The bows laid into the strings and the violins sprung to life. As the crowd stood transfixed, two petite — and identical — women unleashed a fury of sound. There were no lyrics, but of course, they were unnecessary. The audience knew the words all too well.
“The devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind because he was way behind and he was looking to make a deal.”
As the classic Charlie Daniels’ tune raged, drummer Butch Braddy chimed in and the crowd burst into applause.
It’s a scene that has been recreated across the Golden Isles.
“The ‘Devil went Down to Georgia’ is a big one for us because it’s such a popular fiddle song. We find ourselves playing it a couple of times a night ... people want to hear it,” he says. “The second time we play it is usually a little more lively if people have been partying.”
The Free Spirit Orchestra have pumped up a number of such parties and events. From the Shrimp and Grits Festival on Jekyll Island to Rhythm on the River in Brunswick, the trio has blazed a path through the area.
One reason for the interest is, of course, the unique set up — two violins played by twin sisters, Aiman and Sholpan Beibitbeyava, and one drummer, Braddy.
The sisters have a fascinating back story to boot. Born and raised in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the sisters started violin training when they were just seven years old. They then attended Kurmangazy Kazakh National Conservatory until graduation at the age of 24.
“After conservatory, each earned first chair violin positions with the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of Kazakhstan, where they toured the world several times. While not touring the world with the symphony, the girls played as a duo that was very popular throughout their country,” Braddy explains.
“The duo played restaurants, casinos, and at conventions. They played for the president of Kazakhstan, which is a very cool honor. They are really rock stars in their home country.”
Braddy is no light-weight either, and offers decades of experience. Growing up in Savannah, he played in numerous bands and has toured nationally, as well as internationally.
But it was in his hometown that he met the sisters, one of whom (Aiman) would become his future bride.
“I was playing in my pop band at one of our favorite places in Savannah. It was getting toward end of our set when I see these two beautiful women come in and sit down right in front of the stage,” Braddy recalls.
“There was a guy with them too, so when we were done, I walked up to him and asked how he got two such beautiful women. He says ‘just lucky I guess.’”
Braddy sat down with the group and began to chat. It turned out, one of the women, Sholpan, was married to the man at the table. The other, her sister, was visiting the couple from Kazakhstan — and Braddy was completely smitten.
Aiman also remembers the night they met vividly.
“In 2016, I came to Savannah with my daughter to visit my twin sister. Many years we celebrated our birthdays separate, but this time, we were together. We decided to celebrate it in restaurant where is life music. Jazz’d Tapa’s is a very stylish and beautiful plays with good music and food,” she said.
“A great band was playing there. We were listening and dancing. When musicians had break, the drummer came to us and started talking to my sister’s husband.”
Braddy recalled talking about music with the women, and that’s when they suggested that they all play together.
“I was thinking ‘that doesn’t make any sense, drums and violins don’t go together,’ but in order to stay close to my future wife, I said ‘alright,’” he says with a laugh. “But in the back of my mind, I didn’t think it would work.”
It did though. And after the group started playing as a three piece, Braddy was thrilled with how the music — and relationship — evolved.
“One day he took me to see his parents in retirement home. They were the most beautiful and best parents. I loved them at once, and they loved me too,” Aiman said.
“It was so different, the more we met, the more we realized that we were happy together.”
Eventually, he and Aiman were married and she came to live in the United States.
“It was crazy cool,” Braddy says. “It wasn’t a long courtship, but it was the best thing in the world. I thought she was completely out of my league.”
The trio started playing through the region as the Free Spirits Orchestra with ladies up front and Braddy holding down the beat. The trio covered an impressive number of popular tunes, ranging from Led Zepplin to classical music to traditional songs from the women’s homeland.
“Those songs from Kazakhstan are really incredible. They are so pretty and have this driving sound where you can just imagine horses running on the plains of Kazakhstan. It lets us expose people to all kinds of music that they probably wouldn’t hear otherwise.”
Recently, Free Spirits Orchestra has shifted from a trio to a duo. Aiman’s sister had to relocate, leaving the couple to reconfigure their act. But that’s not a bad thing, Braddy says, the couple is excited for what the future holds.
“It’s really great being married and playing music together. We’ve been working really hard to reimagine ourselves as a duo. We have been touring a bit up the East Coast,” he says.
“We want to travel a lot and would love to work on cruise ships or resorts. Our children are adults now so there’s really nothing holding us back. We hope to do some international traveling. It’s exciting ... the whole thing has been a crazy ride.”
“Now we are together, and we have everything for happiness: two beautiful daughters, our duo, and love,” Aiman adds.