TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan - During their recent tour, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command band once again proved that music is a universal language.
Vector, the current AFCENT band, completed a 12-day visit to Kyrgyzstan where they performed for audiences at the Bishkek Humanities University and Kant Secondary School Number One. Additionally, the band met with young musicians from the Ordo Sakhna Folk Ensemble where they were introduced to traditional Kyrgyz music and instruments.
The band is comprised of active duty airmen deployed from The Air Force Band at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington. Although they come from different musical ensembles at homestation, the band members came together to form Vector, a rock band.
"Every experience was fantastic," said Master Sgt. Matt Murray, the bassist for the band. "The interactions we had with the students at the humanities university, with the students at the secondary school and with the Kyrgyz musicians was so fantastic. Whenever you work with young people and students, there are no biases; they are just very open minded and excited."
For many of the band members, the highlight of their time in Kyrgyzstan was their meeting with Kyrgyz folk musicians. The musicians, ages 15 to 21 years old, had just returned from a performance in Turkey. They played a number of traditional Kyrgyz melodies, western songs, and even an original composition.
"They were fantastic musicians; pretty inspiring for many reasons," said Murray. "Just because we've been playing one style of music with a finite repertoire of songs, it was so refreshing to hear something so different. They were incredibly young and so talented. And so versatile too; they could all play all the instruments - the strings, percussion, woodwinds. They were really virtuosic on the komuz [fretless string instrument] too."
Following the Kyrgyz musicians' performance, members of Vector performed a few songs in return. At one point, a few of the band members sat down and performed an acoustic version of the Beatles' "Let It Be."
"This kid almost started jumping up and down, he was so excited because he loved that tune," said Tech. Sgt. Paige Martin, vocalist for Vector. "He sat down and sang it with us. I think at one point I just leaned my head over, rested it on his head and we just sang together for a while. It was a very, very touching moment. It really shows you the power of music and how it really brings people together. That's what we're out here to do."
Kyrgyzstan was the last tour in the band's deployment. Based in Southwest Asia, the band traveled to more than five countries in their 90-day deployment.
"It's pretty amazing to get to Afghanistan or Kyrgyzstan or any of the countries we've been to in the Saudi peninsula," said Murray. "It's one thing to know what the Air Force or U.S. military is doing in the Central Command region. It's another thing to have actually been there - To actually be present, feel the sun, shake hands with people, listen to the language, and hear Kyrgyz instruments. It's been an amazing opportunity to see the world in a way that we wouldn't get to otherwise."
Just as it was for Murray, the deployment was a rewarding experience for others in the band.
"When we first started [our deployment], it was very, very surreal," said Martin. "I always feel like I'm part of something larger than myself when I'm in the States, but it's been really, really heavy out here. We're out here to entertain troops and to go into the public and build bridges. I think we brought a lot of joy to a lot of folks and we've done our job."
This work, AFCENT band shares American music in Kyrgyzstan, by TSgt Rachel Martinez, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.