Posts Tagged music

Day 38 – This journey is only the beginning

13jmad.gif

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…

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Day 37 – Timeless songs for the next generation

37agul1.gifI almost didn’t meet Aygul. As soon as I arrived in the village of Saty I was told of a dombra player I simply must hear. “Not another dombra player” went the cry. What a wonderful surprise then to meet a young girl of thirteen with such talent and charisma.

The Musical Nomad project is all about discovery. Finding out through the universal language of music about a people and their culture. On our penultimate day we left our campsite with very little hope of finding musicians. We headed for a town called Saty (meaning steps in Kazak) about 30 minutes drive away. We came out of the fertile tributary valley and into the wide, barren plain of the silty Charyn river. On our way smoke could be seen billowing from the grassy forested areas of the valley peaks. Occasionally a flame would explode, twenty or thirty feet high. The long hot summer is taking its toll and forest fires burn freely and naturally. In the long brown grasslands horses and cattle barely move in the midday heat. Suddenly the dusty road turns into the town.

37fire.gifWith very little to signify a transition, a row of houses appear. The town stretches for about a mile, the wide road lined on each side by wooden farm and administrative building. Next to a large yellow school a wooden hut doubles as the main store. We approached and bought drinks. We asked the shopkeeper if there are any local musicians. Moldira, our interpreter, scribbled down three names. One is an old man who apparently sings. We went to his house. A mad wolf-like dog attacked me. I then learned that the old man is ill and cannot be seen. I suspected the other contacts would prove as fruitless. It was now the hottest part of the day and we were trying to track down the second contact. Local people in the street seemed to point in the same direction when we ask. A group of teenagers passed us with a guitar. The guitar has a skull etched into the back and the boys also pointed in the same direction.
37agprnt.gifWe followed a road through the dusty, cattle infested streets. There was an air of sleepiness about the town. Occasionally a wagon filled with hay to dangerous levels careered carelessly through the narrow roads. We stopped near a large metal gate. Moldira peered over the top and confronted an old lady. After a short conversation I found out that this is a musical home. The whole family play dombra and sing. The daughter has won competitions and the eldest brother, currently working in the field, plays weddings and is well known to everyone in the village. We told the old lady, Salima about our project and who we are. She seemed almost expectant of our arrival. She invited the whole team with full equipment into her garden, her house, her world. A small girl in school uniform skipped towards the house. The garden is large. There are stables, small orchards and white clay ovens for cooking and bread making. This family like many others in this area are self sufficient. Salima asked us to take our shoes off and come into the house.

37agul3.gifInside the house we were shown around by Salima and introduced to her daughter, Aygul. Looking like any thirteen year old just back from school she greeted us politely. It was only a little later we discovered that she was the star musician of the family.

The traditional village house is small and simple, but very homely. The entrance way is wood panelled on the outside giving a very ‘alpine’ feel and metal clad on the inside. This looked, rather disconcertingly, like the inside of a spaceship with resonance’s of Shaykh Kushkarov’s centre. See day 20. Presumably this had some functional value of which we were not aware. Certainly the house was very cool. Within ten minutes Aygul was changing into national costume. She assumed an extraordinary presence as soon as she took the dombra into her hands. Seeing so many musicians in such a short space of time can cause the palette to become jaded. Aygul’s fresh and direct voice has a poignancy and honesty that is rare among performers of any age. All of us were touched by her performance. Aygul has recently won a music competition and so is no stranger to performing. She appeared on Kazak TV as a result. This might explain her natural manner in front of cameras and microphones. The fact that her family are all musical may also contribute. Whatever the reason it was noticeable that neither Aygul, or her brother Nurlan seemed in the slightest bit perturbed by our presence.

