Aga Khan Music Initiative
Each of the schools and centres within the Tradition-Bearers network pursues its goals in ways that reflect not only its educational mission, but also its demographic and social context.
Ustâd-Shâgird Music Training Programme in Kabul and Herat
Launched in late 2003, the Ustâd-Shâgird Music Training Programme embodies the links that have been forged by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture between the preservation of intangible and tangible cultural heritage. In Kabul, the Historic Cities Programme is engaged in the conservation of a sixteenth-century garden laid out by Mughal emperor Babur, and rehabilitation of historic quarters of the old city, including Kuche Gharabat. Long associated with the teaching and performance of Kabuli art music, Kuche Gharabat fell victim to the political instability that overcame Kabul after 1979, when many musicians fled into exile (mostly to Peshawar and Quetta). In 1992-93, those families that remained in Kuche Gharabat were driven out of their homes by inter-factional fighting, which devastated this and other neighbourhoods in the old city.
When musicians began returning to Afghanistan, the Music Initiative engaged six masters to offer instruction on the premises of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Kabul. In 2006, another group of ustâds began teaching students in historic premises restored for this purpose in the centre of the old city of Herat, in western Afghanistan. The ustâds provide instruction to groups of around 20 students in two-hour sessions three times a week. All students are selected on the basis of merit, and have to pass regular tests to retain their place in the course. While initial enrolment in the Training Programme was all-male, efforts have been made to identify female students, and four young women are now enrolled in different courses. It is hoped that female graduates of the Programme will, in time, contribute to the continuation of a rich tradition of music-making by and for women in Afghanistan.
Kökil Music College in Almaty and Guild of Epic Reciters in Qyzylorda
In Almaty, Abdulhamit Raimbergenov, founder and director of Kökil Music College, is working to expand his innovative approach to teaching Kazakh traditional music to children through the Murager (Heritage) Programme that he conceived and developed with support from the Music Initiative. Students participating in the Programme are not specially selected for musical talent, and most do not intend to become professional musicians. Instead, Raimbergenov’s goal is to build educated audiences for the next generation of traditional musicians under the assumption that their music will not survive unless it is performed within a social milieu that supports it.
The Music Initiative has provided hundreds of musical instruments to students in the Programme, and supported the development of electronic textbooks and video training guides that can be used nationwide. Kazakhstan’s ministries of Education and Culture officially recognised Murager in 2004. “Parents and teachers are demanding more classes”, said Abdulhamit Raimbergenov recently. “The average number of students in a class is 25-30, but the more students in a class, the better the results seem to be”. Future development of Murager will include an elite training section for musically talented students who hope to become professional performers.
The performance of epic poetry by bards, known as zhyrau, has long been cultivated among the semi-nomadic herders of central and western Kazakhstan. In the Qyzylorda Region of central Kazakhstan, the Music Initiative has supported ethnographic research trips, audio and video documentation, and a master-apprentice teaching programme focusing on zhyraulik - the art of performing oral epic. Support was initially provided through the Turan Centre, affiliated with Qyzylorda University, and is currently provided directly to a guild of zhyraus whose most notable figure is Bidas Rustembekov, a leading Kazakh bard, and the descendant of a distinguished lineage of zhyraus.
Centre Ustat-Shakirt in Bishkek, Kochkor, Issyq-Qul (Semenovka and Karakol) and Osh
Centre Ustat-Shakirt is unique among the tradition-bearer initiatives in that its teachers and students are geographically dispersed rather than concentrated in a single community. The Centre currently operates active programmes in four of Kyrgyzstan’s seven regions, and plans to expand to the three remaining regions of Talas, Batken and Jalalabad. Following a traditional model, students travel to their teacher’s domicile and become members of the household, living together, practicing music and helping with chores. At present, the Centre’s roster includes 23 teachers and seventy students who are studying the komuz (three-stringed lute), the qyl-qiyak (bowl fiddle), metal and wooden jaw harps, wind instruments (choor, chopo choor, sybyzgy), instrument-making and music history. Students, many of them from families of modest means, receive a stipend of around US$20 per month. In the Centre’s musical instrument workshop, master luthiers train apprentices in the crafting of high-quality instruments, with a focus on applying innovative techniques to building traditional instruments. These instruments are furnished to teachers and students in the master-apprentice programme.
In 2007, the Centre partnered with the Swiss Development Office and the Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture in a groundbreaking project to equip music schools nationwide with newly fabricated traditional instruments. Some of these instruments had not been made for decades, and the craft of building them was restored by teachers involved in the ustat-shakirt training programme.
