Posts Tagged Israel

Day 38 – This journey is only the beginning

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We set ourselves the impossible task of reflecting on the last six weeks in the space of a few hours. As we have been doing all along, what follows are the immediate impressions of all members of the team. We will continue to add to this site over the coming months. Please continue to send Emails and we will endeavour to answer them.

JAN – Musician

It seems an impossible task to try to sum up our journey using words, so much has happened that cannot be conveyed verbally. The three countries of Central Asia that we have visited are remarkable for their diversity of people and ways of life. We have barely been able to get a flavour of the place, and yet in some ways we have had some profound experiences. It has been a recurring feature of our meetings with people that we have been accepted, welcomed and drawn into houses and families. Trust, tolerance and hospitality, particularly towards visitors is so pronounced that you cannot fail to be moved by it.

07muna04.gifWays of life are constantly changing all over the world. As they do so the music and culture that is associated with them changes too. It may be preserved in an artificial form, or it may die out completely. We have seen evidence of both these trends in Central Asia. We have also seen abundant evidence of vibrant, living traditions transforming and adapting to new environments. Munadjat Yulchieva (Day 7) is a good example. A nationally renowned figure she has managed to stay faithful to her musical tradition whilst raising the profile of maqam music.

07abdru.gifThere is a marked distinction between the cultural life of the cities and the rural areas. Even in the pre-Soviet times cities were centres of culture where musicians gathered, the same is true now. Uzbekistan with it’s great cities has preserved the court music tradition even though the courts are long gone. Some musicians retain the link with the original tradition, but there is little space for them now. Abdurahim ( Day 8 ) for example one of the countries most highly esteemed musicians no longer makes a living through music and has become a businessman. Many are leaving the country for America and Israel. Even though there is something of a revival in national music (as a symbol of nationhood) this will not sustain the tradition. Musicians however are endlessly creative, and change comes about through a process of adaptation. The less fashionable Kashgar rubab has been superseded by the Tar from Azerbaijan. Perhaps a new tradition will arise out of the same feelings that inspired the shash maqam.

25mal01.gifIn the rural areas the picture seems somewhat different. Musicians play a more integral role. In Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan which were largely nomadic musicians still sustain an aural tradition which is part of everyday life and life events. Many great musicians are farmers or labourers who are partially self sufficient. Money means little to them and many seemed perplexed by our fees for recordings. The western distinctions of professional and amateur do not apply here. Music is too important to be exploited for money. As the rural ways of life continue so the music has survived alongside it. The hospitality often being inseparable from the music. Malika Askarova (Day 25) is a good example of this. She does not consider herself to be a musician and yet she is able to affect a listener in an extraordinary way. She did not understand why our contracts and fees were necessary. There was a sense that music is a gift which should be given freely, Malika was not the only musician who gave us this impression.

13jkeng.gifIt has been through the attitudes of people that Central Asia has made it’s mark upon me. Whatever the external appearances or current economic situations of the countries, there is still a feeling of a great ‘civilisation’. I mean this in the sense of an internal process of development. A cultured people and not just people with a culture. Many of the musical genres still retain a philosophical and reflective content. These themes reflect a view of life and an attitude towards people that are quite different from those I am used to. The physical and the metaphysical are constantly intertwined in art as in life. The art forms often have a delicacy and subtlety which is deceptive. “The art that conceals art” – always hinting at a greater mystery beyond.


Central Asia is a wonderful and fascinating place. I hope that our reflections serve to wet the appetite of other travelers. Our journey was not a survey of the area, more like an account of some almost random events. Like any supposedly random events they have their own logic and they tell their own story. We will meet again…

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Day 15 – Bukhara to Baysun, into the mountains at last

15shop.gifBefore setting off from Bukhara this morning, we called in at the workshop of an instrument maker, Karomat Mukimov. It was not long before we were surrounded by the master’s young apprentices and were being shown the intricacies of tuning tars. Karomat and Sasha had been at the Tashkent Conservatory together 23 years ago, so there was a mini reunion going on. Amongst the instruments in his shop was a tanbur from the nineteenth century, it had been lovingly restored by this master. It transpired that the tanbur had once belonged to Leviche Babakhanor, grandfather of Ari (a musician we met three days ago). This news came as something of a shock. Why would the family sell such a beautiful instrument? It was heavily inlaid and was quite obviously made for an important player. Sasha told us that Ari had referred to an instrument of Leviche’s which had been sold to a maker. This tanbur was an antique with historical value, having belonged to one of the last Bukharan court musicians. Here it was for sale. Admittedly not cheap, but we would have been free to take it abroad. It crossed our minds to buy it and give it back to Ari – where it belonged. The story went that one of Ari’s brothers had gone to live in Israel and had exchanged this instrument for an new one. It seemed sad to see it here but at least it was now restored and perhaps would end up in the hands of a player.

My thoughts now turned to a doira, a frame drum, that I had seen several days before, but had then seemed absurdly overpriced. Whether it was the effect of half an hour of conversation, or Sasha’s connection with the instrument maker, I’ll never know, but the price suddenly dropped by a third. We struck a deal and I walked away the proud owner of a high quality doira. Now all I have to do is persuade someone to show me a few tricks.

15van.gifThis project involves plenty of travelling around Central Asia. After all I am the ‘Musical Nomad’. Of course the truth of the matter is I am accompanied by a small, specialist team. Our ‘nomad horse’ for the last two weeks is a Volkswagen Caravelle, with enough seats for six people and five large flightcases.In Central Asia a driver is more than simply a driver, he constantly nurses and cleans the car, never leaves it and finds petrol in the most unlikely places. Our Uzbek driver Bahadir is a real character and devout individual. He is a stout man with a face half resembling Mel Brooks and a sleepy manner. We were amused watching Bahadir buying petrol. He would chase lorry drivers, hug and kiss them and spend hours in the back yard of strangers.

16bah.gifOur delicate computer, communications and audio/video equipment are at the mercy of his driving skills and we all too often have to tell him, through Sasha, to ‘slow down!’ This gets lost in the translation as within minutes we are once again careering through potholed hairpin bends. Bahadir also has an uncanny ability to forget things – only basic things such as which town we asked to stop in!. With all his faults though he has some key redeeming features – his devotion to his religion and his mild manner which conceals a strength alien to many in the West.

Yurts and oil wells line the improbable road to Baysun. A semi desert of stunted shrubs strectches to a hazy horizon. The mode of transport switches from dodgy trucks to lively donkeys, laden with unknown produce bound for market.

I15grp.gifn many Islamic countries you wield a camera at your peril. In Tunisia for example, even pointing a camera at a person is considered deeply offensive. I entered the lively market at Karsi full of trepidation. Everywhere the rich fruit colours of high summer beg for Kodachrome. Reds in apples and tomatoes, golden yellow pears, grapes, as black as night. In direct competition for photogenic appeal were the gorgeous Tajic clothes of the Uzbek women. I gestured to my camera with a thumbs up and a smile – smiles were returned. Suddenly I was the most popular guy in town – everybody wanted to be photographed and video’d. It gets better. The fruit sellers started to compete for my attention by paying me in fruit. I left the market laden with bags, totally bemused but thrilled. The generosity of these people had been such a surprising contrast.

15bays.gifIn the cities of the former Soviet Union the legacy of too many conquering Tzars and an autonomous state is a frozen fear still reflected in faces. Here in the country people further from the hub of beaurocracy seem to retain an earlier innocence. As we arrive in Baysun unannounced in the early evening, word spreads fast. Soon a whole greeting committee turn out to welcome us to this small town in the mountains famous for its music.

Tomorrow the ‘Bakshy of Baysun’.

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