37brthrs.gif

People arrived at the house, watched, drank tea and left as if it was all completely normal. This was good for us as we didn’t feel we were putting them through an ordeal. Nurlan has an unusually strong and intense voice with an energetic style of dombra playing. He has been a school music teacher but now works the fields. He performs professionally at weddings (toys) and on public holidays. He’s been playing since childhood. It seems that both he and his brother have helped Aygul to learn to play, but they stress the fact that she had a desire to learn.

37miri.gif

She learnt naturally – in other words she’s largely self taught. Aygul has been surrounded by music from a young age. Both have extraordinary voices which they describe as ‘coming from nature.’ For such a musical family it seemed strange to us that they don’t perform together. They possess only one working dombra, and they explained that ‘each person has their own voice’. This means presumably that they have different vocal ranges, but perhaps also different ways of expressing a song. Theirs is a solo singing tradition.Aygul sang a love song called ‘Altynai’. This song is addressed to a girl whose name means golden moon. These kinds of songs seem quite typical. Nurlan’s song ‘Karagymai’ was also a love song “Sweetheart, life without you is nothing”

37view.gif

Last night’s campsite had little to commend it, previous incumbents had left a trail of empty beer bottles and cigarette ends. We decided to move on and spend our last night on the steppe somewhere we wished to remember. Only twenty minutes drive found us further down the valley with a cleaner site and a clearer river.

37jfire.gif

I decided to light a fire, to gather one last time around the ancient embers – to reflect. With singers like Aygul and Nurlan the tradition is in safe hands and some timeless songs will probably pass to the next generation. Tomorrow we journey 8 hours back to Almaty. The Musical Nomad project nears an end. Please join us as we, the Nomad team share our personal reflections on a journey that has changed us all.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Day 36 – Mad ride to music lesson

36truck.gifI have the morning off as I’m scheduled to visit the local village school at 12 noon. I’m told that around the next hill there is a beautiful gorge, so I set off for a bit of sightseeing. Nomadmobile 4 is a fairly rugged minibus but likes to keep it’s tyres on a road. After a five minute drive the mountain track runs out and we are left with a mud path with ruts 2 feet deep. Our driver pushes on but the van is soon grounded on it’s axle. By unlikely coincidence a huge four wheel drive truck appears full of local workmen. They turn out to be a pylon crew and in fact have a mains pylon in the back of the truck. Sign language prevails as they offer a lift, so next minute I’m off sitting on the bonnet, 5 feet in the air taking plunging dives into 3 feet ditches – “when you travel you live in the moment – it might be your last”. We arrive at the gorge and I take my pictures – the pylon crew wait patiently then, believe it or not, take me back to my campsite – time has a whole new meaning out on the steppe. I’m sure they thought we were all mad.

36kurmsc.gifMali, the headmaster of the school asked us where we would like his pupils to gather. Five minutes later more than 60 of his finest, marched single file into a small, but bright assembly hall. Their ages ranged from 11 to 18 and they were abnormally well behaved. The older children stood plain faced at the back and the youngsters in the front looked slighty perplexed. This was no normal second day of term. There were ‘westerners’ with cameras and musical instruments. Above the children a poster of a famous Kazak poet looked like it had been there for a decade. The few teachers that were present stood calmly at the back and occasionally prodded any child who showed the slightest sign of misbehaviour.

36jwhis.gifI had arranged with the headmaster that we would listen to the school perform their national anthem. Then we would perform some music. They promptly broke into unison singing. A lengthy anthem with a range of voices, some decidedly discordant. At the end we applauded, something surely strange to them which provoked very little reaction. Immediately afterwards I introduced them to the team and the project. Moldira translated and the children paid attention.

Each of the team played their individual instruments. Paul a passionate Spanish melody on classical guitar, Gary a melodic Jazz piece on soprano saxophone and I played a short Irish jig on penny whistle. Kathy was too busy taking photos as usual. I sensed that this was something new for them. In the ranks quiet chatter broke out occasionally and the applause seemed genuine.I asked the school to assemble in a circle to teach them them a song with nonsense words. They began to liven up, responding to this call and response game. Once they had learnt the simple three note melody I taught them some movements which became deafeningly loud on the hollow wooden floor. This didn’t deter them from singing their hearts out. 36musles.gif

For the finale the Nomad team gathered to play their own version of the Turkish melody that has been cropping up at various meetings on our journey. I improvised over the chords on my concert flute. I think we may have sown some seeds. Perhaps when these little Kazak children grow up one of them may have the urge to play flute.

