Nation’s musical heritage is connected with geographic and climatic living environment. Habitat influences human character, attitude and philosophy. In this respect, musical instruments are one of the vivid means of expression. Many a treatise has been dedicated to traditional Uzbek musical instruments. For instance in “Risolai Musika” by Darvesh Ali Changi the scholar offers a description of almost every musical instrument, comparing them to nature and human beings. Gradually, each instrument came to represent a domain that characterised a particular image. To present a female character musicians often use dutar, rubab, chang and nai, whereas tambur, ut, sato and others represent male characters. Metrorhythmics helps convey human emotions, such as sadness, blues, joy, merriment, happiness; expressing them is the job of percussion instruments. The established traditions of folk music imagery have been embraced by the academic school of composition too.
Musical life of Uzbekistan in 1960s was enriched by a new component – popular music. A new phenomenon, Uzbek popular music borrowed a lot from the world music, having preserved folk traditions and achievements of classical composition school. In this key, the use of traditional musical instruments in popular arrangement gave a special flavour to popular songs and made them stand out among other pieces of this genre. It should be noted that popular performers of that time were applauded not only at home, but also abroad. Uzbek singers were a success in many countries not only due to their mastery as performers and vocalists, but also owing to the talent of composers and arrangers. Their songs sounded fresh and to date. For instance the repertoire of Botyr Zakirov, the founder of Uzbek popular song, features not only Uzbek songs, but also songs of other nations, newly arranged and orchestrated.
For instance, the arrangement of the famous Arabic Tango uses both symphony orchestra, and traditional instruments. The song is performed in chanson style, the emotional charge of which is vividly represented by symphony orchestra instruments, and the Arabic flavour is created by Uzbek traditional instruments. This timeless piece is yet another proof of the mastery and talent of arrangers and performers.
Also new in the 1960s was the art of vocal and instrumental bands, the so-called VIAs. “Yalla”, the first one in the country, extensively employed traditional instruments. The repertoire of this band included songs of eastern and western nations. Popular compositions of 1970s include many renditions of folk songs where traditional instruments are used. These are, for example, vivid, dynamic and colourful popular compositions such as “Boychechak”, “Yallama yerim”, “Khandalak”, “Ramozon”, and “Yumalab”, where professional instrumentation and clever employment of Uzbek traditional musical instruments contributed to their success. The solo instrument is rubab of Kashgar. Its melodious, soft and enchanting timber blends harmoniously with electric instruments of the band. In pieces inspired by Kazakh folk songs such as “Altynai” and “Karaturgai” the solo instrument is Kazakh dombra that communicates the spirit of boundless steppes and the love for freedom and laughter of the Kazakh people.
Uzbek popular music, just as the global popular performance, is developing fast, absorbing all the very best. The repertoire of performers such as N. Abdullaeva, G. Yakubov, K. Kayumov, Y. Usmanova, the bands “Kars”, “Nola” and others is the benchmark of mastery when it comes to synthesising and using traditional instruments in different styles and trends of popular music. Many compositions from the repertoire of the aforementioned performers were successfully presented during their foreign tours. “Kars” that positions itself as pop-rock-folk band, led by talented singer and actor R. Namazov, ranked among the top three at the prestigious international festival “Asia Dausy” held in Almaty. Any composition from their repertoire is saturated with folk spirit, and the fusion of electronic and traditional instruments creates an unusual and interesting sound. The arrangement extensively employs dutar, nai, tanbur and many percussion instruments. All compositions are based on very rich rhythmic and Uzbek percussion instruments.
The development of Uzbek popular music cannot be imagined without Uzbek folklore. Representatives of today’s pop culture experiment a lot with the synthesis of traditional music and modern digital trends. To create compositions they use the form, the evolutional principles, the metro-rhythmics and timber colouring of Uzbek folklore. Pieces created without using folk music are samey and cannot be of interest as an object of study, especially in the squall of information in the domain of contemporary popular music.
With a sense of pride one can mention pieces whose authors, inspired by folk musical traditions and challenged by the task of creating them in diverse pop music styles, have been able to produce rather interesting pieces, including those that appeal to young people. For example, the performers working in rap and hip-hop styles boldly experiment with Uzbek rhythms and instruments (“Radius”, Shokhruh). In the compositions created by “Radius”, “Shakespeare”, “Tungi kapalak” and others the lead and emotionally charged instrument is sato.
New technology, particularly digital tools, has not bypassed musical domain and contributed to the emergence of new artistic styles and the implementation of different interesting ideas.
There is virtually no limit to the capability of digital musical instruments. They can reproduce the sound of any tradition instrument. This, no doubt, is a big achievement in musical life, especially when musicians go on tour and the accompaniment of a solo performer becomes impossible for many reasons, including economic constraints. Still the music thus presented is deprived of the most important element – the soul of the performer. Although the cost of recording popular compositions featuring a performer on traditional instruments exceeds minimal expenses, those who truly value the art are prepared “to pay the price”.
Show business in Uzbekistan is a multifaceted market where many talented musicians offer their art to the public. Yet, currently there are only few who can represent the art of Uzbek popular performance at a high standard. One cannot speak about national art of popular performance in separation from national traditions. The blend of advanced technology and centuries-old traditions can bring a good yield. There are many examples showing harmonious fusion of the old and the modern. These are well-known hits of Sevara Nazarkhan who represents the Uzbek “Quiet Storm” – one of the trends in Soul music. Her song “Koralar” is sung in Neo-Soul style with elements of Rhythm-and-Blues.
Popular Uzbek smash hit of 1980s acquired a completely new “appearance”. Although the piece does not employ high-pitch traditional instruments, they are imitated by the synthesizer string range (processed violin sound imitates the sound of gijak). But the lead instrument that gives the piece its Uzbek flavour is the original doira. Wonderful vocal performance of the woman-singer deserves special mentioning. The entire diversity of Uzbek melismata is complemented by back vocal that gives the song its rhythm-n-blues character. A song called “Yer-Yer” performed by Nazarkhan is also created in the Neo-Soul style. This nuptial song has been given a very unusual rendition through the use of a non-Uzbek rhythm. Electronic sound emphasises the novelty and freshness of the composition, while the emotions of sadness are skilfully expressed by traditional instruments: nai, dutar, sato and tambur.
Uzbek popular music has many pieces that feature traditional instruments successfully or less so. Still one delights to see that the country’s popular music does not drift away from its roots, and that traditional instruments are used both in folk and classical music, and in contemporary musical styles.