, drums and the dombra, a long-necked traditional Kazakh folk lute, which he played while performing on Singer’s seventh round.
His meteoric success made headlines in his country and has boosted his popularity there. The Astana Times declared that he had risen to stardom in China in just one day with his performance of S.O.S.
He has more than three million followers and 1.4 billion views on Weibo. His fans call themselves “Dimash Dears”. (Yes, I’ve signed up as one, too.)
This caught the attention of the French television show, Telematin, whose hosts seemed quite amused that a Kazakh singer has popularised one of France’s favourite songs among the Chinese, not to mention people elsewhere like little old me.
Amazingly, Dimash managed to top S.O.S. in the second round with Opera 2. Hunan TV footage of his performance captures the shocked and enthralled expressions of the audience and their applause.
Apart from Kazakh, French, and Russian, he sings in English, Italian and Mandarin and is best with ballads and operatic numbers that allow him to give full throttle to his vocal prowess.
Even before the conclusion of Singer, he won Best Asian Popular Singer in the Top Music Awards, China’s version of the Grammys.
He then gave another virtuoso performance in Singer’s semi-finals on April 8 with two songs: the Italian operatic Confessa and The Diva Dance from the Bruce Willis 1997 sci-fi movie, The Fifth Element.
Others have been quick to pick up on his popularity: he sings the Goldfinger-like theme song for Battle of Memories, the upcoming Chinese sci-fi crime thriller and the Go, Go Power Rangers song for the movie which he does with impish delight.
With his success, Dimash has brought reflected glory to Kazakhstan and puffed up the pride of his countrymen, who avidly followed his progress in the competition.
You can bet there will be a surge of Chinese tourists to that country. My interest in Dimash has made me curious about Kazakhstan and I have since discovered it is indeed a breathtakingly beautiful place. That is how mighty soft power can be, even when wielded by one person.
Singer 2017 concluded on Saturday. If I have piqued your curiosity about Dimash and if you want to know if he won, go online to find out. You will thank me for that.
It has been reported he will be going on tour. Now, can I appeal to anyone in Malaysia who has contacts in Kazakhstan to be a dear and bring this angel over for a concert and reserve a seat for me please? Front row will really be appreciated.
June H L Wong , columnist