Posts Tagged Baysun Ensemble

Day 21 – the person who arrives is not the one who left

Yesterday I found myself reflecting on some words from day 0

‘the person who arrives is not the one who left’.

This trip has been very intense for me. Meeting so many people, visiting so many places in such a short span. Some ‘moments’ have had a profound effect on me. Day 4, as I encountered the intense Shamanistic music of Raushan and her kobuz. Day 7, hearing Munadjat moved me to tears. Day 11, the quiet reflection of Hoja Ismail al Bukhari?s Tomb. Day 12, the intimacy and humour of a family lunch with ‘the last of his kind’, Ari Babakhanov. Day 13, at last the satellite works and I share my discoveries and invite your questions. Day 16, I meet the wild man of Baysun, Shoberdy Bakshy who dares to dance to a different drum. Yesterday the Sufi Shayk Kushkarov astounded me with his strength of spirit, generosity and wit. The internet site though is the tip of an iceberg.

21ensem.gifAfter tracking the Baysun Ensemble several hundred kilometres across Uzbekistan, we finally caught up with them in Tashkent. They assembled in Friendship Square at 3.00 in the afternoon heat. Despite the conditions we managed to catch a brief example of their unique brand of folk music. The Ensemble is large, 45 people including musicians and dancers. We only saw 30 of them today, but I still had the impression of a village collectively telling a story. Baysun itself is renowned for its music [see Day 16] and the

21jensem.gifEnsemble have a considerable reputation in Uzbekistan. Established for ten years they have travelled widely, including UK, Turkey, Bulgaria and USA. Their music might be described as folk revival, aiming for a reconstruction of traditional music about everyday life. It is a long way from the Russian inspired ‘folkloric’ groups, and retains something of the simplicity and directness of authentic folk music. Stories and poems are sung and semi-staged. The repertoire is adapted for the concert hall and is very well rehearsed. Its naturalness conceals years of painstaking reconstruction, mostly from oral sources. They now adapt traditional melodies to modern texts.

21duet.gifI sat down with their manager, Abdunabi Ravshanov and their musical director and flute player, Habib Umarov. After some discussion about the Group’s history and current activities, I asked about the similarities between their music and the music of the Balkans, particularly Bulgaria. This similarity had struck me particularly strongly this afternoon. Habib said that Uzbeks and Bulgars had mixed with Turkic people. I took out my flute and played a Turkish melody. Habib’s face flashed a smile of recognition. Within seconds he was playing along and I was trying to imitate some of his ornamentation and variations. It seems this tune is from Istanbul. We each knew slightly different versions but it was undoubtedly the same melody. It was a strange but hard-warming feeling to be sitting in a Tashkent hotel with a Baysun flute player playing a melody from Istanbul.

21habib.gifIt crossed my mind that because musicians seem to pick up tunes wherever they hear them, the music itself becomes nomadic – it travels. This has always been the case. Habib played ‘What do we do with the drunken sailor?’ to which he knew a strange variation on the words presumably picked up on a tour of the UK. On day 2 Abylai played us an Italian tune, on day 18 the chang player in Samarkand entertained us with Mozart. With my Russian limited to one or two words this is by far the best way to get acquainted.

The journey continues, we turn another corner. The Shaman eludes us, and we still only glimpse real yurts on distant hill sides. 19 more days, tomorrow the Ferghana valley and then onward to Krygyzstan.

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

No Comments

Day 19 – Culture is a Living Thing

19zinda.gifSamarkand contains some of the most stunning sights in Central Asia. Its huge majestic architecture and blue azure domes are a big attraction. It is not a museum city however, it has the feel of a functioning place. People pass through the old centre in the morning on their way to work or to market. You get the impression that people who live here no longer marvel at its beauty, just as Londoners no longer ‘see’ St. Pauls cathedral.
Being a living city there are some sights that are just ‘monuments’ such as the Registan, and some that retain a religious significance beyond their outward beauty. Shah I Zinda, or tomb of the living king is an impressive example of this. It consists of a street of tombs once elaborately decorated with ceramic tiles. Largely unrestored it’s partly ruinous state encourages the imagination to recreate the original splendour.


