By James Power
In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, hundreds of thousands of Bukharan Jews left their homeland after 70 years of Soviet oppression and a new ugly rise in Uzbek nationalism. Most ended up in Israel, but around 60,000 found their way to Rego Park and Forest Hills in Queens. If you live in the city and pay close enough attention, you can catch a performance by the Bukharan Jewish Ensemble Shashmaqam, which apparently contains some of the finest living Bukharan musicians.
Shashmaqam is a 500-year-old strain of Central Asian classical music that sprouted in Bukhara. It is based in the six (shash) Persian musical modes (maqam) and the lyrics are mostly adapted from Sufi poetry and usually sung in Uzbek or Tajik. Track ten, however, is exceptional. It is a canonical shashmaqam song with lyrics taken from a Hebrew poem and sung by a Bukharan Jewish singer (now living in Queens) accompanied on the kashgar rebab by his Muslim mentor. Over the centuries, as Bukharan Muslim and Jewish musicians have cross pollinated, shashmaqam has taken on characteristics of klezmer and Hasidic Jewish music. Track five is from the Bukharan Jewish Ensemble Shashmaqam’s fantastic Smithsonian Folkways Recording.
Karakalpakstan, the autonomous region of Western Uzbekistan is one of the remotest, most barren places in the world, but it seems to have developed a proud and vibrant DIY pop music scene. Tracks three and six make great use of rudimentary MIDI technology. Track six, with its haunting synth melody and heavy reverb, has a particularly mournful, ominous quality.
Tracks four and eight are personal recommendations for Uzbek pop from our good friend Aziz. Great tunes!
We’ve also included three tracks from a pair of discs of traditional music we picked up in Khiva. We have no meaningful information about them, but they’re really lovely, especially track 7.
1. Tofakhon with Ensemble Nozanin – Shod-i Uforash and Ufor-i Tezash: Dilbaram Shumo (-41:20)
An example of sozanda. Traditional Uzbek dance music usually performed by women at formal celebrations and characterized by its call-and-response singing. This performance is unusual in that men and women perform together.
2. Unknown – Unknown (-39:24)
From a disc we picked up in Khiva. We know nothing about it other than the cryptic word “Mypog” scrawled across the front.
3. Sveta Shiniqulova – Ovora bo’lmang (-34:20)
4. Ozodbek Nazarbekov – Kundan kun yahshi (-30:07)
5. Bukharan Jewish Ensemble Shashmaqam – Dostanra Gum Makun (-26:02)
6. Da’libai Ma’mbetmuratov – Keldim (-23:00)
7. Sherzod – Istamas (-19:46)
8. Yulduz Usmanova – Mard Yigit (-14:54)
9. Unknown – Unknown (-10:21)
From the same disc as track 2.
10. Ochil Ibragimov and Suleiman Takhalov – Mogulcha-i Dugah (-5:21)