Day 9 – Red Tape Hell, Musical Heaven

08conver.gifHaving been out of action for a while I have not been able to tell you about our meeting with Pattahon Mamadaliev. Sometimes it’s difficult to interview musicians here because of their modesty . if you ask them about themselves they will naturally represent themselves in a very humble way. Pattahon is a good example of this.A respected maqam performer he is particularly famous for his wedding singing in the Fergana style. He is professor at Tashkent state Conservatoire and has performed numerous times on TV and Radio. In fact, the people working in our hotel were thoroughly surprised to see him sitting in their dining room. Perhaps the thing that most distinguishes him is his status as a composer. Pattahon was the first musician to be awarded the honorary title of Hafiz by the new administration after independence. This title is used in the Islamic World to describe one who has learned the Koran by heart, but it can also refer to a master musician. Pattahon is not only an interpreter, he also composes maqam music and texts.

I always enjoy watching older musicians who have played for years, they often have a minimalist style, an economy of expression. Pattahon plays as if his tanbur is a part of him and his voice still retains a power which belies his seventy years. Interestingly when we asked about the age of the tanbur he said it was not old, only fifty years.

09kathas.gifAs Pattahon’s life spans much of the period of Soviet rule in Uzbekistan I was keen to ask him about the changes that had come about. Both he and Abdurahim were clear that it had been an ill conceived experiment on the part of the Russians to try to change the musical tradition here. They felt it to be a tribute to the strength of the music and the peoples’ feeling for it that it had survived. Sasha our interpreter and musicologist companion pointed out that this viewpoint was fairly nationalistic and not necessarily representative of all musicians in the country, although there is much evidence that Soviet Cultural Policy had set out to repress the music. Sasha can be heard translating this viewpoint in an excerpt from the interview.This day was to be special for the project. A high ranking official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was going to make customs give us our satellite phone. We left for the airport at 9 am in triumphant frame of mind believing we would return within the hour. At 2 pm two bedraggled people walked through the door, black satellite phone in hand. We had been through red tape hell. The country may have reached independence but the old Russian way of doing things remains fully intact. An endless stream of grey concrete ‘huts’ scattered randomly around a wide, bland pot-holed road leading away from the airport. Sleepy Army soldiers guard rusty gates and several stages of payment, slips of paper and rubber stamps get you in.


Over a roaring fire a large wok containing gallons of water. Lumps of dirty raw meat and vegetables, sit bubbling away in the middle of one of the yards – who is it for? The atmosphere of the place is slow and still, certainly not an area bubbling with efficiency. The various stages that Uzbekistan customs ask you to go through to acquire your own property is excruitiatingly painful when like us, you are in a rush. The paperwork and arguments burn irretrievably into the memory of all who pass through each ‘hut of frustration’.Though I’m still unwell, I’m keen to see how the new satellite is shaping up. I descend the stairs to find Gary and Paul surrounded by 100 pieces of wreckage – I can’t believe it, the replacement satellite has possibly been corrupted in transit and they are trying to trace an obvious fault. Despite all their efforts the team cannot find one, desperate calls to England are hampered when we can’t get a phone line. I retire to a safe distance, Gary and Paul are not happy. Ten minutes later I am awoken by a combined banging and throbbing – what now? Peering through the door I see Gary manfully priming a petrol generator and Paul planting an earth spike in the dusty courtyard. There wasn’t enough current in the local electricity supply to even work a soldering iron, so this is the solution – make your own electricity. It’s bizarre seeing all this sophisticated satellite gear driven by a petrol generator.

We are told a third satellite transmitter will be hand delivered in a few days to Bukhara. Please stick with us we are doing everything we can, normal ‘service’ will commence shortly.

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