Reality TV

My new show will be a reality TV show about me becoming a singer/artist in Chechnya. There is a new rule that all singers must perform live on stage. Previously everyone was lip synching – so this will be interesting.


I’ll be working with Aimani Aidamirova, Tamara Dadasheva and many others. I have to admit, I’m nervous about this show because it’s going to be difficult to learn so many songs, dances, movements and I must take acting classes. The reason for the acting classes are because I have NO facial expressions when I am performing – lol. It is tragic.

Today I will pick up a song from Islam Ahmedov – he has so many hits – I’m excited to work with him.

Ислам Ахмедов (Islam Ahmedov)

He did this for for Tamilla Sagaipova:

He is also in the group “Grozny” ( Гр.Грозный )

Гр.Грозный ("Grozny")

>2nd Chechen Video Shoot


I m toast. I can’t even think I am so tired. Today started off with rehearsal at Ministry of Culture. After that, I went to get changed where Aimani keeps costumes for herself and her ensemble.

After myself and all the backup dancers and singers got changed – we went to the location to shoot the video. Ibrashka was the cameraman.

Before we could shoot, Aimani’s assistant Idris had to run down the hill and shoo the grazing cows away to another location.
There were cows everywhere.
I am nervous – trying to practice my lyrics and dance moves.
It was also crazy windy today.
I get a lesson from Aiman on how I need to spin – because mine looks crazy.
Aimani is directing the shoot.
I finally pull my spins off. Yes!
My friends from Aimani’s ensemble.
Shooting a scene.
My friends in the dance group.
And the part I am most proud of – I can finally pull off the move that EVERY Chechen singer that performs on the big stage can do.
YES!! Progress.
The video will air on Sunday for the holiday ” Day of Chechen Language”

>The end of the week ( April 7th – 10th 2010 )


During the day on Wednesday I was walking to Dom Pichati through the “Journalist Park” when I noticed that the name of Dom Pichati had been changed to the Chechen version. It’s now called Zorbanan Ts’ ah.

On Wednesday night I decided to go to Chernolechie and visit my friends. I had been working so much I hadn’t seen them in 1 month.
Fatima made a Chechen dish that is in season right now – I think it is called “Yizan Galnash”. I could be wrong…..

It is made from nettles, garlic shoots and fat from a cow or sheep with a lot of salt.
Fatima is making the dough for it now. The nettle mixture is put into round pieces of dough and looks like dumplings.
It tastes great!!!!!!
Fatima’s son is behind me and giving me rabbit ears in this photo.

Thursday morning started early. I had to be at dance and singing rehearsal at the Ministry of Culture by 9am .
Rehearsal was packed – all the young girls were there on this day. The little ones are so cute because they are just learning how to dance.
Here is the routine I am working on at the moment. I am recording a new song with Aimani’s ensemble. We will shoot a music video in the next week for it.
Dancing is such hard work. I had no formal training before and now I am dancing everyday on my toes like a ballerina – it hurts!!!!!
This is the part of the routine that I have difficulty with. After the 1st verse I have to go out and do a dance. Hopefully it will all come together by the time the video shoot is on.
And on Thursday night in editing – I caught the entire process of a guy breaking an apple in half. Artur did it. here is the process……
And finally, last night was Friday. My friend picked me up and we went to a place in Microyan. I was bored of going out to places in Grozny and wanted a change of scenery. This cafe was awesome. They had the best sound system and played the best music. The cabins were all private and it was decorated well. There is a song by Akon they were playing. I am going to download it from ITunes now!
This is the place in Microyan.
Me chilling out in a private cabin after a long week of work. Akon is playing in the background.

>The Last week of February 2010


This week started with the culture segment of my show at the airport. I worked there for 2 days – I was so tired by Wednesday…but I had to keep going. In this photo I’m with the director of Grozny Airport, Ruslan Gambulatov.
Here is the final version of the episode – it is one of my favorites.

