The World of Central Asian Musical Instruments

Issue #2 • 1671

In September 2006 the Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan I. Karimov “On organizing the operation of Culture and Art Exhibition created in Tashkent city” was published. In keeping with the document, the Palace of Arts built on the territory of Alisher Navoi Park in Chilanzar district of Tashkent was named Culture and Art Exhibition.

One of the first expositions in the new exhibition complex was a display of traditional folk musical instruments held in December 2006. It was organized in the framework of UNESCO project called “The Preservation of Shashmaqom” – classical music of Central Asia, operating with financial support of Japanese Trust Fund. The collection was first presented in Tajikistan and then brought to Tashkent. The expositions mostly presented musical instruments of the Tashkent State Conservatory, as well as musical instruments from different viloyats [provinces] of Uzbekistan, the works of contemporary masters, including A. Madraimov (Andijan), O. Mukimov (Bukhara), S. Otamuradov (Karakalpakstan), D. Mamatkulov (Surkhandarya), R. Yusupov (Namangan), M. Yunusov (Tashkent), A. Zakirov (Tashkent), T. Ubaidullaev (Tashkent) and S. Mamadaliev (Fergana). Instruments wrought by Tajik masters were presented by the works of Sh. Khajiev.

The history of appearance of musical instruments in Central Asia goes deep into great antiquity. Images of musical instruments found on stone relief and small sculpture pieces, on items of decorative/applied art and murals indicate that the major centres of musical culture in ancient times were the cities of Sogd and Bactria. Medieval miniature painting and classical poetry of Orient also provide extensive evidence on the existence of the main types of instruments at that time, which still occur in Central Asia. Selected references to musical instruments on the territory of Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, can be found in the descriptions made by historians, ethnographers, in the diaries of travellers, and the like.

In the recent past, renowned masters also worked in Uzbekistan. Among them usto Usman Zufarov was the most distinguished one.
It is indicative that the exhibition participants not only try to carry on the established traditions of many centuries, giving them new life, but also boldly experiment, creating instruments that were previously unknown.

The exhibits on the display can be essentially divided into three main groups:
(1) traditional instruments;
(2) instruments tempered for orchestras and ensembles; and
(3) experimental “designer” ones.
Each participant brought out different instruments from the abovementioned groups for the viewers to judge. We focus on the work of Abdumalik Madraimov, a master from Andijan, who is engaged in a painstaking job of restoring the “endangered species” of musical instruments. Several years ago his research was crowned with success. On the basis of a medieval Middle and Near East book miniature the master restored now forgotten musical instrument called gijjaki-Baburiy that was popular in India during the epoch of Baburi dynasty.

For the exhibition Madraimov brought a set for children that consisted of nine instruments: dutar, rubab, tambur, soz, konun, doira, kushnogora, takhtacha and safail; instruments for ensembles – dutar, tambur, sato, konun and ud; instruments for orchestra – gijjak, alto-gijjak, rubab, dutar, tanbur, chang, konun, bass-dutar, prima dutar, etc. These pieces stand out by their exquisite and austere form and decoration. As it is well-known, the manufacturers of musical instruments extensively used mother-of-pearl (sadaf) of Japanese or Indian origin. What distinguishes Madraimov’s sadaf is that it is painted with special lacquer, the so-called shirlak, which gives mother-of-pearl a yellowish hue and matches brown-colour timber very well.

Another exhibition participant is a well-known Tashkent master Mukhammadnazir Yunusov who demonstrated several of his new inventions. One of the instruments is called manzur, which is based on combining the versions of tor and tanbur. This seven-string instrument is richly enchased with mother-of-pearl, and the sound is produced using a mediator. What makes it special is that its base consists of a pair of resonators – the lower one is covered by leather membrane and the upper one by wood, which makes it possible for the instrument to keep its pitch and harmony at any temperature – an extra convenience for a performer.

For several years the master has been successfully cooperating with the People’s Artist of Uzbekistan Ulmas Saijanov: whenever Yunusov invents something new, he always gives it to him to try. Saijanov tests an instrument for sound and creates musical pieces specially for it. If the instrument meets the musician’s requirements, the master can proceed with making its copies for other performers. Otherwise, sozgar master eliminates the discovered flaws or adjusts the structure of the instrument. According to Yunusov, only in a creative tandem of this kind one can achieve meaningful results.