We were then taken to a classroom to witness a music lesson. Kuan and the music teacher stood in front of the class. The children sat in formal rows. Pinned on the blackboard were pictures of various types of Kazak dombra. These seemed to serve a purely decorative function as they were never referred to. The lesson commenced with a group of children performing a Kazak song.

36kdom.gif

One by one children were called up individually or in groups to do ‘a turn.’ We began to suspect that this ‘lesson’ had been staged for our benefit. Some of the children sang and played well but we had really been interested in music teaching. The media arriving in your village is perceived as a solemn and important occasion. Was everyone briefed to be on their best behaviour? Outside school the children laughed and played and they seemed back to normal again.

36headw.gifAfterwards we were invited to the headmasters house for chai. In his front room we were confronted with a huge table groaning with food. We had experienced this before – heaps of fantastic home produced food that you just can’t refuse. It proved to be a good opportunity to talk to Mali, the headmaster. We discovered that his school had only been built in 1992 and he took over as headmaster in 1993. The school had been doing well but Mali regretted the lack of IT resources. We promised to send him a token desktop computer. We showed Mali and his wife around our web site and they seemed to like it. They asked if we had any images from other parts of the world. We obliged by showing the inevitable photographs of Trafalgar Square with Red Buses – they were delighted.


In the heat of the day we make a hasty decision to move camp. We leave behind Bulat and his family (our yurt neighbours) and the villagers of Kurmetui.

Onward for three hours up the Charyn River valley to a large lake and a bigger village. Who knows what awaits on the last day of a journey?

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Day 34 – Take the first left on the A351

34cowboy.gifWe break camp at 9 am and leave the Almaty area passing the ominously titled ‘Panilov State Farm’. The A351 is a bumpy old ‘B’ road lined with fruit growers selling their wares. Delicious tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, remember those? Melons ooze sweet juice and the apples ‘tang’ in your mouth.

The mountains sit tantalizingly ten miles either side of the road. Horses run wild on the wide open plains. As we travelled we listened to the Kazak folk ensemble of Day 2. One melody that seemed very appropriate contained a Kazak traditional instrument – horses hoof castanets.

34camp.gifIn places the countryside is almost English but the rising thermometer shatters that illusion. There are ‘yurt’ shaped bus shelters decorated with colourful mosaic and men on horses with sun carved faces. Donkey carts pull whole families. Occasionally we encounter ‘the land that time forgot’ – rusting hulks of abandoned industry. Rows of dead cypresses await some forgotten promise of irrigation.

We are heading East from Almaty for supposedly 6 hours towards the Chinese border. In fact the journey turns out to be a 10 hour slog. Our route will take us enticingly close to China. This will be the furthest East that the Musical Nomad project will travel. The lanscape here is dramatic and mostly vertical, it is possible to drive for hours without seeing anyone.

34inter.gifDuring the journey we stopped off at the the Charyn River canyon. On some rocks precariously close to the edge of a 200 foot drop I chatted to Moldira our Kazak interpreter. (We have tried to include profiles of people that we have met on our journey. We hope to give a sense of the variety of lifestyles that still co-exist within a fairly small geographical area.)

I already knew that Moldira was a dancer and was very interested in music. So I asked her a bit about her life in Kazakstan.