Onto my new shoes…………………………………

By Thursday I had to meet Aimani Aidamirova and return the dress I borrowed from her. She asked me to perform in her concert next Sunday March 7th! She wrote a duet for us! It is so cool. She also told me that I needed to be at rehearsal several days next week. I had to buy these special shoes that the dancers wear. They only cost 100 rubles ( $3.00 ) but these are my favourite pair of shoes EVER. All the dancers wear them …. and now I do too.
YES!!!!!! I am a going to be a dancer….or – at least learn some hot moves to get me through my upcoming stage performance.
And speaking of stage performances…..I had to record the song today that Aimani and I are singing on Sunday at her concert. We went to Deni Satabaev’s place to do it. What a dream come true!!! Singing with Aimani Aidamirova and working with Deni Satabaev!!

Aimani Aidamirova

Deni Satabaev

And Illyas Aiyubov stopped by as well. I love his music – he is an awesome singer. He is having a concert on March 8th.

Illyas Aiyubov and I

Me and Deni

>The Chechen Grammy’s

>What a weekend this has been. It all started on Wednesday when Tamilla who is the secretary for the TV station president asked me if I was going to the music awards that weekend. At this point I hadn’t even heard of this event – the Chechen Grammy’s. I was like…no. I told her to get me tickets. She said they are hard to get … just come into the theatre on Saturday. It is an official event that the president will be attending. She already had her evening gown prepared!

On Thursday I went to see Artyr at the TV station regarding work and I asked him if he had tickets to the event. Of course he did because Grozny TV is in charge of this event. He gave me 4 tickets.

At about 6.30 pm on Thursday, I get a call from Artyr and Tamilla speaking very quickly and saying something about my music video…I thought. I thought they were asking me if they could play it at the awards. However, aftr they called Madina and Ibbi – it all became clear. They were requesting that I perform at this event in national costume. At first I said no, and then I said yes…and then the next 2 days of panicking started.
On Friday I needed a national costume. Artur suggested a couple of the high end Chechen designers, but I decided to just call Aimani Aidamirova. She is sure to have the best dresses for stage in all of the republic. She agreed . I went to the srudio where she has them made.
There were tonnes of national costumes here. But I ended up wearing one of her personal ones!
I chose a black and gold outfit. It was too short on the bottom and the arms were not long enough so Aimani and her assistant ended up making alterations on it immediately.
So, since this was not live singing at the show, all I had to do was remember the words and move my mouth. I went to rehearsal at the grand concert hall, and then I went with Aimani to get changed and have make-up done.
Finally, at about 4;45pm we arrived at the concert hall. All the performers had to be in separate cars to get out and walk the red carpet. My car was last. But…. while waiting for the red carpet thing to start, the hosts of the show and Ibbi and I just sat in a big limo and drank ice tea.
and of course I was on the phone with Madina – who was already inside the concert hall.
I admit, my outfit was really over the top – but isn’t that what being on stage is for? Hahhahah.
I did my performance, and now I am relieved. It was my first stage performance singing in Chechen. The president was there, his wife, the mayor of Grozny and Gudermes and every other official person you can imagine. There was also a film crew from France.

Anyway – I am glad it is over. Today is Sunday at 6.28am. I just woke up 20 minutes ago . I better go back to sleep because I have editing at 9.30am and the rest of the week I am slammed with work.

>Radio Free Europe Interview


Canadian Model Unlikely New Face Of Chechen TV

Chrystal Callahan calls her job ”a dream come true” and says she has never regretted her decision to trade the catwalk for a career on Chechen television.
January 13, 2010
By Claire Bigg

Chrystal Callahan likes shopping, designer clothes, and fine cuisine. Much of her weekly television show, “Highlights of the Week with Chrystal Callahan,” is devoted to beauty and fashion, with a sprinkling of folk culture and music.

From her job description, one would never guess the Canadian model-turned-anchor is broadcasting from Chechnya, a region still reeling from two devastating wars.
Although the conflict is officially over, thousands of civilian war victims are believed to still be buried in the dozens of mass graves that dot the Russian republic. Kidnapping and murder are rife in Chechnya, which remains one of the most deadly places in the world for human rights activists.

But the Toronto-born former model says she feels at ease in her adopted land. Speaking to RFE/RL by phone from Grozny, she acknowledges life in the Chechen capital can be dangerous. But she insists the risks are now no worse than those in crime-troubled Western cities like Chicago or Mexico City.

“I feel completely safe. I think the problem with many people and why they might feel so frightened about coming to Chechnya is because of all the negative press,” Callahan says.

