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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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