Day 18 – Market Shares in Aladdin’s Cave

18flutce.gifThis morning I awoke at 5.30 am, it was still cool. I stepped out of the guest house to greet the morning light. The Samarkand back street that had been so quiet the night before had been transformed into a lively market. Traders were laying out their wares on rags. Acres of clothes, automobile parts, kitchen utensils, everything you could ever need, strewn along the road. I picked my way through the narrow streets towards the Registan, it’s grandeur tinged by the early morning light. [Registan Panorama] I had a rendezvous with some of the musicians we met last night. They were assembled in cheerful mood and demonstrated a melody in maqam style. The piece ended abruptly, the flute player adorned with Soviet medals, suddenly stopped and fumbled with something near his mouth, his false teeth had fallen out. They were then called to a rehearsal so we had to arrange another meeting with them later in the day.

18chang.gifFurther down from the relative peace of the Registan is the ‘produce market’.

18markt2.gifHundreds of people converge here at sunrise. Rays of sunlight dance across the colourful fruit and spices piled up on long stone slabs. The market is dwarfed below the large dome of the Bibi Kharnym and the scene is full of memorable images. I sat for a while and drank chai on a table in the melon ‘area’ of the market. I chatted to an old mullah called Abdullobobo who told me he comes here everyday at the same time to talk with his friends. He had a deeply soulful face which was both peaceful and wise. He sat contented and seemed to understand what life should be. After the tea break I chatted to a lady called Yura and her son Pahon who were sat by the melons with a fabulous backdrop of the market and mosque.

18shop.gifNext port of call was Musaffar’s workshop. It was small, dark and cave like, as an instrument maker’s shop should be. This was a refreshing change from the tourist-trap shops that now inhabit the old madrassahs in the Registan. Here was a maker and repairer who serves local musicians. Musaffar, age 57 is a small man with subtle oriental features. His family have run the ‘masters’ workshop for five generations and he has been in ‘residence’ for 35 years. He plays tar but says he can ‘have a go’ at any Central Asian instrument. Studying at Samarkand Music Institute he specialised in shash maqam vocal music and classical instrumental styles. I told him about the famous musicians we had met in Tashkent and Bukhara, as we spoke about Ari, Munadjat and Pattahon, he repeated their names and his face began to light up – we had seen some real classical ‘stars’. His son, who proudly sits next to his father, studied doira technique for 5 years at the same institute – he will take over the shop when his father ‘rests’ in a few years time.

18bibi1.gifMusaffar was repairing some high quality instruments and his own instruments seemed better than others in Samarkand. Trying out instruments turned into duets, Musaffar on tar, me on frame drum. He told me that Samarkand’s most popular instrument is the tar, followed closely by the Kashgar rubab and then an instrument he called a Saz (here a long necked lute, with six strings in pairs – used mainly as a solo instrument). In the shop there was also some interesting variants on the basic design of tar and rubab. Still no flutes however – Musaffar promises me faithfully that he will bring some tomorrow. Needless to say I left with a gidjak and another doira. I think I will need an extra flightcase to carry all this stuff.

Musaffar was surprised to find that we were not staying for the Samarkand festival. He is very excited about it – seven days of traditional music from forty Asian & Eastern European countries including many Shash Maqam artists.

18jdoir2.gifEarlier we had arranged to meet the two doira players from the Shir Dor madrassah ensemble at 5pm. The heat of the day, allegedly peaking at 45 degrees was easing off and the streets were now beginning to fill with people ready for early evening revelries. The rehearsals for the Music Festival were still in progress in the Registan and it was only after some argument with an officious policeman that we were allowed into the square. The sun cast long shadows through the West facing lattice gate creating a wonderful abstract on the cobbles of the madrassah square. We met the group of musicians relaxing before their next ‘package’ concert. They seemed delighted to see us again, perhaps because we showed more than a passing interest in their music? The leader of the ensemble, the gidchak and flute player was slightly unhappy when we requested to see only the doira players.

18jdoir1.gifAfter a long period they appeared out of their room in the wall, apparently they had been warming their drums by the fire – after a long day of 40 plus heat they were actually toasting their drums! (This drives the moisture from the skins and makes the drum ‘ring’). I sat with them on a chaikhana table, under a mulberry tree in the corner of the maddrassah. I asked them to demonstrate the range of sounds a doira can make. With the right hand they can produce five different sounds – deep rounded tones or bright slaps. The left hand which supports most of the weight of the instrument can produce three tones – finger flicks onto the edge of the frame drum. I asked them if they would play a simple two drum rhythm gradually adding more and more decoration – the resulting piece ended in a climax of poly-rhythmic virtuosity. A crowd of tourists had gathered and it was time for them to do their ‘show’. I could tell they had enjoyed showing us their skills, a welcome change from the repetitive ‘package’ they do every night.

Samarkand is a surprisingly accessible and diverse city. It has already exceeded many expectations. Tomorrow I will discover more. Here anything seems possible.

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