“There’s usually never any good stories coming out of Chechnya that are covered by the media, so I think that’s what the problem is.”

The Face Of Chechnya

Callahan is determined to set the record straight.

Since June 2009, she has hosted her television show on Chechen state-run television, which casts a decidedly positive spin on life in the North Caucasus republic.

The show appears every Sunday evening in English with Russian subtitles. “Highlights of the Week” consists of three sections — a news review, a cultural feature on a topic of her choosing, and a Q&A session in which she answers questions sent in by viewers.

Callahan says the 20-minute program deliberately avoids difficult and negative topics.

Initially intended for Chechens and Chechnya-watchers living abroad, it broadcasts both across Russia and abroad via satellite. But Callahan says the program has also proven popular in Chechnya, and has transformed her into a local celebrity.

Callahan, who says she’s in her 20s, calls her job “a dream come true” and says she has never regretted her decision to trade the catwalk for a career on Chechen television.

She first came to Chechnya in 2007 as a budding filmmaker to shoot a documentary about a group of teenage Chechen wrestlers struggling with the legacy of war.

That’s when Callahan, who describes herself as “obsessed” with Chechen traditional music and dancing, floated the idea of working for local television.

She is now the head-scarf-wearing spokeswoman of Chechnya’s state campaign to improve the image of the republic and convince the world that the separatist insurgency has been crushed and that wartime tribulations are a part of the past.

WATCH: “Highlights of the Week with Chrystal Callahan”

‘Positive, Not Propaganda’

Many Chechens are grateful to Callahan for shedding light on everyday life in a region known for little else but war.

But critics say her view of Chechnya is skewed. They accuse her of being a willing cog in the propaganda machine of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-installed leader of Chechnya, who has been aggressively promoting his own cult of personality and whom rights groups accuse of massive abuses, abductions, and torture.

She has been compared to famous British journalist Walter Duranty, who headed “The New York Times'” Moscow bureau from 1922 to 1936 and is now widely criticized for his favorable portrayals of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

A series of ads for Russia Today were recently rejected by U.S. airports.

In fact, Callahan is just one of many bright young Westerners who make a living by helping spruce up the image of troubled regimes across the post-Soviet space — at outfits such as the English-language television channel Russia Today, for instance, or the U.S. PR agency Ketchum, hired by the Kremlin in 2006 to manage its public image.

But Callahan, who declines to discuss how much she earns for her work, defends her program, saying she is honoring the Chechen culture.

“I show the beautiful side of how people try to preserve their culture and traditions. I feature people and stores that make positive changes to the republic,” Callahan says.

“The last time I checked in the dictionary, the word positive did not equal propaganda.”

Inspired By Kadyrov

Kadyrov features prominently in the news section of Callahan’s program, which week after week airs footage of him opening hospitals, visiting schools, and unveiling monuments.

The website that carries Callahan’s show,, regularly runs stories extolling Kadyrov, with headlines such as “The Chechen Republic President Is The Greatest Hope” or “Activity Of The Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov Has Been Compared With Policy of Peter the Great.”

Although Kadyrov himself has publicly admitted to killing some of his opponents, many see the Chechen leader — who has taken much of the credit for a vast reconstruction program bankrolled by Moscow — as the man who ended the war and rebuilt the North Caucasus republic.

Ramzan Kadyrov with his son at a racetrack on Police Day in Gudermes.

Callahan, who first met Kadyrov in 2007 over ice cream and coffee, is one of them.

“My first impression was, wow, what a down-to-earth person. He was funny; he made really funny jokes. He was clever. He was a gentleman.

But what stood out the most was that he is extremely proud of his homeland and culture. He’s very charming. To be honest, I’ve never met anyone like that.

“It made me want to work even harder on anything I did from then on, because I saw this person who was giving his entire self, making massive advancements in preserving culture, reopening schools and hospitals.”

The killing of several Chechen human rights campaigners last year, including fierce Kadyrov critic Natalya Estemirova, has not shaken Callahan’s stated faith in the Kadyrov regime.

As far as she is concerned, accusations of rights abuses against him are mere “speculation, rumors, and gossip.”