The name Shah I Zinda refers to the mausoleum of Qasan Ibn Abbas, a cousin of the prophet Mohammed who is said to have brought Islam to this area. The simple ante room which connects to the actual burial chamber via a small door is a much visited shrine. Tapers are left to burn here and suras (Koranic verses) are read almost continuously. I found myself moved once again by the devotion displayed here, and somewhat mystified by the numbers of video cameras that roamed the sight. Perhaps here more than any other sites we have visited the difference between the tourist and the pilgrim is most obvious.
19muson.gifOnce again everyone is welcome but it did leave a slightly uncomfortable impression.

Just across the road from the quiet serenity of the tombs is the noisy chaos of the main bazaar. In the heat of the day people argue over prices and laugh and joke together. Once again this is the living city of Samarkand, the farmers market where people buy and sell their produce. Its noisy cassette stalls and vivid colour seem even more intense after the cool of the tombs. The whole market sprawls in the shadow of the Bibi Kharnym Mosque. This enormous ruin looms impressively, dwarfing all around it. It was once one of the Islamic World’s largest mosques, but gradually it crumbled under its own weight, finally collapsing in the earthquake of 1897. Around it the city bustles on.

Musaffar was still very excited about our interest in his ‘serious’ music when we returned to his shop. I hoped he had kept his promise and found me a ‘quality’ nai. Sadly he had forgotten.
19jbook.gifThe elusive nai and nai player saga continues. While we were in the shop Musaffar suddenly began playing and singing a maqam. His voice seemed to be slightly out of practice and several notes missed the mark, but I sensed a great deal of integrity in his performance. I asked him to play ‘Munadjat’ (one of the most famous maqam pieces) which he performed wonderfully on his rubab. I asked if we could return later to record some of these pieces. Before I left I purchased a good frame drum case, at least the drums may survive the journey ahead.

Culture is a living thing. The way people dress, the artifacts they make tell their story. As part of Russian imperialism the ‘State Museum of the Cultural History of Uzbekistan’ takes Uzbek culture and sets it in stone. Faded costumes are a poor reminder of a peoples history. As ever the saddest exhibits are the musical instruments – sentenced to a mute death. Tar, gidchak and rubab never to sing. On a positive note the museum does feature a very large Koran, possibly the largest in the world and some intriguing pre-Islamic stones, similar to the ones we saw in Almaty. (see Day 3)

18regbsy.gifBack home in England it’s the sad relics of empire that strive for dignity in the British Museum. Even in the West a museum can be a poor testament. Here surrounded by a population living in a new republic a Soviet conceived museum seems an irrelevance.

The real culture of Uzbekistan is out there on the streets, celebrated in kaleidoscope clothes and the throb of a distant doira. In contrast the Registan across the road has life, a focus for current events animated by dancers and mad trumpets. The heat of the day in Samarkand sat still like a dosing alley cat. It had been well over forty five degrees and it still felt dangerous to be out in the roaring sun. The pollution and general ambient noise added two more disturbing ingredients.


When we returned to Musaffars shop at four he had his fan on, cooling his small shop to a bearable level. He and his son, Nabishon looked eager to play for us but they had work to do, so we could not take them anywhere quiet. Vehicles and disco music were part of the general chaos outside the window. We needed the fan switched off to enable a reasonable recording. The heat rose. Musaffar picked up his tar, his son grabbed the nearest doira and they burst straight into a ‘number’. They had done this before! The perfect duo, accelerating and decelerating in synchronicity as only father and son could. Nabishon tastefully decorated the instrumental sections with his doira. They both seemed to enjoy playing as much as repairing. Their main income comes from repair work, performing gave life to the instruments. The biggest surprise for me was Musaffar’s voice, now much improved, it rose above the tar and doira. As they played the second piece the workshop became a sauna, sweat rolled off Musaffar’s brow splashing onto his now slightly out of tune tar. We had witnessed a traditional music, passing from father to son without any suggestion of a generation gap.

