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Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia
Music and musicians have historically played a vital role in the cultures of Kyrgyz republic and Central Asia in general. Music traditionally served not only as entertainment, but as a way to reinforce social and moral values, and musicians provided models of exemplary leadership. When these rich traditions were confronted with the withdrawal of resources and the influx of western pop following the demise of the Soviet Union, many went into decline.

Music and musicians have historically played a vital role in the cultures of Kyrgyz republic and Central Asia in general.Music and musicians have historically played a vital role in the cultures of Kyrgyz republic and Central Asia in general.Recognising that it was important to support these traditions, His Highness the Aga Khan established the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA) in 2000. Today, AKMICA currently supports exemplary musicians, called “tradition bearers”, in four of Kyrgyzstan’s seven regions, and plans to expand to the three remaining regions of Talas, Batken and Jalalabad. Support is given to centres operated by these master musicians in Bishkek, Kochkor, Issyq-Qul (Semenovka and Karakol) and Osh. 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.

For more information, please see the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia.

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