Uzbekistan’s dramatic social and cultural takeoff is one quality that characterizes our country’s life in the years of independence. The twenty years of revolutionary transformations have been a turning point in the Uzbek national culture. In the domain of music a vibrant dialogue has been quite interesting to observe. One can speak about a kind of renaissance of Uzbek music, its diverse and active functioning in our time, and the explicit actualization of its stylistic and expressive capacity.
Since the early 1990s, following the political changes, Uzbekistan has experienced radical socio-cultural transformations. One of the significant positive trends has undoubtedly been the country’s entering the global information space. As information boundaries disappeared, the country has taken part in cultural exchange with the international community, engaging in the global cultural process. The attainment of independence has prompted a review of artistic and musical values in particular. This is exemplified by the revival of holidays such as Navruz, since 1992; the demonstration of all spheres of traditional and modern culture, marking anniversaries of great medieval scholars and educators – Amir Temur, Ulugbek and Jaliddin Manguberdi, as well as of the ancient cities of Bukhara, Samarqand, Khiva, Qarshi, Shahrisabz and Tashkent. There have also been a number of international music festivals, the country’s participation in many UNESCO programs and projects; the enactment of laws, such as “Protecting and using cultural heritage sites” and “Safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage”, national training programs, government resolutions “On the improvement of performance and singing art” and “On the 2009-2014 State Program for strengthening material and technical facilitation and further improvement of children’s music and art schools”, etc.
As the other domains of art, music has always borne the mark of time. Today it is multi-genre, rich in content and expressive means, a truly contemporary in spirit and character, and yet firmly grounded in the best traditions of the past. The proof can be seen in ritual music and traditional instrumental pieces and folk epic – dastan and maqom; in singing and performance art of the Uzbek bastakor (creators of monodic culture and the most active bearers of musical traditions); in stage and symphony music of Uzbekistan’s composers, movie soundtracks and popular music for stage performance.
Apart from the traditional triune stratum (folk music, oral and professional music and the art of the bastakor, as well as traditional performance), the musical culture of contemporary Uzbekistan also incorporates the so-called academic (in the modern sense – professional) musical culture – the art of composition, performing art, and musical education. Traditional music has not become the past: it has entered contemporary artistic life as its most important component, its basis and foundation. It survives and exists today as part of our modern phonosphere.
Today, the musical art of Uzbekistan asserts itself confidently in different areas of creativity and performance; one could recall the victory of our performing musicians at international music contests (pianists U. Palvanov, G. and I. N. Alimovs, R. Abdullaev, M. Fayzieva, and I. Gulzarova; vocalists, A. Guzairova and S. Mamadalieva; cellists D. Nazarov and S. Ibragimov, et al.) and international composers’ contests, where prizes were awarded to M. Tajiev, F. Yanov-Yanovsky, D. Yanov-Yanovsky, D. Saydaminova, M. Bafoev, A. Latif-zade, P. Medulyanova, A. Ergashev and others. Pieces by Uzbekistan’s composers, such as I. Akbarov, F. and D. Yanov-Yanovskys, T. Kurbanov, D. Saydaminova, F. Alimov, R. Abdullaev, and A. Ergashev, are increasingly often performed overseas. Leading virtuoso musicians performing traditional music give concerts and tour many foreign countries; among them are T. Alimatova (tanbur, sato and dutar), A. Ismailova (gijak), M. Yulchieva and M. Sattarova (vocals); the “Virtuosos of Uzbekistan” and the Yunus Rajabi Maqom ensembles, the National Symphony Orchestra of Uzbekistan, the “Sogdiana” Uzbek Chamber Orchestra of Folk Instruments, and a ballet company of the Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre.
Years of independence have introduced substantial adjustments to the musical scene not only in Uzbekistan, but in all of Central Asia and even around the world, changing the usual “balance of power”. Uzbekistan becomes an increasingly confident player in the global community and cannot but affect the shape of the musical map: our country becomes known as a land truly musical that increasingly often hosts international music festivals. Now traditional in Uzbekistan is the “Sharq Taronalari” (Melodies of the East) International Music Festival held in Samarqand since 1997 on the initiative of Islam Karimov, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In 2009, the VII festival was attended by participants from more than 50 countries and international organizations. During the festival, Samarqand and the adjacent districts of the Province host traditional performing art contests, concerts and meetings of leading singers, musicians and performing groups from many countries, as well as exhibitions, academic conferences on various issues related to Asian music, and master classes delivered by renowned musicians.