Despite the controversy surrounding her employer, Callahan is in no hurry to leave Chechnya. She has just signed a new, one-year television contract and is exploring the seemingly endless career possibilities offered by the postwar region.

She has recently published a book, “Diary of a Fashion Model in Chechnya,” and even appears to be eyeing a career in music, with the recent release of a song in Chechen.

>Words for Дицлур дац

Дицлур дац суна и денош

йицлур яц суьйренаш суна

хьо вара дагахь со тешаш

аса а дог деллера хьуна

хьо вара дагахь со тешаш

аса а дог деллера хьуна

Ахьам со юртта д1айоьху

Асам хьо кхойкху сайн г1ала

Кхузахь а бетан нур гойта

Малх г1отту жил1алам къагош

Кхузахь а бетан нур гойта

Малх г1отту жил1алам къагош

Ларво хьо буьйсана а дийнахь

самах ю г1енахь ю хьоьца

Безаман ц1екхеста кийрахь

Даимма веха хьо соьца

Безаман ц1екхеста кийрахь

Даимма веха хьо соьца

>" Дицлур Дац " my first Chechen music video


Well, I did it.
I feel relieved that this video is complete. I put it on Youtube last night. It premiers on Grozny TV today.
Said-Sellim the President of the TV station has not seen it yet.
above photo:ME AND SAID-SELLIM ( he’s the President of Grozny TV )Hahahhaha. It is yet another surprise for my employers, including Shamsail.

I am so happy this season is over. I am exhausted and have bags under my eyes. I look like I am 100 years old. I am taking 3 weeks off and going home. Yeah!!! However…this is a working trip. I have to make a special report for Grozny TV while I am away.
My reminder just went off on my phone. My friend Khassan Baiev is arriving in Moscow today! Hooray!!!!!! I am so happy he is coming back to Chechnya. He will stay for 4 months. He is one of the most AMAZING people I have ever met. I can’t believe that a person like him exists. After I read, Grief of My Heart: Memoirs of a Chechen Surgeon , I felt that I never should complain about ANYTHING ever again. Everyone should read this book.
Today I am supposed to be packing, however….I hate packing. I always put this off until the last possible minute – then I have a meltdown because I am completely overwhelmed and start crying. My family has seen this many times. Instead of packing, I am going to my friends house ( my family in Chechnya ) in Chernorechie and I am spending the night. I haven’t seen them in 1 month. These are actually the closest people to me here in Chechnya.
Here is me and my friend Fatima:
One time I stayed over in Chernorechie in the summer. There were so many mosquitos out at the time, I could hardly sleep. Eventually I fell asleep and had to get up early to get back to the city and meet Shamsail in his office. I woke up and my eye was completely swollen shut. A mosquito totally attacked my eye ….and here is what it looked like:

Fortunately for me, Fatima is real ДИК ЗУД and she had some ointment. I went to visit Shamsail and looked normal….well -kind of normal…..and BTW – this is the day I got hired for Grozny TV.
OK, I am going to take a shower and go to the village. Fatima is making khingalsh and manti for me. My favourite food!!!!!!! I will take photos.

>Countdown to esharsh premiere


Hi!!!! I am in bed and wide awake. I am not even tired and it is 1:44am. I don’t know why I am up so late.

Probably because this week is the last show of the fall season and I have 3 weeks off from next Thursday until we start filming the winter season.
Earlier in the week I shot the 2nd part of my music video – it was an extreme location. The director, cameraman and my other assistant/translator Artur had to climb a building that is under construction by some Turkish or Uzbek company. It has 14 flights and bricks were falling everywhere. We needed to get to the roof. I have no idea how the director pulled this off – but he did. I climbed this entire unsafe building in a full face of make-up, hair extensions and an over the top outfit. By the time I got to the top I wanted to pass out and hurl. The view was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Above: Artur on his first day back to work after a one month vacation gets stuck climbing a building , holding my esharsh lyrics and reciting this sappy love song to me when I forget the words. Hahhahahah. Poor dude.

I’ve seen all the Chechen pop Divas do this stance. Usually they are singing with their arms open and the mountains are behind them – this is the most popular move to pull if you are a Chechen singer. I didn’t pull it off so well though. I look like I am confused.
This is the director of the shoot laughing because of this extreme location first thing in the morning. It wasn’t funny.

