Imanbek on How His Improbable Grammy Win Has Made Him 'The Son of Kazakhstan'

Imanbek Zeikenov
Courtesy Photo

Imanbek Zeikenov wins Best Remixed Recording for Roses (Imanbek Remix) at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards.

It's hard to imagine a dance music Cinderella story much better than Imanbek's.

Less than two years ago, the 20-year-old producer was working for the railroad in his native Kazakhstan. Then, his illegal remix of SAINt JHN's "Roses" went viral, got licensed, and became a global dance hit -- and this past Sunday (March 14), a Grammy winner.

Imanbek accepted the award for best remixed recording from the Moscow office of his label, Effective Records and -- with Moscow ten hours ahead of Los Angeles -- nearly missed his moment due to a timing mixup. But he was able to log on to the Premiere Ceremony in time to make history as one of the first artists -- the Grammys aren't yet able to confirm if Imanbek is the first winner from Kazakhstan -- from the region to win what Imanbek calls "a global award." Even the president of Kazakhstan called him to say congrats.

Here, speaking through a translator, Imanbek discusses the improbable Grammy win that's made him "the son of Kazakhstan."

First, describe the moment you found out you were nominated.

In the exact moment I was nominated, I was doing an Instagram Live and speaking with my fans. Then all of the sudden, people started commenting "you're nominated." I was shocked, totally. But I texted my manager asking if it was true and he was like, "Yeah!" And at this time, my manager was on a Zoom with David Guetta, Rita Ora's team and two people from Atlantic UK. David was talking [about our collaborative EP Bang] and in this moment my manager got a message saying "Congratulations bro," and he was like, "What?" We found out at the same time.

What did you think your chances of winning were?

Initially, I thought it was a 20 percent possibility for each nominee. I wasn't sure if anyone had a better chance, but then I had a talk with my friends and people who had their opinions, and people told me I was obviously the winner. People were saying that it was my Grammy.

Was there disappointment in being nominated in a year when you couldn't go to an actual ceremony?

Actually quite the opposite. I was happy it didn't happen offline. When I found out I was nominated and I might have to go to Los Angeles, I was afraid -- because it was my first potential trip to the U.S. I was in my comfort zone when it was announced that it was online, because I could stay cool and could stay wherever I wanted to. It totally worked for me, and I think it was the best possible scenario.

Take me through the day. How did you get ready?

In the morning we started in the suburbs of Moscow, cooking together, making pilaf, a typical Middle Eastern food. Then we went to Moscow, and my team wanted to show me theater. Like a classical, proper drama theater. So we all went to the theater. In the middle of the play, a producer of the Grammys -- Holly, who curated our appearance -- texted my manager and asked how I was. He said, "Imanbek is nice. He's watching a play in the theater," and sent her a photo of me.

She was like, "Oh guys, I'm so happy for you. Nice. By the way, you're on the air in an hour from now." We were like, "What? It's in four hours." She was like, "It's in one hour." She didn't realize that at that moment we were in the theater. So we ran to the place where we were doing the Grammys. We were almost late, but we got there in time.

That sounds intense. Take me to the moment they were announcing the nominees. 

I wanted just to get it done. I wanted to know, like as soon as possible. That secret, mystery moment of expectation and tension was so hard. I wanted it to be finished ASAP. When I was announced, I was totally out of my mind. I was on the top of the emotional scale already, and then there was a volcano feeling when I won.

How did you celebrate?

We ordered seafood into the office. Crabs, oysters, all the most luxury. Top, top, top. We opened champagne. We opened cider made by my manager's granddad. It was very pleasurable. We have a word here that's kind of slang, that means "cool pleasure." It's like chilling with attitude. This is what I felt when I won.

How did your family respond?

Of course my family was extremely proud. Extremely shocked. But not only family, the whole country -- all of Kazakhstan -- is celebrating. It's a phenomenal situation, when I'm the first citizen of Kazakhstan and the general region to be receiving a Grammy. My parents are proud, and proud that not only I'm their son, but that I'm the son of the nation. It's epic.

What is the country doing to celebrate?

There was a ton of buzz on social media. This news was on every TV and radio channel. The building of the railroad service of the government is a huge skyscraper in [the country's capital city] Astana. On this skyscraper there is a huge LED screen, like on Times Square -- and the news that I got the Grammy was on the screen.

It's incredible that you used to work for the railroad and now you're on the building for winning a Grammy. 

It's hardcore.

Have you heard from SAINt JHN?

He sent me a private message on Instagram, and in a good and polite way he said, "OK bro, we screwed the world. we did it."

What do the Grammys, a U.S. award, mean to you as an artist in Kazakhstan?

To me, it is a global award. It has no borders. The proof of that is that the president of Kazakhstan congratulated me. It means a lot around the world, so thank you to the Grammys.

When you get the award, where are you going to put it?

When I receive the award I'm going to affix it on the roof of my car and drive to the nearest big city, Pavlodar, and drive back with triumph. And then I'll put it on the shelf.