Could you tell us about your job in Chimkent

34mold1.gifIn 1994 I worked in Chimkent, my native town. I was a producer of my own private music club. I had a music programmme on TV. It covered music from both the World and Kazakstan. It was pop music as young people were more interested in this rather than Kazak music. I was also a journalist in the local Chimkent paper called Sebja ‘My Paper’. The TV program was very popular because it was the only one of it’s kind and it was called M95. M for Music, Moldira and Molodjosh (youth). It began in 95. My program was on twice a week and in Chimkent it had 6000 viewers. I was very popular because I presented and scripted it.

Why did you leave?

The technical side was not very good and my aim was to make quality programmes. I think that it is better to have no programme at all rather than a poor one. We never had enough time for filming and we only had one camera. Also we could not travel much to meet musicians.

But it was a very popular TV programme?

I think so because every second or third person would stop me in the street and say ‘hello, I know your programme’

Do you think you want to continue working in television?

34canyon.gifI don’t know because there are still technical problems in Alpha TV, Chimkent (the TV company I worked for). I like languages and I want to speak better English and German. Maybe in the future I will want to return but I haven’t studied economics or management and showbusiness is heavily connected to money. I was the manager of my own dancing group. and I managed a music club in Almaty which was the first of it’s kind. In 1992 there was a competition between Almaty music clubs and ours was the best.

What sort of music club was it?

Some years ago it was discotheque, now it is a TV and Radio station. Bigger, programmes, concerts, music competitions.

What do you think of Kazak TV?

Some programmes are primitive. They are often samey and repetitive

Do you still dance?

I haven’t studied dance but I like it very much. I can do any kind of dance. Especially funk. I know Kazak traditional dancing of course, it’s in my blood.

Do you like Kazak traditional music?

It is natural for me to like it, Yes.

Is it common to find pop music with Kazak melodies?

34joes.gifThere are some traditional melodies in modern mixes and I enjoy this. Because it’s old music with a new look. We can’t forget our old musical traditions. It is very important.

How do feel about Kazakstan after independence?

The first things that were changed in our country specifically in Almaty were the restaurants, nightclubs. We have freedom, liberty

Is this good?

I think it is not just good. But it is freedom. Each person can feel free. To visit interesting places not just the Kino, cinema, which is primitive. So many foreigners come to Almaty which makes it very interesting.

Do you feel positive about the future?

I hope but I don’t know

Do you feel its possible to find a job?

Yes I think its possible if you have ambition.

The kind of work you have been doing, TV, Radio could you have done that before independence?

Yes but now it is more easier.

You told me you like the natural beauty around Almaty?

34wagon.gifNature is my second home. I like it very much. Fresh air and the mountains are fabulous. People are nothing compared to the mountains. That is an important point. I dream about the lakes, rivers, nature, mountains, rocks, deserts.

Do you think more people will visit Kazakstan to see these places?

Yes. I have worked with many foreigners and they usually say it is so beautiful. The mountains and the stars and this makes me happy.

We drive on through desert steppe at the edge of the mountain – a yellow furze, almost a cowboy’s Arizona. In a valley near Zalanas I see my first ‘wild’ Nomad yurt. As the sun sets, after nine hours drive, a man on horse-back tells us we can camp near his yurt. We set up our tents somewhere in the wilds of Kazakstan.


Tomorrow. We visit the nearby local village. Join us and see what happens.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Day 17 – Ten Second Tornadoes on the Road to Samarkand

17mount.gif“The Road to Samarkand” and not a sign of Bing Crosby or Bob Hope (one of Paul’s jokes for the oldies on the web).

We set off early from Baysun and received a ‘right royal’ send off from the mayor and deputy mayor – they carry our luggage and grip our hands in gratitude for spending time with them and ask us to return. As the ‘Nomadmobile” heads off out of the town a morning light glances low over the Zerafshan ridge. The vertical landscape is dotted occasionally with Yurts, small ‘ten second tornadoes’ and herds of goats. We have to swerve precariously close to the edge of steep gorges narrowly avoiding various bovine animals.

