Bardic DivasSeventeen musicians from Central Asia, a culturally dynamic and rapidly changing region, will share their mastery of traditions at once ancient and contemporary in an 11-city North American tour beginning on October 12th. The tour, “Spiritual Sounds of Central Asia: Nomads, Mystics, and Troubadours,” will provide North American audiences with a rare opportunity to hear music from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Qaraqalpakstan (an autonomous region in Uzbekistan). Concerts will feature a panoramic range of vocal and instrumental music that showcases some of Central Asia’s finest performers.
The artists, several of whom are making their North American debuts, will include the legendary Azerbaijani vocalist Alim Qasimov, whom the French newspaper Le Monde hailed as “one of the most beautiful voices of our era,” and his daughter Fargana; Bardic Divas, four women from Kazakhstan and Qaraqalpakstan who demonstrate the power and beauty of the female voice; and the Badakhshan Ensemble, which performs trance-inducing mystical songs from the majestic Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, an area known in Persian as bam-i dunya, “the roof of the world.” The concerts will include introductory documentary films about the featured musicians; supertitles with translations of song lyrics; and live, large-screen video close-ups. In addition, the tour will include children’s programs, university lectures and residencies, pre-concert discussions and museum presentations.
Badakhshan Ensemble The 2007 tour is a groundbreaking collaboration between two major institutions: the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA), and the New York-based World Music Institute (WMI). AKMICA, a program of the Geneva-based Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), aims to preserve and nurture the indigenous musical traditions of Central Asia, and to ensure the transmission of the region’s musical heritage to new generations of artists and audiences. WMI, a renowned performing arts presenter, is dedicated to presenting the finest traditional music and dance from around the world.
“Through our Touring Program, we strive to celebrate Central Asian musical traditions in parts of the world where they are little known,” said AKMICA Director Fairouz Nishanova. “Concert tours not only introduce this unique music to global audiences, but promote respect for the musicians and the traditions they represent within Central Asia itself.” AKMICA consultant and tour curator Theodore Levin, a professor of music at Dartmouth College, added: "International touring helps musicians in Central Asia address one of the principal artistic challenges of our time: how to nourish global connections while retaining a link to art rooted in a sense of place and tradition."
“We are very excited to be part of this tour, “ said Isabel Soffer, WMI’s Director of Programming. “One of our primary goals is to promote cultural understanding, and this joint project fits our mission well. This tour has the potential to draw large numbers of people to the riches of Central Asian culture through the concerts, which are taking place at some of North America’s leading performing arts centers, and the important outreach component.”
Alim QasimovAlim Qasimov is Azerbaijan’s best known and most beloved singer, a virtuoso who is equally at home in the two musical domains central to Azeri musical culture: mugham, the classical art music that has flourished for centuries in the sophisticated cities of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia; and ashiq, the rural bardic tradition that is found in Turkey, Azerbaijan and the Azeri region of Iran. In 1999, Qasimov was awarded the prestigious international award, IMC/UNESCO Music Prize, and the Folk Roots Magazine hailed him “one of the greatest singers of the 20TH century.” Alim Qasimov has also participated in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. Fargana Qasimova, Alim’s daughter, has absorbed her father’s musical gift, and is well on the way to becoming a great singer in her own right. Sensitively accompanied by Rauf Islamov, Rafael Asgarov, Natig Shirinov and Ali Asgar Mammadov, all members of distinguished musical lineages, the Qasimovs present the art of mugham and the tradition of the bardic ashiq at their zenith.
In the southeast of Tajikistan, where the majestic Pamir Mountains reach heights only slightly lower than those of the Himalayas, local traditions of devotional song, mystical music, and dance have flourished among mountain-dwelling Pamiri peoples. Together with Badakhshan’s rugged geography, these practices have nourished the preservation of many aspects of traditional culture. The members of his Badakhshan Ensemble live in and around Khorog – the regional capital and the country’s largest city, with a population of around 40,000 – where they earn their livelihood as professional musicians. Their repertory includes maddah – devotional songs that can embody the spiritual power known as baraka, laments with spare instrumental accompaniment called falak, and traditional popular songs, called khalqi. For Badakhshanis, music and dance are intimately linked, and Soheba, an outstanding dancer as well as one of Badakhshan’s finest female vocalists, illustrates the rich symbolism of Pamiri dance.
Female entertainers have played a key role in the social life of Central Asia women and continue to do so today. The artists assembled under the name Bardic Divas feature two singers from Kazakhstan and two from Qaraqalpakstan, and together represent diverse performance traditions centered around the solo voice. Ulzhan Baibussynova is a jyrau – an epic singer and one of the first women of her young generation to master this traditionally male Kazakh art form. Her voice is reflected in the raspy, guttural recitative in which she recites Kazakh oral poetry. Joining her is Ardak Issataeva, from the Jambul region of Kazakhstan, who currently teaches lyrical song at the Conservatory of Almaty. Likewise, Ziyada Sheripova and Injegul Saburova were the first women to perform a traditional male bardic repertory from Qaraqalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan that borders the Aral Sea.
For tour dates, please see the 2007 tour itinerary.
AKMICA was founded in 2000 by His Highness the Aga Khan. Notable AKMICA projects range from a collaboration with celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project to an ongoing partnership with the Smithsonian Institution for the production of "Music of Central Asia," a 10-volume CD-DVD series released on the Smithsonian Folkways label. Three new CD+DVD collections, to be issued in October, will feature touring artists Alim and Fargana Qasimov, the Bardic Divas, and the Badakhshan Ensemble.
WMI is regarded as the US’s premier presenter of traditional music and dance from around the world. Since its founding in 1985, WMI has built the most comprehensive concerts series of world music and dance in the United States. In addition to presenting more than 60 concerts in New York each season, WMI organizes tours throughout North America. Tour highlights include Pakistan’s qawwali master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Masters of Persian Music, and Gypsy Caravan.
Discography: SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS CD+DVD RELEASES SET FOR RELEASE IN OCTOBER 2007
MUSIC OF CENTRAL ASIA vol 4: BARDIC DIVAS: Women’s Voices in Central Asia 
MUSIC OF CENTRAL ASIA vol 5: BADAKHSHAN ENSEMBLE: Songs and Dances from the Pamir Mountains 
MUSIC OF CENTRAL ASIA vol 6: ALIM AND FARGANA QASIMOV: Spiritual Music from Azerbaijan 
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