Again, I look confused.

Dokka, Me and my absolute favourite cameraman………IBRASHKA!!!!!!

Me and Artur – the shoot is over. Now we need to get back to Dom Pichati…there are 1000 more things to do today.
This was such a great location, however – it was all a waste. When I saw the footage later, I looked like I had been beaten. The lighting was awful which made me look awful. We had to scrap all the footage. There is only 1 moment of 3 seconds we could salvage. I’m not sure I like it. It doesn’t fit the other footage. All of a sudden I am on top of a building – it makes it seem like i am going to jump over the edge and commit suicide because I am so depressed…… according to the lyrics of this song.
Lets start with introducing the video editing director. His name is Islam. When Madina and I met him, he looked at the footage and said – this is just not going to work. Then , his head starting spinning with all sort of new ideas.

Islam – the music video director
Madina is taking notes while he explains to her that we need more shots, MORE FOOTAGE, MORE TIME and on and on.
Finally – he tells her to just make a list of shots that we need to hand to the cameraman. So she does it.
And at this stage, we know this guy is another eccentric artist working at Grozny TV. Since this is the first time we have met him – we’re not sure what to expect.
Next thing you know, he has ordered me to re-shoot in the studio the next day – and ….here it is.
Again, we are not sure what to expect on this shoot. All we know is it involves a fan, only 2 spotlights, an eccentric director and our favourite cameraman IBRASHKA.

I am nervous, so I look for more lipstick to apply.

I am nervous, so I put on more face powder.

and more face powder.

Now I am looking over the directors shoulder wondering what his plans are and if I will look like a complete fool. Well, go figure – this is how it sounds folks:
A mixed race American/Canadian fashion model shoots her first Chechen esharsh music video with an eccentric director from Grozny . By the way, she’s singing in Chechen.

Now I’m checking on Ibrashka. Why? I have no clue. Because I am nervous.

In my own mind I am thinking – Chrystal, you damn fool. Why couldn’t you just learn a poem in Chechen and recite it on the air for Noxchi Mott. Why the hell did you go so far over the top with this damn song. Why are you sitting in this studio singing a love song in Chechen ?
I had no answers to the questions in my head. And while I was thinking these thoughts – visions of me getting laughed out of the republic arose often.

Here goes the fan to blow my platok ( headscarf )

Ibrashka has to write a fake love letter as one of my props in the video.
Well folks, that’s all I have for today. The video will premiere on Sunday night. It will be on Youtube Monday or Tuesday. There is no going back now. All I can say is – I did my best and Chechen is a difficult language.

>A day with Aimani Aidamirova


What a long day! Went to visit the Queen of Esharsh (Chechen music) at her house and film her. What a trip. She is so cool. Her home is gorgeous.
The morning started out the same as usual – Madina and I were starving and our stomach’s were growling so loud they were drowning out the interview. Then…the power went out – so we had to stop the interview. Aimani gave us a cake to eat! Yes!!!
Oh – did i forget to mention that we had the most eccentric cameraman today??!!! Yusup. He is AWESOME but very hyperactive – here he is making a fire at Aimani’s house.

1/3 through the day – Madina, Aimani and Yusup realized that they were all related somehow.

1/2 way throughthe day – Aimani decided to cook traditional Chechen lunch of animal guts, hingalsh and galnash. Guess what??/ I also had to cook with her. Hahahhhaa – I was so not prepared for this.

And here is Madina trying animal guts for the first time….

I think she liked it. To be honest – it sounds gross but it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t what I expected – in a good way.
OK – lunch is over, we’re off to check out her backyard where she had traditional Chechen towers built. Bur first – she gave me her coat to war – yes…another fur!!! I have never worn so much fur in my life!

The day is almost over – Aimani wants me to wear one of her dresses – so I do.
And just to make things authentic…………well, even more authentic – she gave me the antique water jug to carry water through her backyard. It looks cool – but it is very difficult ot carry this thing. I can’t imagine how heavy it is when full of water!!!!!

Here the strain is showing on my face…

Now – it is the end of the day. All interviews complete. All scenes filmed – Culture section for the show is complete and it’s only Monday.
Here is the final photo – me and Aimani’s 2 daughters ( she has 4 , but the other 2 weren’t home )