Obviously, Central Asia has long been a crossroads as well as the center of empires, whether Turkish, Iranian or Arabic. Alexander's exploits here are well-known. Music from this region is strongly conditioned by both Turkish & Iranian styles, along with a dose of its own originality. Besides the classical traditions of the populous Amu Darya (Oxus) valley, several other relatively unexplored traditions exist in this broad region which stretches from Iran into China.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Uzbek / Tajik classical repertory is that it is relatively uniform across the national boundary. This becomes less surprising when one remembers that this was an important center of Muslim civilization after the Arabic conquest, and that its musical roots are said to reach even prior to this event. The styles are highly refined, yet seem to be lacking a sizeable audience today. They managed to survive official Soviet deprecation by adapting to the new environment, and by generally shortening the classical forms.
The following anthology serves as an ideal introduction to this underrated musical tradition. At the time it appeared, it had a very dramatic effect on me, and had to rate as one of my most compelling musical experiences. It is easily superior to some of the more folksy surveys found on other labels.
- Asie centrale: Traditions classiques
- Ocora (Radio France) C 560035-36 (2 CDs)
Indeed, Ocora began a series in supplement of this anthology, and it continues to be highly enlightening. I had anticipated further volumes, but the pace seems to have slowed considerably, with nothing of note since 1999.
The first volume is devoted specifically to the Ferghana style. It has perhaps adapted most aggressively and impressively to the new contraints of shorter presentation. There is an excellent suppleness here, and a subtlety of expression. The leading developments in new music for this tradition as a whole seem to have come from the Ferghana style.
- Maqam d'Asie Centrale
- 1. Ouzbekistan: Ferghâna Monâjât Yultchieva Ocora (Radio France) C 560060
The second volume turns to the Bukhara style, which is the oldest classical tradition in the region, and the one from which the others have been derived. It is more austere, and built of extended cycles on single modes. This is called the "Shash Maqam" (six modes, in Tajiki) repertory, made of elaborations on six great modes.
- Maqam d'Asie Centrale
- 2. Tadjikistan: Tradition of Bukhara Jurabeg Nabiev / Ensemble Dorrdâne Ocora (Radio France) C 560102
Besides Bukhara and Ferghana, the other major classical maqam tradition is that of Khiva... not yet on record.
There are a few other recent recordings devoted to folk or popular styles, but a scarcity even there. When it comes to folk traditions, the styles here change almost imperceptibly into those of surrounding areas from Iran & Afghanistan into Western China.
This gradual variation is perhaps most apparent in the instrumental music of the plucked-string dotar, the most important solo instrument of the region. The following anthology gives an impressive survey of the most important styles of Uzbekistan:
- L'art du dotâr
- Hamidov / Khodâverdiev / Razzaqov Ocora (Radio France) C 560111