The Rough Guide to the Music of Central Asia (World Music Network RGNET 1129 CD, 2005)
The countries represented on this CD- Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan -were until 1991 remote regions of the Soviet Union known mostly for the splendor of the Silk Road trading route that once passed through them and the cities built along it. Cluing the rest of the world in on the music of the area has been a long time coming, and this collection introduced me to a fair number of sounds with which I was previously unfamiliar.
A few of the artists (Sevara Nazarkhan, Ashkabad, Yulduz Usmanova) have gotten some notice globally, though the exposure of most beyond their home countries has been far more limited. Even so, some have clearly absorbed outside influences including rock (Kazakhstan’s Ulytau) and rap (Tajikstan’s Nobovar and Shams Group) that tend to dampen the traditional richness that most of the disc opts for.
Long-necked lutes are a key instrument in these countries and various ones are heard both plucked and bowed in solo and supporting roles. Such instruments coupled with the nomadic nature of many Central Asian people gives the music a longing, expansive feel that to my ears seems to very much bridge the sonic gap between the Middle East and the Orient. And like the popular music in those places, Central Asian music is rife for techno experimentation, also heard to a degree on this album.
Still, it’s the traditionally-geared stuff I go for, and there’s no shortage of that. The soaring voice of Ayjemal Ilyasova is quite a spine-tingler, as is the odd but intriguing kobyz (shaman’s fiddle) solo by Raushan Orazbaeva. A duo called Farzin score with a reggae-ish romp, the National Ensemble of the Presidential Orchestra make a short but very sweet showing and the aforementioned Ashkabad build a marvelous number around some feverish frame drumming. Despite a few aimless selections, this is a grand introduction to an area many have yet to explore musically.