Washington, USA, 15 March 2006 - Dignitaries from Washington’s political, diplomatic, legal and cultural fields today joined His Highness the Aga Khan at the inaugural concert of Via Kabul: Central Asia Without Borders at the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium. The concert was the first performance of the 2006 USA tour, which will continue with another concert on the 16th at the Freer Gallery before moving on to the Columbia University campus in New York for master classes and a concert (March 21 at the Miller Theatre). The tour will move on to Texas (March 24 at the Rudder Theatre at Texas A&M in College Station), New Mexico (March 25 at the KiMo theatre in Albuquerque) and Ohio (April 4th at Miami University’s Hall Auditorium in Oxford).
The tour -- presented and curated by the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia -- features three groups of performers: Tengir-Too, from Kyrgyzstan; The Academy of Maqâm, from Tajikistan; and Homayoun Sakhi and Taryalai Hashimi, from Afghanistan (via California).
The Wednesday concert marked the release, on Smithsonian Folkways, of Music of Central Asia, Volumes 1-3. The innovative series, which will eventually comprise 10 volumes, includes a CD, a DVD with a documentary film on the featured musicians, as well as interactive instrument glossaries and maps. The series is a co-production of the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (a programme of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture) and the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
The tour features the most celebrated Afghan rubâb player of his generation, Homayoun Sakhi, a performer who fled his country after the Soviet invasion, developed a new musical style while living in exile in Peshawar, Pakistan, and now makes his home in Fremont, California.
The Tour includes the The Academy of Maqâm, from Tajikistan, which plays the Sufi-inspired court music of Samarkand and Bukhara, cities that are located in current-day Uzbekistan.
The Tour also reveals the effervescent music of the Kyrgyz mountain nomads in the form of Tengir-Too. The ensemble, led by Nurlanbek Nyshanov, plays oral-tradition songs, employing instruments called the choor and the kylkiyak, as well as the Jew’s harp. Of particular note for those audiences who would like to experience recitation on a Homeric scale, Tengir-Too’s Rysbek Jumabaev channels the voice of a warrior in a thousand-year-old Kyrgyz poem thirty times longer than the Iliad. Mr. Jumabaev, who typically holds Central Asian audiences spellbound for eight hours or more, often stuns Western audiences (as he did earlier at Carnegie Hall) with his invocation of the horsemen of the 500,000-line Manas epic. The epic’s central theme is how the hero Manas holds off the Mongol hordes and other enemies.
Several of the musicians featured in “Via Kabul: Central Asia without Borders” made cameo appearances in the panoramic Smithsonian Folklife Festival of 2002, “The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust”. The present tour, however, offers an in-depth look at the rich and diverse musical traditions of a region that is experiencing a cultural reawakening after decades of Soviet rule.
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The outstanding Afghan rubâb player of his generation lives in Fremont, California, the American city with the largest concentration of Afghans. Homayoun Sakhi grew up in Kabul where he studied the rubâb under his father in the traditional form of apprenticeship known as ustâd-shagird. In 1992, Homayun’s family moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, a refuge for many Afghans from the chaos that enveloped their country following the 1979 Soviet invasion. The unofficial headquarters of Afghanistan’s émigré music community there was Khalil House, an apartment building where thirty or more bands established offices. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, many Afghan musicians in Peshawar returned to Kabul, but by this time, Homayun was on his way to Fremont, California.
The music of Tengir-Too (Too is pronounced like “toe”)—led by Nurlanbek Nyshanov, the 40-year-old innovator on traditional forms—fuses nomadic musical traits with European compositional techniques. As the Kyrgyz came under the sphere of Russian cultural and political influence, European musical forms and instruments supplanted local styles and traditional folk instruments. Though conservatory-trained, Nyshanov broke away from these Eurocentric models. His breakthrough occurred when he understood that, rather than rely on the academic conventions of ensemble music, he had to let his music “speak” in its own language.
The Academy of Maqâm
In Tajikistan, the impact of Soviet rule had a different effect on the music. Prior to the Soviet era, musicians in the multicultural cities of Samarkand and Bukhara drew audiences of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Bukharan Jews. The performers were typically bilingual in Uzbek (a Turkic language) and Tajik (an eastern dialect of Persian). But with Soviet control, came a division of these intermingled cultures, leading to two distinct repertories. The Academy of Maqâm takes its name from the venerable tradition of classical or court music that spans much of the Muslim world from Casablanca, Morocco, to Kashgar in western China. Located in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, Abduvali Abdurashidov’s Academy models itself on an older ideal of Islamic learning in which music is inseparable from poetry, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics.
The Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA)
The Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia was created in 2000 by His Highness the Aga Khan to contribute to the preservation, documentation, and further development of Central Asia’s musical heritage. The Music Initiative pursues its long-term goals both within its region of activity and worldwide. In Central Asia these goals include revitalizing important musical repertories by helping tradition-bearers pass on their knowledge and craft; building sustainable cultural institutions that can eventually be maintained by local organizations and communities; and supporting artists who are developing new approaches to the performance of Central Asian music. Worldwide, the Music Initiative strives to increase knowledge about Central Asia’s music and culture, particularly among students, and to nurture collaborations among musicians from different parts of Central Eurasia and beyond.