Posts Tagged Ari

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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Day 11 – A great deal of what we see depends on what we are looking for

11samar.gifAt last I hit the old silk road although now it’s cotton that lines the highway. I travel in hope from Tashkent to Bukhara, the Holy City. Hot miles of fields, the vanishing point defined by incongruous power lines. Was this really the road trodden by Ghengis Khan, Marco Polo and Timur. It is 90 degrees in the shade but the only shade is an 11th century Caravanserai, and even that crumbles, returns to sand. Hundreds of miles of overgrown irrigation ditches are the only vestige of some bold ten year plan. At a tiny oasis beneath an exotic maple? I take chai and admire the local faces.

Back on the road a combine harvester reaps the Nomad plain. From a hill I catch my first sight of Samarkand, Bibi Khanum. The dome shimmers blue in the midday haze.

11tomb.gifNot far outside Samarkand lies the tomb of Imam Ismail Al Bukhari, an important figure in early Islamic history. He is famous for collecting Hadith, or stories of the life of the prophet Mohammed. As Bahadir, our driver, wanted to pray we thought we would have a look around. The entrance to the mosque complex opens into a serene and tranquil garden with artificial lakes and fountains. Venerable looking gentlemen sit on the “Iwan” or raised platforms, characteristic of all Central Asian chaikanas or teahouses. As people slowly gather for the Friday prayers chatting and catching up with news, I notice that everyone is in their equivalent of Sunday Best. Older men in their silk frock coats, knee length leather boots, sashes and turbans, women in colourful silks.

11water.gifAlthough people tend to cover their heads out of respect it doesn’t seem compulsory. Visitors are welcome to stay in the gardens to watch the prayers as long as they show some decorum. This is a holy place but there is an overriding tolerance and hospitality. These are not values that people in the West often associate with Islam. Even Paul tottering around with his DV camera and tripod, hat on head didn’t attract any curiosity. Perhaps there have not yet been enough intrusive or inquisitive Westerners here to make a nuisance of themselves. During prayers I spent some time by the tomb itself and afterwards was joined by many people from the mosque. The gardens and tomb have a timelessness about them to be enjoyed by all.

11jnmeat.gifLunch is at the local ‘greasy spoon’, a lorry stop. I sample lamb stew and potatoes and admire the ancient bread oven almost biblical in simplicity. As the miles drag on I try and imagine the scene before the 20th century scarred the landscape. Ill thought out irrigation schemes and rusty power lines are sad monuments to leave our children.

We arrive in Bukhara at sunset. The golden glow permeates everything especially the overwhelming sandy colours of the buildings. We are staying in a local B&B with a fabulous, ornately painted wooden verandah overlooking a central courtyard, a wonderful location for musicians – perhaps we will invite some here. The B&B is next to a central square and pool called Labi-hauz which has, according to Gary who was here before, lost all its ‘old Bukharan’ charm. The renovations taking place for the 2500th year anniversary in a few weeks has turned it into a clean yet bland square complete with plastic white tables, chairs and ghetto blaster music. I feel quite sad that my vision of a Holy City is initially shattered by so much modern influence – the Coke and Kodak syndrome is starting to take a hold. After dinner we stroll in the dark city. The domes of the mosques, tall madrassahs and dominating minarets cloaked in black seem to exhude centuries of wisdom. Perfect silhouettes against the starry, moonlit sky, the night hides some failings.

11bksky.gifA canal runs down Bukharas main street, carrying with it both life and death – much needed water which in the past has carried many diseases. We turn a corner and see an entrance through a large wooden gate. This leads into a barely lit courtyard and on a board above a chaikana table hangs a dazzling array of Central Asian instruments – tanburs, tars, satos and doiras (frame drums). I am in the market for a frame drum and these look particularly well made and playable. The maker of the instruments takes me to his workshop hidden behind some trees. A small room is filled with half finished instruments. Drying animal skins and the smell of freshly cut timber give the impression that here is a professional craftsman. Newspaper cuttings show him and some musical diginitaries smiling to camera. Paul meanwhile is attempting to see if any of the local players have heard of a vocal technique for articulating the rhythms or ‘usul’ of frame drums, similar to that used in India. Sadly they all look bemused, another preconception shattered. After a short session playing with the locals, I am interested in purchasing one of the drums. I am told it costs $150, this is definitely too high as I know $75 is a good price and tell them I will return in a few days. It is too late for a long drawn out haggle session, anyway who’s gonna carry all this stuff! As we wind our way back, the wind whistles around the small ‘venetian-like’ streets, curtains are sucked out of windows and bats play in the tungsten streams of light. This is going to be interesting.

11duira.gifOn my return to the B&B there seems to have been some confusion, there is no room at the inn. Tonight I sleep outside.

“When you sleep in a house your thoughts are as high as the ceiling, when you sleep outside they are as high as the stars” (Bedouin proverb)

Tomorrow join me as we meet Ari, a player of the Kashgar Rebab. We are told he is the last of his kind.

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