Tashkent events, such as the “Ilkhom-XX” International Festival of Contemporary Music (1996-2006), the purpose of which was to introduce the music community of Uzbekistan to the panorama of the twentieth century music of predominantly avant-garde persuasion represented in the work of the most interesting composers and performers from Europe, the United States, Russia and Central Asia, and the International Symphonic Music Festival held in Tashkent, Samarqand and Khiva (since 1998) on the initiative of the Uzbekistan Composers’ Union presented good opportunities to introduce the audience to the little-known or unknown pieces of contemporary music. All this facilitates the evolution of new performance tradition and new listeners’ perception, and influences both the overall music scene in the country, and the artistic thinking of many musicians. This increases the prestige of composition art, and young people start showing interest in contemporary music and develop a taste for experimenting and exploring new forms and means of expressions, as well as for the symbiosis of national traditions and modern musical language.
The “Tashkent Spring” International opera and ballet festival (2008 and 2011) introduced the audience to the finest traditions of classical opera and ballet, with the participation of singers and conductors from foreign countries together with the Navoi Theatre company.
All aspects of traditional culture were presented at the Open Folklore Festival “Boysun Bahori” (Springtime in Baysun, 2002-2006) held in the town of Baysun, Surkhandarya Province, and at the “Asrlar Sadosi” (Echo of the Centuries) traditional culture festival held in Kitab district of Kashkadarya Province (2008), Parkent district of Tashkent Province (2009) and in the ancient cities of Khiva (2010) and Bukhara (2011).
At the same time, festivals, as well as various annual show-contests among folklore, family and maqom companies and the performers of katta ashula, alla, lapar, bakhshi-shoir, and other musical pieces enable a broad demonstration of our rich spiritual heritage and providing support to those who engage in and explore different areas of traditional culture.
Today, the oriental (national) origin manifests itself more fully and intensely; it is represented in all kinds of musical art and performance. It is the Uzbek traditional music in all its richness of forms and genres; the art of the bastakor, where alongside traditional streams (A. Hotamov, R. Tursunov, A. Dadayev) one can also observe contemporary trends in creating music, specifically the soundtracks and popular songs (A. Ismailov, U. Rasulov, D. Agzamov); composition, including avant-garde and the mastering of the newest composition techniques (I. Akbarov, M. Burkhanov, T. Kurbanov, F. Yanov-Yanovsky, M. Tajiev, M. Makhmudov , D. Saydaminova, R. Abdullayev, M. Bafoev, F. Alimov, N. Giyasov, P. Medulyanova, D. Yanov-Yanovsky, O. Abdullaev), as well as mass musical culture, including popular songs composition, pop and rock music (A. Ikramov, A. Rasulov, D. Omonullaeva, H. Hasanova, V. Saparov, Sh. Zakirov). All these “species” coexist, developing in parallel, in line with their own unique artistic logic.
In recent years, some gifted and professionally confident young composers have come forth. Access to information, to the global musical experience and to contemporary art, introduction to new types of compositional techniques and searching for ways to present national uniqueness – all produce bright results. Meanwhile, the authority of professional composers in the public eye is quite strong. Popular song (lyric, patriotic and pop) has become a common genre in musical composition. In the development of music education in the last twenty years there was a process of interaction between two social institutions: professional musical education and general musical and aesthetic training. It should be noted that independence introduced new elements in the musical education system too: the new standards of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Universities and secondary vocational schools (academic lyceums and colleges) and music schools opened departments of traditional and popular performance and a training course for sound engineers. The Conservatory has departments that train popular performers, sound producers and music pedagogues. Teaching staff of the regional universities’ music departments give considerable attention to the local musical traditions. For example, the Urgench University, besides developing the tradition of performing Khorezmian maqoms, is also involved in researching and deciphering Khorezmian tanbur notation; the Fergana University develops the performance traditions of katta ashula and Fergana-Tashkent maqoms: the Termez University explores the musical traditions of ritual song-making, dombra music and the art of bakhshi-shoir. Over the years of independence, a new Conservatory building was constructed in Tashkent (2002), and the institution received the national status; new buildings were given to art colleges in Samarqand and Qarshi; the buildings of the republican academic music lyceums of R. Glier and V. Uspensky have been reconstructed.
