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Conference and Concert

Conference and Concert

Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Study, in association with the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the Aga Khan Music Initiative, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Senate House, SOAS Brunei Gallery, London, 16–18 May 2012   

Convenors: Saida Daukeyeva (IMR) and Rachel Harris (SOAS)

Keynote speaker: Theodore Levin (Dartmouth College)


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For centuries, Central Asia has been a crossroads of civilizations, peoples and societies, a land ‘in between’ East and West and a territory contested by political powers. Its modern history – from imperial and Soviet domination to the emergence of independent nation-states – has witnessed a profound transformation of its political and social geography, calling for a re-evaluation of Central Asia as a region, not least in terms of its expressive cultures and music.

What is Central Asia as a musical region? Conference bookletHow can we situate it musically, across its diverse localities, and in relation to the surrounding and outside worlds? What can continuity or difference in music and the existence of musical borders – whether real or imagined, inherent or imposed – tell us about the region’s social and political history and the interplay of ethnic and national identities today?

It seems appropriate to ask these questions at a time when nation-building in former Soviet states, the war in Afghanistan and political conflicts in south Central Asia, migratory processes, social change and ever-increasing global influences have reshaped the region’s cultural landscape, affecting the way music is produced, mediated and experienced.

This conference explored the musical geographies of Central Asia, focusing on regionalism and borders. It provided a forum for an international group of scholars to discuss a spectrum of musical practices in Central Asia in relation to geopolitics, cultural ideology, localism, nationalism, cosmopolitanism and globalisation.

The geographical area covered by the conference included the post-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as Azerbaijan, the Russian Republics of Tatarstan and Tuva, Mongolia, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, and Afghanistan.

The conference aimed to locate distinctive regional, cross-regional, national and transnational musical styles, genres and sounds within their geocultural, political and ideological environments. Looking across a range of contemporary and historical musical domains – folk, art/classical and popular – participants examined the intersection of musical regionalism with long-standing clan allegiances and social hierarchies, shifting political alliances, and ideological and cultural flows. They questioned the existence of musically articulated borders within and between geocultural zones (Transoxiana, East Turkestan, Khorasan, Altai), nomadic-pastoral and sedentary-agricultural societies, Turkic-Mongol, Iranian and Indo-European peoples, rural and urban communities, and Islamic and indigenous belief systems.

Papers engaged with the following themes:

  • conceptualisation of Central Asia’s musical geography by insiders and outsiders;
  • vernacular musical vocabularies and the semiology of performance and reception;
  • musical depiction of place and landscape, and the bearing of topography on style;
  • spatial distribution and temporal evolution of music practices;
  • contemporary representation in concert venues in and outside Central Asia;
  • the role of media and music technologies in the dissemination of local and global sounds;
  • the impact of scholarship, state institutions and NGOs on music and related discourses;
  • individual pathways of musicians and their negotiation of identity in the ever-expanding musical world.

Drawing together Central Asian and Western participants from a variety of backgrounds (musicology, ethnomusicology, culture studies, social sciences), the conference promoted dialogue across different traditions of scholarship on Central Asia and raised awareness of a musical world much of which remains little known beyond the region’s borders. The concluding concert, which featured solo and ensemble repertoire from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Xinjiang and Azerbaijan, celebrated the musical richness and diversity of Central Asia.

Edited by Saida Daukeyeva