Supporting Tradition Bearers - Aga Khan Music Initiative - AKDN
Aga Khan Development Network

Supporting Tradition Bearers

The launch of the Tradition-Bearers Programme came at a critical moment for Central Asian music, when, demoralised by economic hardship and lack of interest and recognition from the public, many traditional musicians had abandoned their careers as performers and teachers.

Tradition bearer, playing the komuz.The Music Initiative identified master-musicians, or ustâds, committed to the survival of their cultural heritage, who were not only consummate performers and talented educators, but who also demonstrated innovation and entrepreneurship in their approach to sustaining musical traditions. The Tradition-Bearers Programme presently operates projects in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Small grants have also been awarded to projects in Uzbekistan. Master musicians work both in self-initiated music centres and schools, and within guild-like networks that encourage collegiality and communication among independent master teachers. These organisations accomplish their mission by developing new materials and methodologies for teaching traditional music, involving students in ethnographic documentation of local traditions, establishing workshops for building high-quality musical instruments and stimulating appreciation of authentic traditional music among audiences in Central Asia.

The various pedagogic methods of the centres extend along a continuum that ranges from intensive training of an elite group of advanced performers to cultivating future audiences by teaching the elementary grammar of traditional music. Differences in the age range of students, the focus of the curriculum and the educational goals of each centre reflect the different ways in which they have implemented the Music Initiative’s mission to preserve and reanimate traditional music, and assure its transmission to the next generation of performers and audiences.

To date, more than 3,000 students and master musicians have directly benefited from the Tradition-Bearers Programme through support of ustâd-shâgird centres and teacher-training seminars. The Programme’s considerable visibility in Central Asia stems not from its size, which is modest, but from the model it offers of how to preserve and further develop intangible cultural heritage in the conditions of a free cultural marketplace.

Sustaining traditions by supporting tradition-bearers involves far more than aiding individual musicians. The vitality of any musical tradition is closely linked to the broader social and economic context in which it exists. For talented performers, the key desired outcome is to feel appreciated by and connected to the communities of listeners on which their profession’s economic viability relies. Reanimating musical traditions that have suffered rupture, repression or censorship requires a comprehensive approach to cultural advocacy that addresses the following issues:

  • Training and pedagogy: assuring the quality of teachers and curriculum materials, and providing democratic access to educational opportunities for students.
  • Taste and aesthetics: encouraging appreciation for a tradition’s highest achievements.
  • Mediation and commerce: developing markets, audiences and distribution networks for cultural production (recordings, videos, concert tours and Internet websites).
  • Cultural identity and globalisation: advocating for music rooted in a sense of place while nourishing worldwide connections.