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TENGIR-TOO "Music of Central Asia, Vol. 1: Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan" SHASHMAQAM "Music of Central Asia, Vol. 2: Invisible Face of the Beloved: Classical Music of the Tajiks and Uzbeks"

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Friday, March 10, 2006

TENGIR-TOO "Music of Central Asia, Vol. 1: Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan"

SHASHMAQAM "Music of Central Asia, Vol. 2: Invisible Face of the Beloved: Classical Music of the Tajiks and Uzbeks"

HOMAYUN SAKHI "Music of Central Asia, Vol. 3: Homayun Sakhi: The Art of the Afghan Rubab" Smithsonian Folkways

AT A TIME when worldly music fans are acquainted with such oddities as Tuvan throat singing, it might seem there are few indigenous styles left to be discovered in remote jungles and mountains. Smithsonian Folkways is proving otherwise with a new musical survey of Central Asia, beginning with three CDs (and inessential accompanying DVDs) featuring Kyrgyzstan's Ensemble Tengir-Too, Tajikstan's Shashmaqam and Afghanistan's Homayun Sakhi. In these countries that were under Moscow's control, traditional music was suppressed during the Soviet period. Now musicians are reclaiming older styles, usually played by solo performers or small groups rather than by the faux-folk orchestras preferred by the commissars.

Some of the 18 selections on "Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan" might seem odd to Western ears, but the strangest thing is how familiar many of them sound.

The instruments include Jew's-harp (metal and wooden); the sybyzgy, a kind of flute; and the komuz, a three-string lute. The tones of Kyrgyz instruments can sound a little flat by Western standards, but such numbers as "Erke Kyz" and "Kyiylyp Turam" include passages that resemble western European dances and madrigals. In the music of Tengir-Too, such influences now come naturally, rather than by fiat.

The other two albums are more cohesive and a bit easier to place.

"Invisible Face of the Beloved: Classical Music of the Tajiks and Uzbeks" is a song cycle performed by Shashmaqam, a instrumental and vocal ensemble.

The stately, entrancing tunes resemble the music that accompanies Turkish whirling dervishes, although the passages that feature only female voices sometimes suggest Bulgarian women's choirs. Originally designed for court performances, these songs are settings for Persian verse that -- like the lyrics of Indo-Pakistani ghazals -- expresses devotion that could be erotic or divine.

Even closer to the Hindustani tradition is "Homayun Sakhi: The Art of the Afghan Rubab," which features two ragas and a short piece performed by Sakhi and tabla player Toryalai Hashimi. A predecessor of Indian's sarod, the rubab is less versatile than that instrument or the sitar, the raga vehicle best known in the West. Yet Sakhi doesn't sound confined by his chosen instrument. As the music's speed and intricacy increase, Sakhi and Hashimi achieve a swirling rapture that acknowledges no technical limitations.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Wednesday and Thursday at the Freer Gallery of Art.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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