17sign.gifOur driver, Bahadir who has just had his fifth grandchild, is fully in control. Gradually the heat rises and the hills disappear as we come out of the mountains. A big right turn at Karsi and we are on a fast, flat, perpetually straight road to Samarkand – the only interest being an occasional near vehicle crash either through potholed roads or badly misjudged overtaking. Eventually we near the outskirts of Samarkand and say good-bye to Sasha, he has to catch a bus to Tashkent. “Farewell comrades”, he says.

This trip has had its highs and lows, from the exhilaration of meeting wonderful musicians to the frustration of having no petrol. Through it all one figure seems almost unruffled by anything. Always patient, calm and considered, Sasha, our translator and advisor is a kind of centre of gravity, a point of stability for us. He has been on the road with us now for ten days so is used to our strange ways. He has acted far beyond the call of duty, and his understanding of Uzbek social graces has been invaluable . He always seems to be considering some “problem” (a word he likes to use) or reading a book (preferably in classical Persian). Suddenly something will amuse him and his bearded face will ignite with infectious laughter.

17sash.gif

Things work at their own pace here and Sasha understands this better than anyone. It’s easy to forget that this mild mannered man is an accomplished scholar, he wears his learning lightly and doesn’t need to impress anyone.

In one conversation with Sasha I caught a glimpse of the difficulty musicians here face trying to communicate with the outside world. Sasha gave the analogy of an Asian musician trying to describe Beethoven using his own musical terms of reference. Inevitably distortions would arise. This situation compares roughly with the efforts of some European scholars who come to Central Asia to research music. Sasha was at pains to point out that there were Europeans who understood this music better than some local scholars.This problem of unconscious Euro-centrism is something which musicians treat with indulgence here. Sasha kindly added that our project had a completely different brief, to introduce this music to a wide audience.

Patience and wisdom are rare qualities, Sasha possesses them in abundance.

17scrpt.gif

I arrive in Samarkand to find there is no room at the inn (again!). Samarkand only has two ‘bed and breakfasts’ and they’re full. I’m shunted off to a small courtyard with some abandoned bedrooms and parking space for the Nomadmobile. Gary is concerned that we have a clear line of site to the Indian Ocean – whatever that means. (Satellite?) I’m just happy to wash the dust off my feet.

17reg.gif

Samarkand is often described as the ‘Pearl of the East.’ The tall madrassahs supporting deep blue domes and the majesty of scale could produce a thousand descriptive superlatives. The city is, like Bukhara undergoing major refurbishment and soon celebrates its 1250th year. It also hosts a week long “Music of the East” Festival starting 25th August, this is one of the biggest events in the area for many years.

The Registan, one of the most celebrated monuments shows signs of preparation – tomorrow I will see it in the dawn light and get you some photos. When we arrive twenty traditional trumpet players rehearse their fanfare and stage positions for the opening ceremony – it reminds me of a Dad’s Army drill. The whole city has a sense of life and movement. Things are changing, fast. There is transition and excitement in the air, music and dance are commonplace on the street and in the specially designated tourist areas. I will explore this more in the next two days.17regs.gifEverywhere in the world, folk culture is presented as entertainment for “package tourists”. Samarkand is no exception. At 6 pm every evening local musicians and dancers re-enact an Uzbek legend with music, mime, puppetry and fire eating. It’s beautifully done and although stylized maintains a joyful innocence.

17musi.gifThe costumes are probably exaggerated, the music simplified, the legend made larger than life with roaring flame. Yet for all that bemused confused tourists get a taste of a wonderful culture. If they want to know more there are CDs and ‘Musical Nomads’. I was particularly impressed by the doira (frame drum) players with their intricate poly rhythms – I arranged to see them for a detailed session on Usul – the rhythmic patterns of Central Asia. The chang (oriental hammered dulcimer) player is also worth a closer listen.

Join me tomorrow as we explore the city and meet frame drum and other traditional Uzbek folk musicians – I may even get to meet my first Central Asian flautist

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment