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Written in Folk Roots issue 166, 1997

Uzbekistan - From Samarkand To Bukhara

Long Distance 7122038 (1996)

Uzbekistan - The Turquoise Of Samarkand

Long Distance 122039 (1996)

Uzbekistan - Music of Khorezm

Auvidis/UNESCO D8269 (1996)

Despite “Russification” - the heavy-handed but, it’s becoming clear, largely ineffective channelling of cultures to in theory support a political ideal - during their time as part of the Soviet Union, the five now independent Central Asian republics (which are, running eastward from the Caspian Sea to China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, Kirghizie and, to the north, Kazakhstan) continued to preserve their folk and classical musics.
      Not limited by national boundaries, these have unifying features - rhythms, modes, instruments and ensemble lineups - throughout the republics and indeed also nearby countries such as Azerbaijan and Iran.

      Within each of these republics there are, though, regional traditions. From Samarkand To Bukhara contains examples of three of what are considered Uzbekistan’s four distinct stylistic areas, including a women’s ensemble from Fergana sitting in a circle singing Soufi songs, a vocal and instrumental ensemble of bowed and plucked lutes and percussion from Khorezm, singer Tamara (now, like many other musicians, emigrated to the USA or Israel) and the sons of the famous Gasemme Bolbol with Persian-Iranian songs from Bukhara, and, in the turquoise-coloured city of Samarkand, Tadjik singer Mardan Moulanov, inspiration for many including pop singer (and subject of a feature in FR 163/4) Yulduz Usmanova.

      Also featured is Matlubeh Dadabayeva, originally from a Tadjiki village near Samarkand, who sings both in the Persian-related Tadjiki and the more Turkish-connected Uzbeki, and is well-respected for her singing of both folk and classical Uzbeki music. The Turquoise Of Samarkand is devoted to her, accompanied by lutes - the ud, tanbur, dotâr plucked and the sato bowed - the spike fiddle ghichak - and the large circular frame drum, dâyera. Playing the tanbur and sato (and also on From Samarkand To Bukhara) is one of her main mentors, Turgun Alimatov. As in all this music, the accompaniments tend to be more or less monophonic, the plucked strings stressing the rhythm, or reiterating and, like the bowed strings following and sliding with the voice.

      The UNESCO album concentrates on five traditions within the music of one area, Khorezm. There’s a fragment of one of the hours-long epics, accompanied by plucked lute and drum, songs sung by and for women, religious songs including one accompanied by the surnai (a shawm), ensemble and solo examples (including a piece on the wailing double-reeded kushnai, and a solo on a plectrum-picked dotâr with the gutty sound of a flamenco guitar) of the classical music form maqâm, and ghazals from a popular-music group.

      These central Asian republics are full of music, much of it little-heard outside until recently; now, with the post-Soviet changes in border controls not only is there a burst of recordings being released (particularly, it seems, on French labels - Ocora has recently put out a bunch too) but the musicians themselves are able to leave, some emigrating permanently, and like other aspects of life the musical culture will inevitably change with new encounters.

© 1997 Andrew Cronshaw

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