You are here
You are here

Invisible face of the beloved: Classical music of the Tajiks and Uzbeks

Invisible face of the beloved: Classical music of the Tajiks and Uzbeks
The Academy of Maqâm takes its name from the venerable tradition of classical or court music that spans the core Muslim world from Casablanca, Morocco, to Kashgar in western China. The founding vision of the Academy belongs to Abduvali Abdurashidov, a Tajik musician and scholar who has brought new vitality to the performance of maqâm through a critical and historical study of its music and poetry.

The Academy of Maqâm

Established with support from the Aga Khan Music Initiative and located in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, Abdurashidov’s academy models itself on an older ideal of Islamic learning in which the study of music is inseparable from the study of poetry, prosody, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics. The performers who join Abduvali Abdurashidov on this recording are all students in the Academy of Maqâm. Both their raw talent and rigorous training are amply displayed in the vivid performance of Maqâm-i Râst that comprises the entire seventy-minute compact disc.


Image iconakmi-48030.jpg
Abduvali Abdurashidov, Founder and Director of the Academy of Maqâm, playing the Sato.
AKDN / Sebastian Schutyser

Maqâm-i Râst is one of the six maqâms, or suites, which constitute the systematically organized repertory of Central Asian classical music known as Shashmaqâm (six maqâms). In the Shashmaqâm, instrumental pieces, lyrical song, contemplative poetry, and dance are all bound together in a vast yet integrated artistic conception of great refinement and profound beauty. The roots of Shashmaqâm are linked most strongly with Samarkand and Bukhara - historically multicultural cities where performers and audiences have included Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Central Asian (Bukharan) Jews. Shashmaqâm performers were typically bilingual in Uzbek - a Turkic language - and  Tajik - an eastern dialect of Persian - and sang poetic texts in both languages. During the Soviet era, however, the Shashmaqâm was cloned into two distinct repertories - ”Uzbek” Shashmaqâm, with exclusively Uzbek-language poetic texts, and “Tajik” Shashmaqâm, with exclusively Tajiklanguage poetic texts. In both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the local version of the Shashmaqâm came to serve as an important symbol of national cultural identity. This cultural symbolism has become still more significant in the post-Soviet era as the independent nations of Central Asia strive to define themselves socially and historically.

Suites or cycles consisting of instrumental and vocal music organized by melodic mode and meter are characteristic of all maqâm traditions, and the concept of the suite is one of great antiquity. The Shashmaqâm, however, is not mentioned in medieval or early modern literary sources, and its origins remain a mystery. The dating of handwritten collections of song lyrics compiled by singers suggests that the Shashmaqâm began to assume a canonical form toward the end of the 18th century, and evolved into its present form around a hundred years ago. This form includes some 250 individual pieces divided into six constituent suites. Each suite is named after one of the traditional melodic modes of maqâm music: buzruk, râst, nawâ, dugâh, segâh, irâq. These melodic modes - each characterized by typical melodic motifs, intervals, and initial and final pitches - provide the basis for many, but not all, of the pieces in the six suites. Each suite also includes pieces in a secondary melodic mode, and modulations from one mode to another help to hold the attention of listeners through the juxtaposition of contrasting melody types. In Maqâm-i Râst, for example, the initial piece, Sarakhbor (from Arabic khabar, “news”), proceeds through a series of short songs (tarona) to the subsequent piece, Talqin, whose title designates an asymmetrical “limping” rhythm (known in Turkish music as aksak). Talqin is set not in râst, like Sarakhbor, but in ushshâq, a mode whose “minor” sound contrasts with the “major” sound of râst.

Contrasts of mode are amplified by contrasts of rhythm and meter between one piece and the next. In a typical procedure, a single melody is subjected to different rhythmic and metrical treatments in successive pieces, creating a series of variations. In Western music, a similar procedure was used by Baroqueera composers - most famously, Johann Sebastian Bach - to compose suites whose rhythmic and metrical transformations assumed the form of popular dance genres: allemande, courante, sarabande, gavotte, minuet, gigue, and so on.

Performers of Shashmaqâm must command a variety of skills. They must have a powerful voice that extends over a broad range; they must play the tanbur - the longnecked lute that singers traditionally used to accompany themselves; they must have a large repertory of poetic texts from which to draw song lyrics; and most important, they must understand the principles of setting poetic texts to music. These principles are contained in the traditional system of prosody known as aruz.

The aruz system comprises a complex of quantitative meters, each with its own metric formula analogous, for example, to iambic pentameter or hexameter in English. Skilled performers understand how to accommodate the quantitative verse meter of a poetic text to the metric cycle (usul) and melodic rhythm of a particular musical genre. Syllables of verse are designated as long or short, and these long and short syllables are grouped into formulaic patterns, for example: U - - - U - - - U - - - U - - - (short-long-long-long; short-long-long-long, etc). With the scansion established, metrical verse formulas can be set to musical phrases with corresponding long and short rhythmic values. The result is that in performance, poetic texts are rhythmically stylized, making comprehension difficult for listeners who do not already know the words. Shashmaqâm singers, however, have traditionally drawn on poetic texts that are well known to their listeners. Indeed, the lyrical expressiveness of the maqâm is first and foremost a means of conveying the sublime beauty and allegorical power of spiritual poetry. These texts belong to classical Islamic poets such as Hafiz, Jâmî, Nawâ’î, Hilâlî, Amirî, Bedil, Mashrab, and others who wrote in Persian and in a literary form of Turkic known as Chagatay. The texts, composed in classical forms such as ghazal, mukhammas, mustazâd, and rubaî, are redolent with symbols drawn from Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam. The most salient of these symbols is the figure of the beloved, which, while described in human form, alludes metaphorically and mystically to the invisible presence of the divine.


Members of the Academy of Shashmaqam.
AKDN / Sebastian Schutyser

Many of the poetic texts sung by Abduvali Abdurashidov and his Academy of Maqâm belong to Hafiz, the great 14thcentury Persian poet from Shiraz. The rich allegory, multiple levels of allusion, and sophisticated use of double entendre make Hafiz notoriously difficult to translate. English translations tend to reflect the literary sensibilities of their own time. The translations provided in these notes make no attempt to mirror the meters or rhyme scheme of the Persian but, rather, strive to remain as close as possible to the language of the original text. The best known of the Hafiz poems included here are set to the melody of Sarakhbor-i Râst (track 2) and Nasr-i Ushshâq (track 11). Both are available in many English translations, perhaps the most enduring of them the work of Gertrude Bell (cf. “The Glow of My Love’s Red Cheek” and “Vain to Seek the Key to the Hidden” in Hafiz, The Mystic Poets, Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock VT, 2004).

A Word from Abduvali Abdurashidov, Founder and Director of the Academy of Maqâm

These days, no one in Tajikistan needs to be convinced of the extraordinary importance of Shashmaqâm - the classical music heritage of the Tajiks. Much of the credit for this should go to the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Sharifovich Rakhmonov. His understanding, vision, and decisiveness in creating a new approach to the Shashmaqâm have energized our society at the beginning of the 21st century. At a time when the Shashmaqâm seemed to be fading, the President took sensible and timely steps to provide support. He funded new artistic and educational organizations, created a special “Day of Shashmaqâm,” and mandated the organization of children’s studios throughout the country devoted to the study of Shashmaqâm.

Like other forms of classical music in the East, Shashmaqâm was traditionally taught and learned through a system of “master-disciple” (ustod-shogird) oral pedagogy. The master-disciple system not only facilitated the transmission of knowledge and experience but also provided a framework for musical creativity and evolution. Beginning in the late 1920s, however, Soviet cultural strategists introduced European musical forms and genres into Central Asia - symphony, opera, ballet, oratorio - together with a system of music education in which students learned music from notation, rather than by ear. The Soviet Union’s official cultural establishment viewed this new musical life as a promising substitute for “backward” indigenous music. Now we understand that this model was misguided. Classical music from Asia and Europe both have their own unique qualities, their own self-contained worlds of thought and feeling. And how fortunate are those who have a place in their soul for maqâm as well as Mozart!

The erosion of the traditional master-disciple system had an adverse effect on our classical music, and it was the idea of reanimating this system in a contemporary setting that inspired me to found the Academy of Maqâm. I observed that in Iran, India, Azerbaijan, and other Asian nations, many master musicians have their own schools, and students are free to choose whichever school best suits them. I wanted to create a school where students would learn not only to perform maqâms of the past but to master the principles and techniques that would allow them to compose new maqâm music. In the Academy, I emphasize that the seeds of musical creativity and evolution are contained in the knowledge passed on to us by our musical forebears. A fundamental aspect of the Academy’s curriculum is the study of maqâm as a musical cycle or suite. I learned from my own experience that performing and listening to the maqâm as an integral cycle can lead to an entirely different understanding and experience of the music - to a kind of self-purification. You cannot get that experience simply by listening to individual pieces extracted from the cycle, which is how maqâm is mostly performed these days.

Today we live in the 21st century. Much has changed, but traditions more than a thousand years old continue to thrill and delight us. They reflect the variety of the world and enrich our ability to transmit to one another our most beautiful and precious feelings and thoughts, while filling us with optimism and hope for the future. The art of Shashmaqâm has emerged on the world stage and is enjoyed by listeners in many countries of Europe, North America, and Asia. The Academy of Maqâm is proud to contribute to the preservation, development, and dissemination of this remarkable art.


Solo on the SATO Abduvali Abdurashidov, sato

The sato is essentially a tanbur - a long-necked lute with raised frets - played with a bow. Abduvali Abdurashidov learned the instrument from the great Uzbek master, Turgun Alimatov, who revived it at the beginning of the 1950s after a period when Soviet culture authorities discouraged the performance of “court music” such as the Shashmaqâm. It was Abdurashidov’s idea to substitute this brief introduction for the lengthy instrumental section that opens Maqâm-i Râst in conventional performance versions of the suite. “The sato helps to tune the singers, both spiritually and musically,” says Abdurashidov. “Not only does it provide the mode and starting pitch of the vocal part, but it sets a mood and creates an ambiance for what will follow.”

Sarakhbor-i Râst

(Hafiz, c. 1320–1389) In this well-known ghazal, Hafiz elaborates on the classic Sufi-inspired metaphor in which wine and intoxication serve as symbols of spiritual ecstasy and love of the divine. Set to music in Sarakhbor-i Râst, successive couplets are sung in a continuously developing melody that ascends to a culmination, known as awdj (“zenith”). Following the culmination, the final two couplets descend toward the starting point.

Wine-bearer, brighten our cup with the light of wine,
Songstress, say what we accomplished that was longed for in this world!
O, he who knows not our eternal enjoyment of wine,
In the winecup, we saw reflected the face of the beloved!
Eternal is the one in whose heart lives love,
Our eternal existence is written in the Book of the World.
How much coquetry from the shapely beauties
Would it take to arouse our cypress-figured one?
O, wind, if you pass through the friendly blossoms,
Don’t fail to give our message to the beloved.
Intoxication is good in the eye of our beloved,
And so our fate was dedicated to intoxication.
A tulip stole my heart away like a cypress tree,
O, bird of fortune, when, at last, will we tame you?
Hafiz, scatter the seeds of tears from your eyes,
May the bird of fate be lured by that bait.

Tarona 1 (Anonymous)

In the Shashmaqâm, taronas are short songs that provide a melodic and rhythmic transition between the principal vocal pieces of each suite. Typically they are folk songs with unattributed texts that do not follow the rigid metrical rules of the aruz system. This set of five taronas (tracks 3–7) begins with a song set in the melodic mode and metric cycle (usul) of the preceding piece, Sarakhbor-i Râst, and concludes with a song that introduces the rhythmic cycle of the subsequent piece, Talqin-i Ushshâq.

Without you, there’s no pleasure from watching a garden flower,
Without you, the chalice of the heart is filled with blood.
Just as your face is like the moon shining on the world,
Your light eternally illuminates my heart.
You said that you’ll be my guest this evening,
O, dearest one, what a way to speak!
The dagger of your eyelashes pierced my heart
I’m grateful for your kindness, I’ve attained happiness.

Tarona 2 (Anonymous)

I’m intoxicated, my heart is broken, and I’ve lost my mind,
The moon embraced by a halo cast a shadow on my head.
Her face scarlet from wine, her lips the color of rubies,
Her sandalwood-colored countenance, embraced by shame.
The belligerent, unaffectionate, sulky moon-face,
The naughty one with the scented hair in a flower-decked dress.

Tarona 3 (Anonymous)

Come to the land of beauty and devotion, O Canaanite moon!
Come, shining sun, I’m a vagrant pilgrim!
Step into my hut out of generosity, like a healer,
I’m afflicted by love, O, my beauty, you’re the remedy of my pain, come!
Since you left, you flower-gowned one, my hut’s become home to sorrow,
Come like the soul into the land of the flesh, O, hidden moon, come!
I became the diver in the sea of the heart, yet I failed to find pearls,
My solitude becomes oppressive, O moon, even if you hide, come!

Tarona 4 (Anonymous)

To whom shall I go? With whom shall I be?
My heart is yearning to get away from here.
I’d rather see you than your coquetry
Expose your face, come to the meadow.
My heart has become a stack of fire,
From both eyes, my bloody tears formed a river.

Tarona 5 (Anonymous)

The garden of the beloved’s heart is a stain on the enemy’s heart.
Why should I abandon you, whose manner is so graceful.
Secret oglings that conquer the heart are one side of the coin,
Death agonies of passionate lovers are the other side.
May I die for you.

Talqin-i Ushshâq (Husayni)

Ushshâq is the principal secondary melodic mode in the Râst cycle. Ushshâq immediately establishes a contrast with râst by emphasizing a different pitch - re instead of do, which is the modal nucleus of râst. The asymmetrical “limping” meter designated by the term talqin (typically notated as 3/4 + 3/8) is also known among musicians as zarb-i lang. “Lang” is the same word that became attached to the name of Timur, the 14th-century conqueror, who was popularly known as Timurlang, or Timur the Lame, on account of his limp. The text is by Husayni (a.k.a. Amir Husayn Fahrii Sodot), a prolific poet who lived and worked in present-day Afghanistan, and died in the city of Herat in 1318 or 1319.

Last night, that heart-conquering moon passed along the stream,
Her beauty was passed from the stream to the garden, from the garden to the flower, and from the flower,it was passed through color and scent.
Blushing from embarrassment, she looks like a red flower,
Whose shyness penetrated clothes, body, and bed.
From the pistachio-like lips of the flower-faced one,
The heart was passed by the smile, the smile was passed by the lips, and the lips began a conversation.
When the carrier pigeon realized how far away you were,
The letter was passed by the feather [pen], the feather [pen]was held by the arm..
Last night you danced coquettishly at the feast of friends,
Your dance stirred the drummer, flutist, and singer to ecstasy.
When the coiffeur saw your elegance and beauty,
She chose cotton ribbons and combs for your hair.
Husayni wanted to see a moon-faced one,
The desire to search was inspired by the heart, the heart stirred movement, and the legs moved.

Suporish Talqin-i Ushshâq (Anonymous)

The term suporish (“handing over,” “deliverance”) designates a short section whose musical function is to transition from one melodic mode or musical meter to another - in this case from the limping meter of talqin to the angular 6/4 time of nasr.

O friend, O friend,
The garden of the beloved’s heart is a stain on the
enemy’s heart.
Why should I abandon you, whose manner is so graceful?
May I die for you. Man

Tarona (Anonymous)

This brief tarona provides an ingenious melodic transition to the important piece that follows, Nasr-i Ushshâq. Preserving the rhythmic shape of the initial melodic motif, it all but imperceptibly shifts to the melodic idiom of ushshâq in the third line of the poem and, at the end, transitions smoothly to the starting pitch of Nasr-i Ushshâq.

Give a lesson of eloquence to the flower-faced ones,
So that a record of you may remain in the tradition of heart-stealers.
You deserve to be surrounded by the tulip-faced ones,
You are the sun, and you deserve the dawn.

Nasr-i Ushshâq (Hafiz)

Nasr-i Ushshâq sets to music one of Hafiz’s most famous poems. Rendered in song, such texts meld the limpid beauty of powerful voices with the wisdom and spiritual teaching of an eloquent sage. In the poem, Hafiz refers to the Musalla Gardens and Ruknabad River of his native Shiraz, and to the tale of Yusuf and Zulaikha, which appears in different versions in the Old Testament (Genesis 39) and in Sûra 12 of the Koran. In the Koranic version, the female companions of Zulaikha, the wife of Potiphar, cut their hands with knives after being overwhelmed by the beauty of Zulaikha’s beloved, Yusuf. Mystical interpretations view the story allegorically, as a representation of the power of divine beauty revealed in human form.

If a Turkish girl from Shiraz conquered my heart,
For her single mole I’d give her Samarkand and Bukhara.
Wine-bearer, give me the dregs of the wine that you can’t find in heaven,
Where Ruknabad’s waters flow not, and the garden pathways of Musalla are empty.
Woe! These havoc-stirring coquettish beauties
Stole patience from my heart, like Turks plundering booty.
The beauty of the beloved is free from want of our deficient love,
A beautiful face needs neither paint nor lotion, birthmarks nor streaks!
From the radiant face of Yusuf, I understood
That love could bring Zulaikha from behind the curtain of chastity.
Follow the exhortations, dear one, for fortunate youth
Prefer the counsel of a wise elder more than life itself.
Better to tell stories of musicians and wine than search for the secrets of the world,
Because no one has solved or will solve the essence of this enigma.
You recited a ghazal as if polishing jewels; come and continue reciting, Hafiz,
So that bowing before your poetry, even the sky will present you a necklace of the Pleiades.

Tarona 1

The morning breeze blew, and I fear it disturbed her,
And that the movement of scented curls would wake her.
If at night that flower-dressed beauty falls asleep in the meadow,
The nightingale, intoxicated from singing, would wake her.
How beautiful it is when the forlorn sees the face of his beloved,
And embraces the beloved with the hands in which he’s holding his head.

Tarona 2 (Anonymous)

This tarona concludes with a poetic line taken from the end of the subsequent piece, Nawroz-i Sabo, for which it serves as a brief musical introduction (daromad). The daromad is marked by a change in musical rhythm that prepares listeners for what is to follow.

Try to sit with learned people,
Or sit with a delicate, elegant beauty.
Hearken, if these two are not possible,
Come sit with us in the tavern.
(Daromad-i Sabo)
The music of Venus makes the Messiah dance.

Nawroz-i Sabo (Hafiz)

Sabo is the name of a subsidiary melodic mode that, like ushshâq, occurs in the Râst cycle of the Shashmaqâm (a melodic mode named saba is found in Ottoman and Arabic classical music but bears no resemblance to the present mode). Academy of Maqâm director Abduvali Abdurshidov notes that the ghazal of Hafiz that provides the text was well known among Tajik-speaking Central Asians, not only in cities but in the most remote villages. “Many people knew these texts from memory,” said Abdurashidov, “and often recited them at social gatherings devoted to veneration of the great poets.”

O breeze of dawn, be kind and convey that graceful gazelle
That makes us wander in the mountains and deserts.
Why does the sweet-seller, may he have a long life,
Not act kindly toward the sweet-singing parrots?
Did pride in your beauty really not allow you, O flower,
To ask after the love-mad nightingale?
With beauty and good temper, one catches everyone’s attention,
One cannot catch a wise bird with snares and lures.
If you sit with your beloved and enjoy wine,
Remember the rivals who also enjoyed wine!
I don’t know why there isn’t even a hint of amity
From that black-eyed moon-faced cypress-figured beauty.
There’s no reproach for your beauty, except that on your beautiful face,
There’s no trace of love and fidelity.
How amazing, if, from Hafiz’s words,
The song of Venus in the sky made the Messiah dance.

Talqincha-i Sabo (Hafiz)

This song exemplifies the cyclic principle of the Shashmaqâm by transforming the meter of the preceding piece, Navroz-i Sabo, while preserving its melodic mode. The text for this short song is a rubai (roba’i) or quatrain, with an aaba rhyme scheme, rather than the ghazal form used in the longer songs. The use of different poetic genres in the Shashmaqâm demonstrated singers’ mastery of prosody and text-setting.

The day when separation divides you from me,
I’ll be impatient from not seeing your face.
If I look in another direction,
Let your beauty blind me.
I am a slave of the one who is in love,
And carries on his neck the fetters of love.
How could you know about the taste of love and loving?
Only the one who has interest drinks this wine.

First Suporish (Bedil, d. 1721)

The suporish marks what Abduvali Abdurashidov describes as a “first ending” to the cycle - a point of possible repose. The valedictory gesture is brief, however, as the cycle continues into a lively finale.

All instruments are destroyers of the heart,
All melodies are melodies of the heart.

Ufor-i Ushshâq (Amir, 1787–1822)

Ufor is dance music, and in performances of the Shashmaqâm, it is common for a dancer to join the musicians for this final song. With the Ufor, Maqâm-i Rast has gone full circle, “from prayer to dance,” in the words of one performer. The ghazal is by Amir Muhammad Umar-Khan, who was not only a poet but the ruler of the Kokand Khanate, a feudal city-state whose territory encompassed parts of present-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

As the silvery beauty touched the wineglass to her lips,
The bleeding heart of the lover was burned like kebab from jealousy.
Each time the servant combs the plaits of this moon,
The thread of my soul writhes from jealousy.
When her lips opened to a smile as she spoke,
From that silent mouth, I understood one thing.
Her face increases the impatience of the suitors,
Where the sun shines, everything becomes agitated.
Dreaming of her figure, lovers give up the ghost,
What a beautiful moment when she doffs her veil.
I’m suffering and singing hundreds of laments,
Wherever that naughty beauty drinks wine, with chang [harp] and rubab [lute].
Hundreds of times I asked her lips for a kiss,
But from her life-giving lips I didn’t receive a single answer.
Amir, in longing for union with her, I have sent
Caravans of amazing prayers to the heavens.

Final Suporish (Anonymous)

As if closing the circle, this final suporish returns to the beginning of the entire cycle, borrowing the last couplet of the ghazal by Hafiz that opens Sarakhbor-i Râst.

Hafiz, scatter the seeds of tears from your eyes,
May the bird of fate be lured by that bait.