Central Asia

Peter Marsh

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online March 2015 | | DOI:
Central Asia

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  • Applied Music
  • Ethnomusicology
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Central Asia, the core of the historic Silk Road, is commonly understood to consist of six nations: Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. But if we consider broader historic continuities between its peoples, we can expand this definition to include Azerbaijan, Tuva, the Uyghurs of Xinjiang (China), and Mongolia. Continuities that lend coherence to this expanded concept of Central Asia include the broad acceptance of Islam; the identification of a majority of the population with a Turkic ethnicity and language, and secondarily, with Persian culture and language; and the historically close relationship between sedentary and nomadic ways of life (i.e., between the populations of the cities and the steppe). The influence of Islam has been most pronounced on the music of urban areas, particularly in the region’s ancient cities. Islamic customs have shaped urban performance styles, contexts of performance, song lyrics, the gender of performers, and musical repertoires, among other aspects. The maqām, for instance, is an urban art song tradition long cultivated in the courts of the Islamic nobility. Though the names and content differs from one part of Central Asia to the next, this is an important transnational tradition of court music or classical music that links Central Asia, Iran, and the Middle East. Nomadic musical traditions, in contrast, tend to be rooted in the nomadic ways of life of the steppe. The bard (bakhshi or ashiq) accompanying him- or herself with a stringed instrument (typically a lute) dominates these traditions. Their repertoire often consists of songs based on oral poetry, such as epic songs and legends, and is more closely associated with animist and shamanic beliefs than with Islam. Prior to the 20th century, Central Asia was defined by broad cultural areas characterized by fluid borders and by the intermingling of its diverse social groups. In the early decades of the 20th century, the Soviet Union divided much of Central Asia into individual nation-states with political boundaries that rarely reflected the cultural identities and affiliations of the people on the ground. Policies aimed at “cleansing” these new nation-states of their so-called feudalist elements and promoting “progressive” elements helped in the broader effort of promoting states with distinct, clearly defined national identities. Such policies gave rise to ostensibly modern and national musical genres associated with state-run musical institutions. Even after many Central Asian nations achieved political independence in the 1990s, state-run institutions have remained important sites of musical production. In the same period, independent musical production, especially in the areas of popular music, expanded throughout Central Asia along with a renewed interest in rediscovering and reinterpreting older musical traditions.

Article.  9516 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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