The classical music of the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia is often overlooked in a survey of the world's music, but this is completely unjustified. These regions have developed a unique and deeply compelling tradition, based on several centuries of refinement and influence. The various traditional styles of modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan coexist closely, with the more populous Uzbekistan having more of the classical performers.
Obviously, Central Asia has long been a crossroads as well as the center of empires, whether Turkish, Iranian or Arabic. Alexander's exploits here are well-known. Music from this region is strongly conditioned by both Turkish & Iranian styles, along with a dose of its own originality. Besides the classical traditions of the populous Amu Darya (Oxus) valley, several other relatively unexplored traditions exist in this broad region which stretches from Iran into China.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Uzbek / Tajik classical repertory is that it is relatively uniform across the national boundary. This becomes less surprising when one remembers that this was an important center of Muslim civilization after the Arabic conquest, and that its musical roots are said to reach even prior to this event. The styles are highly refined, yet seem to be lacking a sizeable audience today. They managed to survive official Soviet deprecation by adapting to the new environment, and by generally shortening the classical forms.
The following anthology serves as an ideal introduction to this underrated musical tradition. At the time it appeared, it had a very dramatic effect on me, and had to rate as one of my most compelling musical experiences. It is easily superior to some of the more folksy surveys found on other labels.
While the anthology does also contain a worthwhile survey of some of the related folk styles, it concentrates closely on the classical court styles. It still provides a fine introduction, but is perhaps supplanted in sustained appeal by the following recitals.
Indeed, Ocora began a series in supplement of this anthology, and it continues to be highly enlightening. I had anticipated further volumes, but the pace seems to have slowed considerably, with a large gap after 1999.
The first volume is devoted specifically to the Ferghana style. It has perhaps adapted most aggressively and impressively to the new contraints of shorter presentation. There is an excellent suppleness here, and a subtlety of expression. The leading developments in new music for this tradition as a whole seem to have come from the Ferghana style.
The disc is devoted exclusively to the singer Monâjât Yultchieva, said to be the best in generations, in terms of gravity and vocal tone. Her voice is extremely rich, and certainly the most compelling on this list in that sense. She is accompanied by the music scholar Shawqat Mirzâev (rabâb) and his instrumental ensemble.
The second volume turns to the Bukhara style, which is the oldest classical tradition in the region, and the one from which the others have been derived. It is more austere, and built of extended cycles on single modes. This is called the "Shash Maqam" (six modes, in Tajiki) repertory, made of elaborations on six great modes.
The disc is again devoted to a specific singer, one of the most knowledgeable and popular of his generation. Jurabeg Nabiev is able to unfold and control the momentum of this vast form over more than an hour. The program actually presents a somewhat truncated version of what would be a full presentation in the Nava mode, due to CD constraints.
Besides Bukhara and Ferghana, the other major classical maqam tradition is that of Khiva... not yet on record.
There are a few other recent recordings devoted to folk or popular styles, but a scarcity even there. When it comes to folk traditions, the styles here change almost imperceptibly into those of surrounding areas from Iran & Afghanistan into Western China.
This gradual variation is perhaps most apparent in the instrumental music of the plucked-string dotar, the most important solo instrument of the region. The following anthology gives an impressive survey of the most important styles of Uzbekistan:
These styles are representative of a broader range of styles which stretch from the West of Iran into Turkish China. Upper Uzbekistan and mountainous regions in the area have long been the most important areas for this ostinato-oriented style. Although connections between the performers are not historically explicit, the music can be remarkably consistent in contour. At one point, this repertory was strongly associated with shamanistic ideas, but it has found some entries into the modern world of Islam.
More recently, another highly appealing issue devoted to music in Tajikistan has appeared:
This recital adopts the more compact, modern style, with a variety of pieces linked into a concert suite. The recording is of a quartet of contemporary performers, with many solo tracks, and represents continued efforts to mold national traditions in the post-Soviet era.
To Near-Eastern menu.T. M. McComb Updated: 3 September 2013