Aruhan Galieva; British singer & actress says she’s proud of her Kazakh heritage

By Aruhan Galieva

I was born in Leeds, United Kingdom to Stina Wilson, a fantastic, world class classical Flautist, and Marat Bisengaliev a world renowned Violinist and now Artistic Director of the Symphony of India so my fate as a creative was sealed in utero! Although my dad has such an entrepreneurial spirit, something I very much aspire to cultivate more in myself.

I’m always asked, do I feel more ‘British’ or a ‘Daughter of the free Kazakh Steppes’? I think it’s important to celebrate both aspects equally, however I sometimes feel trapped between two cultures and worlds with neither really seeing me as either!

I strongly identify as both, I wouldn’t say I am patriotically British but obviously have a more western way of thinking than my dad, but I am very fiercely proud of my Kazakh Heritage. I think it is so important to preserve and protect your culture, wherever you are from. As I grow and learn, I find myself connecting very strongly to my Kazakh Grandma, Mama Aruhan, who very sadly passed away in 2016. She was the matriarch of the family, and without even trying, my father is always telling me how much we now share the same interests and ethos. She really was beloved by everyone who knew her. I think in Britain, it is such a pity that we don’t respect and look after family, especially our elders, in quite the same way that Asian cultures do.

I was raised in a very musical household which encouraged creativity and play. I think that’s why I’m an actor now, but not just an actor, a multi-disciplinary artist, like my dad. However, one huge difference between us is that my father is a virtuoso violinist and I am absolutely useless at playing violin! I am merely an actor, singer and writer. It’s almost impossible to survive in this industry with one endeavour alone!

Aruhan with her father at Carnegie Hall in 2014

I was a Music Scholar and Chorister at King’s School Canterbury. I started my career working with Karl Jenkins, as he wanted to write an album that explored Kazakh Folk Music. Karl wanted a very pure voice with no vibrato. I remember having an impromptu audition for him with an out of tune church piano during rehearsals for another project he was working on when I was about 10.

I made my singing debut at the age of 11 at the Abai Opera Theatre, Almaty, Kazakhstan. I then made my debut in England at the Royal Albert Hall at age 13 which was a phenomenal experience. Working with Karl has given me the most incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, I headlined Royal Festival Hall in 2011 and performed as Vocal Soloist at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2014.

Playing ‘Feste’ in Twelfth Night at Southwark Playhouse. 2019

Those moments are unforgettable. At that time, I was also exploring different creative outlets, a lot of the time through the use of music in theatre and film. I was fortunate to work with Joe Wright and Dario Marianelli on the Hollywood Feature Film ‘Anna Karenina’ starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law. I was Music Consultant to Dario Marianelli on the film and we worked together for about a year. I had to learn a lot of practical things, I researched and translated ancient Russian folk songs as inspiration, sourced and cast musicians for the film, as well as being written into the film as ‘The Soul Of Russia’ and being featured prominently throughout the soundtrack as Vocal Soloist.

To be able to work on a Hollywood Film, from pre-production through to post, and to see how it all works from the inside to out has been invaluable. Working with Dario was incredibly special, he is one of a kind and he’s a very kind and creative man. I learnt so much. When the soundtrack was nominated for an Oscar that year, I couldn’t believe how lucky I had been to be involved in such an exciting project.

In 2014, I was one of the leads in Bafta winning film Glasgow Girls, a true story about a group of young girls who change government legislation regarding illegal dawn raids on asylum seekers in Scotland.

Shooting the music video for my E.P 2019 in Kaz

In 2015, I made my professional theatrical debut with Shakespeare’s Globe. Performing Shakespeare is incredibly inspiring and empowering. It’s also nice to play people who are far braver and far more articulate than you! Shakespeare wrote about these universal themes that transcend any time, place or person. They have such an amazing educational infrastructure at the Globe Theatre. I have learnt and grown so much working with them over the years. I am absolutely desperate to take a show to Kazakhstan and other places in Central and South Asia with them!

I am a huge sci-fi and fantasy lover and I recently fulfilled my absolute life dream of being in Cult Classic TV Series, Doctor Who. It was everything I hoped for. The whole team were so funny and kind and brilliant. The show started in 1963 and has such a history, it has amassed such a fond following and I felt such a great weight on me to do a good job, and to continue this lineage of great story telling.

I think it has such a wonderful ethos and philosophy of inclusivity and ingenuity, of hope and compassion, I felt so proud to be involved in something that inspires so many children and adults alike especially as it had such a profound impact on me as a child.

Now, because of Covid-19, theatres in the UK have completely closed their doors. On the morning I was due to open a show in London, we went into Lockdown, and they probably won’t open their doors again until after Christmas. Whilst this is sad, I think it’s important to put it in to perspective and try to make the most of this time and do what you can to help others.

Playing ‘Hero’ in Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeares Globe Theatre 2018

Despite the industry coming to a halt, I have still found myself with a full working day, and I must say I am very much enjoying the luxury of working from home in my pyjamas. I am currently juggling between my debut music E.P which I have written, arranged and performed, and writing an upcoming film project about my experiences of being Half Kazakh/Half English and my attempts at living a Zero Waste life.

I could talk about it for days, but I won’t – what I will say is that since adopting a Zero Waste life I have been living much more in line with how my Mama Aruhan lived, and I think my life is richer for it!

Aruhan Galieva is a British singer and actress of mixed Anglo-Kazakh heritage and is best known for her work as a solo soprano on Karl Jenkins’ ‘Tlep’ under Sony BMG and her work on the follow-up album ‘Shakarim’ which was premiered at the Royal Festival Hall.

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