When a quality instrument is created, technical process plays not a less important role, particularly the type of timber and its processing. Sozgar masters widely use plane tree, mulberry, walnut, apricot and other kinds of fruit trees. Fruit tree timber helps the sound to become clear and even; but there is also a sacral aspect to it: it is believed that through the help of this material the profession of a musician will be carried over from generation to generation, like fruit of a tree.

The preparation of timber is a long and laborious process. First, a worthy tree is chosen, preferably not an old one. Then its timber is submerged into water for some time. To mention one important aspect, it is mandatory that the water be a flowing one so that it can penetrate the structure of the timber at a certain pressure and wash out all pests, insects, gum and the like.

Then comes the process of drying. The dryer the wood, the better the quality and higher the price. Old masters used to dry timber in natural conditions. They also tried to position the material vertically, so that unwanted substances left after soaking would gradually flow down into the earth. This seemingly simple process took from ten to fifteen years on average.

There is also another method of drying, which is popular mainly among Khorezmian wood-carvers. The method involves keeping timber in hay. Masters deliberately used hay that left brown, iodine-like marks on wood surface. This was done for the purpose of getting a decorative effect when cutting. Even today sozgar masters sometimes employ this technique.

It is universally known that properly dried wood guarantees the quality of an item. After all stages of preparation such timber is very yielding, and enchased or carved designs look clear and solemn. But more importantly, such instrument has a very long life.

Once the body of an instrument is prepared, sozgar masters start working on sound definition. Defining a fret is considered to be the most labour intensive process. To be successful, a master must have a perfect ear and keenly feel the sound of each stop. There are some important details here. For instance, a master makes an instrument for a musician who performs traditional pieces by ear, while for performers in ensembles and orchestras that play from music, masters use methods of temperament. Based on that, masters make two versions of one instrument.

Shirin Khajiev, a guest from Tajikistan, brought to Tashkent many samples of his creative work: rubab – both regular one and one for children; surnai, afghan-rubab, dombra, etc. Of particular interest among them is a percussion instrument called tavlak. Its appearance resembles a regular Uzbek nogora. Its base is made of clay shaped as a vessel with elongated neck, the top of it is covered by leather membrane. The ceramic part of the instrument is decorated with spiral-shape and vegetable patterns. Unfortunately, the author of the instrument could not explain the meaning of these patterns, referring to the fact that they were borrowed from ancient specimens. Similar problems were found with other masters too – they do not know of the purpose or idea behind the decoration of musical instruments and cannot explain the meaning of materials and designs they used. Apparently, the issues of decoration and the semantics of types or techniques of decoration should come to the attention of art historians.

The exhibition excited great interest of Tashkent residents and provided the visitors with extensive information on the kinds of musical instruments currently existing in Central Asia.

Concise Glossary of Terms Denoting Musical Instruments
Afghan-rubab – A finger-board instrument; its wedge-shape body has falciform hollows on the sides. Resonator is covered with leather membrane. The instrument has two paired and one single string. Sound is produced using a mediator.

Gijak – A finger-board instrument with dome-shaped resonator, the surface of which is covered by leather membrane. It has four strings. Sound is produced using a bow (kamon).

Doira – A tambourine with wooden base; one side is covered by leather membrane.

Dumbira – A string instrument with pear-shaped resonator covered by thin wooden sounding board; it has a short finger-board and two strings. Sound is produced using fingers of the right hand.

Dutar – An instrument with pear-shaped resonator covered by thin wooden sounding board; it has a long neck with two strings. Sound is produced using fingers of the right hand.

Kashgar rubab – A finger-board instrument with dome-shaped resonator covered by membrane. It has two paired and one single string. Sound is produced using a mediator.

Konun – A wing-shaped instrument with wooden body. It has 42 three-chord steel strings. Sound is produced using metal devices worn on index fingers.

Kosh nogora – A percussion instrument made of roasted clay shaped as pots of different size. The open upper part of the pots is covered by a membrane.

Sato – It is similar to tanbur in shape and number of strings. Sound is produced using a bow.

Tanbur – An instrument with pear-shaped resonator; it has a long neck and three (sometimes four) metal strings. Sound is produced using a metal mediator (nokhun).

Ud – A finger-board instrument with large, deep resonator covered by thin sounding board with small openings; the neck is short. Sound is produced using a plastic mediator (mizrob).

Chang – A trapeziform instrument with wooden body. It has 42 three-chord metal strings. Sound is produced using two percussion sticks made of reed or bamboo.

Ravshan Fatkhullaev

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