The process of preserving musical values (ranging from folk songs to symphonic and stage pieces of our time) is a matter of great import. Over the past decades these values have become part of the massive cultural heritage that formerly was available to the chosen ones, and now available to everyone. Mass media have become the cultural domain of space and time through which we can listen and enjoy the music of the past, as well as contemporary opuses. Yet one must not shun the real sound of music. Worth noting here is the activity of international societies aimed at conserving and reviving a number of original musical traditions of Uzbekistan.
Of great importance was the accession of Uzbekistan to UNESCO (1992) as an independent international entity; this has prompted greater attention of the global community to the rich cultural heritage of our country. Uzbekistan was one of the first countries in Central Asia that ratified the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2008), which caused the Legislative Chamber of the Parliament to adopt the Law “On Protecting and Using the Cultural Heritage” (April 2009), and on its basis – the National Program “On the conservation and development of intangible cultural heritage of Uzbekistan for 2011-2020″.
The UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity Program that started in 2000 encouraged the Government of Uzbekistan, public organizations and foundations working in the field of conservation and development of the intangible cultural heritage to take action. Currently, Uzbekistan has four Masterpieces included into the UNESCO Representative List: the Baysun Cultural Space (2001) – the unique example of rural forms of all types of artistic traditions; Shashmaqom (2003) – a unique musical heritage of the nation’s maqom art and a phenomenon in the spiritual culture of Central Asian peoples; Katta ashula (2009) – the original song genre from Fergana valley with its characteristic peculiarities of music and poetic language and performance; and Navruz (2009) – a national holiday, one of the most ancient elements of human culture. UNESCO programmes to conserve and develop these masterpieces together with government and public organizations of Uzbekistan, which have been a positive experience in taking stock of traditional culture and traditional music genres taking all criteria into account (fieldwork, information, research, publishing, education and awareness-raising), have contributed to the development of mechanisms to support all forms of intangible cultural heritage of Uzbekistan. Current neo-folklore (creating new “species” in the contemporary folk culture) and the “folklorisation” (modern stage forms of implementing music folklore genres) of some domains of music-and-stage culture require sensitive and committed cultural policy based on the knowledge of principles guiding the functioning of traditional music, folk dance and arts and crafts, and of the ability to adapt them to the rapid changes characteristic of our time. This enables preserving the intangible cultural heritage of Uzbekistan as a vibrant and functioning cultural stratum.
In this context, the new forms of musical and theatrical performance manifest themselves in cultural activities of local communities, influencing both the traditional repertoire, and the performance techniques characterized by innovations introduced into traditional culture; projects such as “Repshi” (the merger between the art of folk storytellers – bakhshi from Kashkadarya, Khorezm and Karakalpakstan, and modern rap with folk and modern dances); “Mavrigi” (a new music-and-stage implementation of the traditional song and dance cycle “Mavrigi” – the art of singing musicians from Bukhara); “Zhyrau-Rock” (the blend of epic storytelling art of Karakalpakstan – baksy and zhyrau, with the engagement of a modern rock band (composer Artyom Kim) and the use of video art) were initiated by the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency under the Embassy of Switzerland in Uzbekistan. (2006-2009).
The activity of the national NGO, “Forum for Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan” Foundation, is also aimed at developing musical traditions. Its activities have significantly increased the interest of young generation in traditional culture, which is exemplified by annual contests for young people of different age groups – “Yangi Avlod” (New Generation) and “Kelajak Ovozi” (Voices of the Future). Activities of the Foundation are linked to a widespread movement of local communities in the development of traditional culture forms (traditional and modern musical performance and art), especially among young people. It has now become a tradition for the Foundation, together with the UNESCO Representative Office in Uzbekistan, to organize the “Asrlar Sadosi” Traditional Culture Festival (2008-2011), which also contributes to the conservation of intangible cultural heritage.
The achievements in the musical art of Uzbekistan over the last 20 years have been confirmed by the good progress and the current state of contemporary music culture, the art of composition and all forms of performance.
Contemporary musical art of Uzbekistan, distinct in its richness and diversity of forms and genres, is an integral part of the national culture and a way of communicating with the global cultural domain. Music has always sounded as the innermost part of the nation’s soul (whoever creates it), as an ultimate musical, poetic and philosophical generalization of the universe of folk beliefs and notions. The great Hafiz was right in saying that “Life comes into a human body with the music, but the truth is that life itself is music.”
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