Teachers affiliated with Centre Ustat-Shakirt have been particularly active in the Music Initiative’s International Performance and Outreach Programme. The pride and artistic stimulation that result from presenting their traditions to an international audience are reflected in the enthusiasm with which these teachers have embraced their pedagogic work. The Music Initiative regularly invites advanced students to participate in concert tours, providing an added incentive to excel.
Academy of Maqâm in Dushanbe and Khunar Centre in Northern Tajikistan
The Academy of Maqâm was founded in 2003 by Abduvali Abdurashidov, a leading music scholar and celebrated performer of Tajik-Uzbek classical music (Shashmaqâm). The Academy offers comprehensive training to qualified students in historical, theoretical and practical elements of Shashmaqâm. Students are enrolled in an intensive, four-year course of study, while those who have completed this programme remain professionally involved in performing and teaching Tajik classical music. The Academy’s curriculum includes fifteen different subjects ranging from vocal technique, performance on musical instruments and music theory to the history of world religions, analysis of classical poetry and Persian language. Students in the Academy are active participants in the Music Initiative’s International Performance and Outreach Programme, and their recording of Maqâm-i Râst, one of the six song cycles that comprise the Shashmaqâm, is featured in the CD-DVD anthology released through the Music Initiative’s Documentation and Dissemination Programme. The Academy’s achievements have also been supported by the President and the leadership of Tajikistan, and the Academy frequently has opportunities to present the art of Shashmaqâm both within the country and abroad. With its grant from the Music Initiative, Khunar Centre sponsors ustâd-shâgird programmes in four cities of northern Tajikistan: Khojend, Isfara, Istaravshan and Penjikent. In contrast to the Academy of Maqâm, whose focus is on advanced students, Khunar Centre accepts children from eleven to sixteen years of age. In 2007, the Centre accepted some 200 students. In addition to offering lessons with its 65 teachers, Khunar Centre sponsors frequent concerts, prepares cassettes and CDs for its students and publishes music method books. An opportunity to teach young people has had a significant impact on the social life of communities and teachers, many of whom are pensioners living on a limited income. “We’re giving a second life to older musicians”, said Khunar Centre’s director, Sultonali Khudoberdiev. “A lot of listeners, both young and old, are interested in our programmes”. Future projects for Khunar Centre include creating a musical instrument workshop to train luthiers, and expanding the ustâd-shâgird programme to other towns in northern Tajikistan.
Musicians from Uzbekistan have participated in the Aga Khan Music Initiative’s (AKMI) Performance and Outreach Programme. The aim of the AKMI programme is to acquaint international audiences with the music of Central Asia, and to promote respect for the musicians and traditions they represent - both in the wider world and within Central Asia itself. To this end, AKMI has sponsored concert tours that stopped in many of the most prestigious venues in European and North American capitals and promoted the music through the production, in an ongoing partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, of a CD-DVD series called "Music of Central Asia,” a 10-volume set which is being released on the Smithsonian Folkways label
Ziyada Sheripova and Injegul Saburova, the first women to perform a traditional male bardic repertory from Qaraqalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan that borders the Aral Sea, appear on Bardic Divas, the sixth CD/DVD in the series.
The performers assembled under the rubric “Bardic Divas” are not a fixed collective, but a flexible cooperative whose members represent diverse performance traditions centered around the solo voice. Dilbar Bekturdieva, a khalfa, or female wedding entertainer, from the Khorezm region of northwest Uzbekistan has performed with the ensemble on a number of occasions, including tours abroad. She performs lively and humorous songs that she accompanies on a small accordion called garmon. She also plays other traditional instruments, including the dayra and qayraq.
The Shodiana Ensemble from Uzbekistan also performed at the Ile de France Festival, at the Château de Villarceaux, in September 2006. Uzbek musicians also participated in the 2004 “Via Kaboul: Central Asia without Borders” tour, which began with a sold-out concert at the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera. During the two-week tour, artists from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan all became enthusiastic participants in a process of spontaneous inter-regional cultural exchange. Their late-night jam sessions and conversations not only helped stimulate new artistic visions, but inspired the musicians to delve more deeply into their own traditions.
In 2003, Shoberdi Bakshi, considered the Bard of the People of Uzbekistan, participated in a concert at the Odeon in Paris. Playing on a cherished "dombra", which he claims he loves because it does not tire him, Mr. Bakshi sang epic songs - mixed with improvisation - which can last, in traditional settings, nine hours or longer.
AKMI also supports tradition bearers of Shashmaqam, an Uzbek musical tradition that is also prominent in Tajikistan but which is linked most strongly with Samarkand and Bukhara, historically multicultural cities where performers and audiences have included Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Central Asian (Bukharan) Jews. With its Sufi-inspired texts, lyrical melodies, and austere instrumental accompaniment, Shashmaqam comprises music of great refinement and profound beauty that spans the entire gamut of traditional social life, from prayer to dance.
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