Tomorrow on the way to Tashkent we hope to meet a Sufi Sheikh (mentioned in Day 18 Mail), and we go in search of the elusive Baysun Ensemble.

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

No Comments

Day 14 – To succeed this project must be interactive

14gidy1.gifIn the same way that a musician craves an audience I must hear from you. I invite you to help produce this exploration into Central Asian music – do you wish to know more about vocal music or instrumental? Are you interested in the related art of dance? Looking back on the previous pages, did we leave any questions unanswered? Are you gaining a clearer picture of this rich culture? Would you like to hear more from any of the featured musicians? – we have up to three recordings of each player. Are we telling you enough about the cultural context? Are you interested in the history, the religion or indeed the politics? We can’t promise all the answers, we will give it our best. Be a director in this bold new medium, I invite you to call the shots.

Meeting Ulmas Rasulov, Uzbekistan’s foremost classical ghidjak player, was an unforgettable 14gidy2.gifexperience. The ghidjak is a spike fiddle and has many similarities to the violin. It has a short neck attached to a gourd shaped soundboard and has a slightly shrill timbre which can only be controlled by very experienced players. Ulmas, who is totally blind, communicates straight from the heart with an incredible openess and honest sensitivity. He has an awareness of the people around him that transcended his lack of sight. He talked to Kathrin and she found it a wonderful surprise to hear that the cello is his favourite European instrument. He suggested she immediately get a cello and play a few duets with him. Ulmas has a great passion for European music, especially Spanish and although the pieces he played were traditional, they exhibited influences far and wide. He played with a deeply felt passion and intensity that touched us all.

14nash.gifUlmas told us later that the ghidjak “connects with the heart and soul of the people in Central Asia.” To him this is sacred music, “the music of God”. He feels that together with the sato (another bowed string instrument) and surnai (a reed instrument), the ghidjak comes closest to the human voice. He adds that the voice is the most important ‘instrument’ here and all other instruments aspire to its qualities.”In post-Islamic and pre-revolutionary Transoxania the whole of artistic culture, literature, music and architecture was based on Sufi ideas.”
Alexander Djumaev (Sasha)

14koran.gifOn our travels I’ve had many opportunities to chat to our friend and musical adviser, Dr Alexander Djumaev. Sasha is a leading musicologist and historian who is particularly interested in the relationship between Sufism and culture. He is a mine of information and has been responsible for introducing us to some extraordinary musicians. I too have become extremely interested to discover more about a mystical tradition that has inspired such an extraordinary culture. As part of this quest I felt it would be important to visit the tomb of Bahauddin Naqsband who is a ‘patron saint’ here in Bukhara.

The tomb is now part of a large complex which includes a mosque, an old dervish house, a museum, a cafe, gardens and of course the gnarled old mulberry tree, reputedly planted by Bahauddin himself. Legend has it that wishes will be granted and women made fertile by passing under the tree three times. There is the air of a tourist complex about the place. It is not until you approach the tomb that the intensity of feeling he engenders becomes apparent. A Koran reciter sits under a shady tree, people join him to have suras recited for dead relatives or just to hear them. An elderly gentleman’s voice chokes with emotion as he prays. The pleading and emploring in his voice makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable. It is like witnessing someone’s distress. This is the same yearning that comes across in some of the music we have heard here, especially maqam.People bring their children here and walk three times around the tomb for luck. Women kiss and stroke the old mulberry tree. Whether or not any of those people maintain a practical connection with the Sufi tradition is unclear.

14jwish.gifLong beforethe revolution the Naqsbandi Order travelled to Turkey and India. There are now branches of the order all over the world. It is undergoing a revival, instigated by influences from outside. I do not know if I have discovered anything new
today, but I have gained an insight into the devotion that people here have for this great Sufi teacher.

Tomorrow I go, for the first time, into the mountains near Baysun to seek out a Bakshy and the legendary Baysun Ensemble.

, , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments