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This beautiful and informative book offers a detailed introduction to the musical heritage of Central Asia for readers and listeners worldwide. Music of Central Asia balances "insider" and "outsider" perspectives with contributions by 27 authors from 14 countries. A companion website (www.musicofcentralasia.org) provides access to some 189 audio and video examples, listening guides and study questions, and transliterations and translations of the performed texts. This generously illustrated book is supplemented with boxes and sidebars, musician profiles, and an illustrated glossary of musical instruments, making it an indispensable resource for both general readers and specialists. In addition, the enhanced ebook edition, which is so comprehensive it had to be split into two ebooks, contains 180 audio and video examples of Central Asian music and culture. A follow-along feature highlights the song lyrics in the text, as the audio samples play.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253017512
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 12/05/2016
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 704
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.20(h) x 1.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Theodore Levin is Arthur R. Virgin Professor of Music at Dartmouth College and Senior Project Consultant to the Aga Khan Music Initiative. He is the author of Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Music, and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond (IUP, 2006) and The Hundred Thousand Fools of God: Musical Travels in Central Asia (and Queens, New York) (IUP, 1996).

Saida Daukeyeva is a Georg Forster Research Fellow (HERMES) at Humboldt University in Berlin. She is author of Philosophy of Music by Abu Nasr Muhammad al-Farabi.

Elmira Köchümkulova is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Central Asia in Bishkek. She is author of Respect Graces the Living, Lamentation Graces the Dead: Kyrgyz Funeral Lamentations (in Kyrgyz), and Kyrgyz Herders of Soviet Uzbekistan: Historical and Ethnographic Narratives (in Kyrgyz and English).

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The Music of Central Asia

By Theodore Levin, Saida Daukeyeva, Elmira Kochümkulova

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2016 Aga Khan Music Initiative
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01764-2


Music in Central Asia AN OVERVIEW

Theodore Levin

Geographical and Cultural Boundaries

Central Asia suggests by its very name a region with imprecise borders. What constitutes the "central" portion of the huge Asian landmass? And "central" viewed from whose perspective? Indeed, the notion of Central Asia as a coherent geo-cultural region is a European invention, and a relatively recent one at that. (It first appeared in the title of a book published in 1843 by the German explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt.) Indigenous inhabitants had their own mosaic of names for the territories in which they lived, and the Russian, British, and Chinese imperial powers that jousted for control of the region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries used still other names: Turkestan, Tartary, Transoxania, Xinjiang. Today, no people goes by the ethnonym "Central Asian," and linguists have not posited a language group called the "Central Asian" languages. Rather, the peoples, languages, and territories of Central Asia represent identities whose domains are both larger and smaller than the region itself, however it is defined. One fascinating aspect of Central Asia is the multitude of overlapping ways in which its inhabitants have identified themselves and the way these identities have been perpetually in flux as a response to historical events and social change.

Central Asia as commonly understood at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a region defined by a mixture of geographical, political, and cultural boundaries. Most definitions of the region would place its western extreme at the shore of the Caspian Sea, a geographical demarcation. In the southwest, however, the conventional boundary is a political one: the border between Iran and Turkmenistan. By contrast, in the east, the distinct political border represented by the Chinese frontier is often disregarded in favor of an imagined cultural boundary farther to the east that crosses into China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the traditional territory of the Uyghurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people.

The northern and southern flanks of Central Asia are the most problematic. In the south, cultural coherence would argue for the inclusion of Afghanistan north of the Hindu Kush Mountains. However, the geographical boundary formed by the Amu Darya, the river that also serves as a political frontier between Afghanistan and its northern neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is frequently given priority, thus excluding Afghanistan altogether. In the north, the political border between Kazakhstan and Russia is a commonly used demarcation, but from a demographic point of view, the north of Kazakhstan, with its considerable Russian population, many of whom are first- or second-generation citizens of Kazakhstan, seems much like an extension of the Siberian frontier. Conversely, the Altai region of southern Siberia, which lies northeast of Kazakhstan and whose indigenous population speaks Turkic languages such as Tuvan, Khakas, and Altai, has strong ethnolinguistic links to Central Asia. Finally, Tatarstan, the autonomous republic within Russia situated north of the Caspian Sea that is the traditional territory of the Turkic-speaking Tatars, has never been included in geographic or political definitions of Central Asia, but on the basis of ethnolinguistic and cultural ties, perhaps it should be.

Even if Central Asia's conventional boundaries vary in type, and though there is not consensus about their location, the region itself displays four kinds of broad coherence and commonality that represent defining features of society and culture. First, over many centuries, Central Asia has developed along two great axes of civilization that, while preserving their own trajectories, have maintained a close and symbiotic relationship. One of these axes represents the culture of nomads, and the other, the culture of settled peoples, or sedentary dwellers, who live in cities, towns, and rural villages or settlements. The interaction between nomads and sedentary dwellers has been shaped over time by a complex of geographic, environmental, economic, cultural, and political factors, which in turn have influenced the development of music and musical life in Central Asia.

A second kind of coherence is that an overwhelming majority of the population identifies Islam as its active religious practice, cultural legacy, worldview that informs everyday social life, or all of these. Most Central Asian Muslims trace their lineage to the Sunni branch of Islam, while Shi'a Muslims comprise a small minority represented principally by Ismailis, a Shi'a sect and community that established settlements in the mountainous Badakhshan region of Tajikistan and Afghanistan beginning in the eleventh century. Islamic tradition in Central Asia has incorporated a range of local practices and beliefs — many of them concerned with the veneration of spirits — that have interacted over centuries with more classical or normative interpretations of Islam. The pervasive presence of such practices and beliefs, shared by both nomads and sedentary dwellers, reinforces the specific regional character and cultural framework of Central Asian Islam.

A third kind of coherence concerns language. Just as the near ubiquity of Arabic bolsters social cohesion throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Turkic languages serve as a unifying force in Central Asia. Unlike Arabic, however, which despite its many spoken dialects and local forms is identified at least nominally as a single language, the Turkic dialect continuum in Central Asia has been fractured into a spectrum of closely related languages. Some 90 percent of the region's autochthonous population identify themselves with a Turkic ethnicity and speak a Turkic language as their native tongue. Most of the remaining 10 percent identify themselves with an Iranian ethnicity and speak an Iranian language, although many can communicate in a Turkic language as well. Excluded from these figures are Russian-speaking Slavs who began to populate Central Asia after the czarist conquests in the latter half of the nineteenth century and who, during the Soviet era, constituted 50 percent or more of the population of the region's major cities. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, many Slavs have left Central Asia and resettled in Russia and Ukraine.

Finally, a fourth kind of coherence stems from political history. The Russian conquest of Central Asia not only brought Russian-speaking colonizers to the region, but under the administration of the czars, and particularly under the centralized rule of the Soviet Union, Russian and European cultural models were imposed on indigenous societies with the aim of modernizing what the colonizers viewed as "backward" Asian peoples.

Patterns of Settlement: The Steppe and the City

Historians have called Central Asia a "double periphery." This term expresses the idea that historically Central Asia formed the northeastern periphery of Persian civilization, whose highest cultural aspirations arose from an urban sensibility at the same time that it formed the southwestern periphery of the steppe empires built by Turkic and Mongolian nomads, whose expressive culture reflects the physical, material, and spiritual world of pastoralists. While pastoralism was sharply curtailed during the Soviet era, the cultural memory of nomadic life remains strong among historically nomadic peoples.

Steppe and city have produced distinctive forms of music making. Nomadic music reflects a direct sensory experience of the natural world that forms the nomadic habitat. Nomadic expressive culture includes not only various kinds of singing and instrumental music but a rich tradition of oral poetry. Best-known in this genre is the epic. For nomads — "mobile pastoralists" in the parlance of anthropology — mobility makes books and written documents impractical. In place of writing, nomads have historically privileged orality and memory as means of documenting, transmitting, and archiving history, genealogy, and cultural mores.

The ability of certain individuals to recite long epic tales with complex plots and subplots signals not only a talent but what nomadic tradition interprets as a gift bestowed by spirits. This tradition imbues the world with the power of spirits in myriad forms: ancestor spirits that underscore the enduring ties of kinship; spirit-masters and spirit-protectors that inhabit and animate natural phenomena such as rivers and mountains, caves and springs, birds and animals; and, most centrally, the sky deity, known in Turkic languages as Tengri, who is paramount in the pantheon of deities that populate the spirit world of the pastoralists. The cult of the sky deity has ancient roots in Turkic civilizations, which arose in Inner Asia as early as the first centuries CE. It is mentioned in inscriptions written on stone monuments in the Orkhon script, a writing system used by Turkic nomadic clans from the eighth to tenth centuries CE. In post-Soviet Central Asia and Siberia, the cult of Tengri has been revitalized in the form of a spiritual practice known as Tengrism or Tengrianism (Turkic: Tengrichilik, Tangirshilik).

Humans endowed with a special ability to contact the spirit world can summon and exploit the powers of both benevolent and malevolent spirits for practical ends. Such specially endowed individuals exist in many cultures and are known by a variety of local names, but the word "shaman," borrowed from an indigenous Siberian language, has become widespread as a cross-cultural term to describe them. Among Central Asian and Siberian pastoralists, shamans have been important carriers of many kinds of traditional knowledge, including how to use sound and music for healing purposes.

In contrast to the ancestor spirits and nature spirits that compose the spiritual world of nomads, the spiritual culture of sedentary dwellers has been fundamentally shaped by Islam and Islamic tradition. At once pervasive, variable, and culturally specific, Islamic influences are best understood in the context of particular times, places, ruling dynasties, and social practices. The intersection of Central Asia's two civilizational axes — one sedentary, Islamic, and Persianate; the other nomadic, animist, and Turkic-Mongolian — has contributed to the rich diversity of Central Asian expressive culture. After millennia of intermingling, Turkic, Mongolian, and Iranian cultural traditions have become so tightly interwoven that in many cases it is all but impossible — and perhaps pointless — to try to distinguish their ethnic or geographical origin. Yet despite myriad forms of cultural hybridization that have tended to merge the two currents of influence, broad distinctions remain between the cultural world of sedentary dwellers and that of nomads or historically nomadic groups. These distinctions in worldview are expressed through music in many different ways: choice of musical instruments; types of musical performers; typical musical genres and repertoires; characteristic vocal styles; style and genre of poetic texts; methods of setting texts to music; and use of musical scales and rhythms, among others.

Islam in Central Asían Culture

Within a decade of the death of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, in 632 CE, Arab armies loyal to the caliphs who succeeded Muhammad as leader of the umma, or Islamic community, pushed out of the Arabian Peninsula and began a series of assaults on neighboring lands to the west (North Africa), north (Syria, Palestine, Iraq), and northeast (Persia). Over the next century, the scope of these military campaigns expanded significantly, bringing Arab armies eastward into Central Asia as far as the borderlands of China, then ruled by the Tang dynasty. In 751, Arab and Tang armies fought a decisive battle in the valley of the Talas River, near the boundary of present-day Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in which the Tang forces were defeated. The Battle of Talas marked the end of the Tang dynasty's westward expansion into Central Asia, while also marking the effective end of Islam's expansion toward the northeast periphery of Central Asia.

When Arab armies defeated the Tang forces at the Battle of Talas, they did not impose Islamic beliefs and practices on the nomadic Turkic clans whose territories they had invaded. Rather, the deeply rooted spiritual culture of the pastoralists remained a powerful force. Meanwhile, in the oasis cities and settlements that stretched along the trans-Eurasian trade routes known as the Silk Road, many people continued to practice Zoroastrianism, the state religion of Persia's Sassanian Empire (224–651 CE), which at its peak included much of Central Asia. Others practiced Manichaeism, another Iranian religion that flourished along the Silk Road; Nestorian Christianity; and Buddhism, which was carried to Central Asia and China from its birthplace in India. These religious practices were not exclusive to sedentary dwellers, but permeated the porous boundaries of spiritual culture to find adherents among nomads as well.

The Islamization of Central Asia took place gradually, over many centuries, and proceeded with varying degrees of acceptance and resistance among different social groups and in different geographic regions. Broadly speaking, Islam was established more quickly and more deeply among sedentary dwellers than among nomadic pastoralists. Moreover, among nomads, and to a lesser extent among sedentary dwellers, Islamic practices and beliefs merged with pre-Islamic Í practices and beliefs. Such merged 1 practices have remained strongly I reflected in the social contexts and uses of music and other forms of expressive culture in Central Asia.

Islamization came about in two different ways, one principally political and administrative, and the other principally cultural and spiritual. In the first case, the process was top-down, through the conversion of ruling elites, and in response to the imposition of administrative edicts and taxation policies that made conversion to Islam advantageous on a civic level. In the second case, Islamization proceeded through the arena of popular culture, where a range of performers used music, poetry, storytelling, and theater as a means of disseminating Islamic values, mores, customs, and beliefs. Popular Islam engaged a broad cross-section of Central Asian urban society through the appeal of performers who were at once entertainers and preachers. These performers included figures such as wandering dervishes who gathered street crowds to perform didactic spiritual songs for alms, and itinerant bards who recited moralistic stories and chanted excerpts from the Qur'an and hadiths — accounts of the teachings, sayings, and deeds of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam (see chapter 22).

Another potent force in the Islamization of sedentary dwellers was Sufism. Sufism — also known by its Arabic name tasawwuf, "mysticism" — is broadly understood as the mystical or esoteric dimension of Islam. Sufi practices and beliefs were historically transmitted through brotherhoods of initiates founded or inspired by a renowned spiritual teacher, and a number of influential Sufi brotherhoods arose in Central Asia. These include, most notably, the Yassawiyya, founded in the twelfth century by Khoja Ahmad Yassawi, and the Naqshbandiyya, created in the fourteenth century by Bahauddin Naqshband, who lived in Bukhara.

Sufi practices such as rhythmic chanting, whirling, and other ritualized body movements that can lead practitioners to a state of spiritual ecstasy may have been adapted from older practices rooted in shamanism. Though this proposed link is speculative, it is persistent, and underscores the symbiotic relationship between nomads and sedentary dwellers. At the same time that shamanism may have shaped certain Sufi practices, elements of popular Sufism found their way into the culture of nomads in the form of spiritual, homiletic, and didactic songs.

Islam and Music

Islam has generated a range of views about the legal and moral status of music while firmly distinguishing sacred chant, considered "non-music," from all other kinds of sound-making. Most central to the category of "non-music" is the intoned chanting of the Qur'an (Arabic: tajwid) and of the Call to Prayer (adhan) by specially trained reciters. While a beautiful voice chanting the Qur'an or the Call to Prayer indeed sounds "musical" according to most definitions of music, to call such chanting "music" (musiqi) within the context of Islamic practice would be considered by some a form of blasphemy owing to the cultural associations of this Greek-derived term with secular music making.

If the chanting of the Qur'an and the Call to Prayer is not "music," then what is it from a sonic perspective? Islamic tradition has not yielded a term that subsumes the various kinds of sacred "non-music" into a single category. Seeking such a term, which, as a precondition, must not include the word "music," American ethnomusicologist Lois al-Faruqi proposed handasat al-sawt, a neologism whose literal meaning in Arabic is "sound engineering." Decades after its introduction, however, the use of this term remains limited.


Excerpted from The Music of Central Asia by Theodore Levin, Saida Daukeyeva, Elmira Kochümkulova. Copyright © 2016 Aga Khan Music Initiative. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Accessing Music Examples Online
A Note on Music Terminology
Guide to Transliteration
Timeline of Central Asian History

Part I: Music and Culture in Central Asia
1. Music in Central Asia: An Overview / Theodore Levin
2. Musical Instruments in Central Asia / Theodore Levin
Part II: The Nomadic World
Prologue: Who Are the Nomads of Central Asia? / Theodore Levin
3. Introduction to Oral Epic / Elmira Köchümkulova
4. The Epic Manas / Elmira Köchümkulova
5. Oral Epic in Kazakhstan: Körughly and a Dynasty of Great Jyraus / Uljan Baibosynova
6. Music of the Karakalpaks
Part I: The Epic World of the Karakalpaks: Jyrau and Baqsy / Frédéric Léotar
Part II: Qyssakhan: Performer of Written and Oral Literature / Kalmurza Kurbanov and Saida Daukeyeva
7. The Art of the Turkmen Bagshy / Jamilya Gurbanova
8. The Turkmen Dutar / David Fossum
9. Kyrgyz Wisdom Songs: Terme Yrlary / Elmira Köchümkulova
10. Aqyns and Improvised-Poetry Competitions among the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz / Elmira Köchümkulova and Jangül Qojakhmetova
11. Singing Traditions of the Kazakhs / Alma Kunanbeava
12. Kyrgyz Funeral Laments / Elmira Köchümkulova
13. Kyrgyz Wedding Songs / Elmira Köchümkulova
14. Narrative Instrumental Music: Kazakh Küi and Kyrgyz Küü / Sayra Raymbergenova and Nurlanbek Nyshanov
Profile: Abdulhait Raiymbergenov / Theodore Levin
Profile: Nurak Abdyrakhmanov / Elmira Köchümkulova
15. Kyrgyz Jaw Harps / Nurlanbek Nyshanov
16. The Kazakh Qobyz: Between Tradition and Modernity / Saida Daukeyeva
17. Dombyra Performance, Migration, and Memory among Mongolian Kazakhs / Saida Daukeyeva
Part III: The World of Sedentary-Dwellers
Prologue: Patterns of Culture: Sedentary-Dwellers / Theodore Levin
18. Maqom Traditions of the Tajiks and Uzbeks / William Sumits and Theodore Levin
Profile: The Academy of Maqom / Abduvali Abdurashidov
Profile: Turgun Alimatov / Theodore Levin
19. The Uyghur MuqaZ / Rachel Harris
20. New Images of Azerbaijani Mugham in the Twentieth Century / Aida Huseynova
Profile: Alim and Fargana Qasimov / Theodore Levin
21. Popular Classics: Traditional Singer-Songwriters in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan / Theodore Levin
22. Religious Music and Chant in the Culture of Sedentary-Dwellers / Aleksandr Djumaev
23. Sufism and the Ceremony of Zikr in Ghulja / Mukaddas Mijit
24. Dastan Performance among the Uyghurs / Rahile Dawut and Elise Anderson
25. Female Musicians in Uzbekistan: Otin-oy, Dutarchi, and Maqomchi / Razia Sultanova
26. Music in the City of Bukhara / Theodore Levin and Aleksandr Djumaev
Profile: Ari Babakhanov / Aleksandr Djumaev
27. Music and Culture in Badakhshan / Theodore Levin
28. The Maddoh Tradition of Badakhshan / Benjamin Koen
Music Example: Maddoh / Theodore Levin
29. Qasoid-khonī in the Wakhan Valley of Badakhshan / Chorshanbe Goibnazarov
30. Falak: Spiritual Songs of the Mountains Tajiks / Faroghat Azizi
Part IV: Central Asian Music in the Age of Globalization
31. Revitalizing Musical Traditions: The Aga Khan Music Initiative / Theodore Levin
Nurturing Local Talent, Creating Global Connections / Fairouz Nishanova
The Genesis of Rainbow / Theodore Levin
32. Cultural Renewal in Kyrgyzstan: Neotraditionalism and the New Era in Kyrgyz Music / Raziya Syrdybaeva

Musical Instrument Glossary
Glossary of Terms
Inventory of Audio and Video Examples
List of Contributors
33. Popular Music in Uzbekistan / Kerstin Klenke
34. Innovation in Tradition: Some Examples from Music and Theater in Uzbekistan / Aleksandr Djumaev
35. Tradition-Based Popular Music in Contemporary Tajikistan / Federico Spinetti
Musical Instrument Glossary
Glossary of Terms
Audio and Video Examples

What People are Saying About This

Kronos Quartet - David Harrington

The Music of Central Asia is an encyclopedic page turner! This is essential reading for all performers, composers, ethnomusicologists, students, scholars and culturally engaged people everywhere. There has never before been one book that so expertly, vividly, and deeply unites the past, present, and potential future of an entire swath of the world's musical landscape.

Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Wesleyan University - Mark Slobin

The Music of Central Asia is like its subject: vast, variegated, resonant, and rich in musical traditions that have remained all too closed to outsiders for centuries. The book is both authoritative and innovative, ringing with regional voices and dozens of well-chosen examples of cultural riches to be sampled and savored by both specialists and students.

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