I’m a huge fan of Central Asian music — so much so that I created a web site exclusively to promote and review music from this region. I love the amazing confluence of cultures and musical styles that defines so much Central Asian music. I also like the tunes, which can be as catchy and as mesmerizing as any western pop music you’re likely to hear on the radio.
So, obviously, a big Central Asian music fan like myself was thrilled to learn about two very big developments, both primed to bring the beautiful music of Central Asia to a larger audience.
First off, a concert series will be travelling across the country this month. According to the press release, the series, called “Music and Voices of Central Asia,” features three groups: Tengir-Too, a traditional folk ensemble from Kyrgyzstan that features long renditions from the Manas, the ancient Kyrgyz epic that is a dozen times longer than The Illiad; Tajikistan’s Academy of Shashmaqâm, an ensemble that follows in the ancient tradition of the Sufi-inspired court music of such venerable cities as Samarkand and Bukhara (a tradition that is vividly described in Theodore Levin’s wonderful book, The Hundred Thousand Fools of God); and Homayun Sakhi and Taryalai Hashimi from Afghanistan (via California), who present traditional Afghani music, which combines elements of Central Asian music with music from Pakistan and other Islamic cultures.
The second and (I think) more significant development is the release of volumes one through three of a ten-volume series on Central Asian music. Not surprisingly, the first three releases are by the three artists I mentioned above; I don’t have any details on the other seven releases, but they are supposed to be coming out later in the year. The releases, put out by Smithsonian-Folkways, are veritable holy grails for Central Asian music fans like myself. Not only does each one include a full CD’s worth of music by great Central Asian artists who are virtually unknown in the west, but each release also contains a bonus DVD with a documentary on the artist in question, an interactive guide to Central Asian musical instruments, and maps. Since I’ve really only HEARD these artists, I really can’t wait to SEE them in action — and learn more about the fascinating cultures from which they come.
The CDs come out March 14 and are priced at about $20 each (a bargain, if you ask me). The concert series begins in Washington DC on March 15, hits New York City’s Mills Theater on March 21, and then travels the country until early April (all details can be found here). If you can make it to any of these shows, then do it. You won’t be disappointed.