The Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI) was created by His Highness the Aga Khan in 2000, initially to support the efforts of Central Asian musicians and communities in Kazakhstan, and elsewhere in the region, to sustain, further develop and transmit musical traditions that are a vital part of their cultural heritage.
In Almaty, AKMI supports the Kökil Music College and its founder and director, Abdulhamit Raimbergenov, who 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 AKMICA. 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. The Music Initiative’s first major undertaking was a multi-year collaboration with the Silk Road Project, the international arts initiative founded and directed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Collaborative activities introduced distinguished musicians from Central Asia to audiences in the West and also brought Western musicians to Central Asia. Highlights included a concert and master classes in Almaty, as well as concerts in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In 2007, Ulzhan Baibussynova, a master teacher at the Kökil Music College in Almaty, was featured in a volume of Music of Central Asia vol. 4: Bardic Divas: Women's Voices in Central Asia in a collaboration between AKMICA and the Smithsonian Folkways recordings. The Smithsonian describes the CD/DVD as “sublime bel canto lyrical songs, the guttural recitative of nomadic oral poetry, lively humoresques, and poignant laments of unrequited love comprise this panoramic survey of contemporary women's music from Central Asia performed by some of the region's leading singers”. The largest collaborative event, in 2002, also involved a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution through which the Music Initiative provided curatorial expertise and support for a major representation of Central Asian musicians and artisans at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival “The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust”. The ten-day festival, which took place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., attracted 1.3 million visitors. 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. 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.