Rich Heritage of Central Asia

Author: Patty-Lynne Herlevi


Aga Khan Music Initiative Presents Tengir-Too (Central Asia), Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2006)

The traditional folk archival label, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and the Aga Khan Music Initiative of Central Asia co-produced a 10 volume series featuring the rich heritage of Central Asia, commonly comprised of the following 6 nations: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In case listeners of these recordings are unfamiliar with the whereabouts of these Central Asian countries, a map has been included in both the liner notes for the recordings and also on the documentaries (DVDs) that are included in the series.

I received Volume #1, Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan in the mail which includes a CD of Tengir-Too from Kyrgyzstan, a DVD and a thick booklet that includes a glossary of instruments with photographs, several photographs of the musicians, notes regarding the history, heritage of the music performed on the disc and biographical notes of the ensembles numerous members and guests performers.

However, don’t dismiss this ambitious project as another dry lesson in music from a little-known region of the world because the music on this disc is exciting especially for listeners who have fallen in love with music of the Silk Road and all the Tuvan groups that have hit the community radio airwaves in recent years. Since many of these musicians studied in Soviet-ruled conservatories, European musical influences can be heard in the bel canto style of singing, to counterpoint. Traditionally, in the past music would have been passed down through the generations orally, but today the music is composed and adapts well to modern ears. “These traditions are deeply rooted in local musical practices, but none of them is ‘pure.’ Central Asia’s long history of contact and exchange with other cultures continues to evolve over time.” (liner notes)

And yet, you won’t find too modern of influences on this recording. Exotic instruments such as wooden flutes, both end and side-blown, clay ocarinas, jew’s harp (both wood and metal), an upright bowl fiddle with two horse-haired strings and a pear-shape lute called a komuz comprise the instrumental portion of this recording.

Tengir-Too’s founder, 40-year old, Nurlanbek Nyshanov grew up in a mountainous region where he heard his grandmother play the jew’s harp, but later attended a conservatory where he learned how to perform Euro-centric compositions. Today he combines musical elements of his ancestors with European compositional techniques. The 18 tracks that appear on this CD feature everything from an epic poem, Kokotoi’s Memorial Feast, (recited by a modern bard called a manaschis), Rysbek Jumabaev to love songs, sung poems and plenty of solo instrumentals. Normally, the epic poems would be performed without any music accompaniment, but on this CD, the ensemble performs a soundtrack that gently frames the epic poem. Since these epics are as long as the Greek Iliad, we only hear an excerpt here.

This is an information-packed recording with historical and technical notes for every track, intriguing stories about the musicians and too many virtuoso performances to name in a review. However, highlights for me are the opening jew’s harp ensemble, Novelty, the love ballad, I’m Sad to Say Goodbye sung by Kenjegul Kubatova and which reflects on childhood nostalgia and the natural world, guest komuz player and vocalist, Zainidin Imanaliev’s I Burn, I Smolder like Charcoal, Wide Valley which features Baktybek Chytyrbaev on the bowl-2-string fiddle and the tragic dastan (short epic poem), Ak Satkyn and Kulmyrza which is sung by the duet, Kenjegul Kubatova and Toktobek Asanaliev.

Overall the music throughout the disc is delicate with sudden bursts of passion. It begs to be listened to countless times and each time new discoveries will be made and new treasures found. Really, with epic poetry, virtuoso performances on exotic instruments and enough visuals here to create cinematic moments in your head, what’s not to love? Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and Aga Khan Music Initiative

Three of the groups that comprise volumes 1-3 will be touring the U.S. this March. See schedule below.

[Buy Aga Khan Music Initiative Presents Tengir-Too (Central Asia), Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan ].

Music and Voices of Central Asia (Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia): Tour Schedule:

03/15/2006, Wed
Washington, DC
Freer Gallery of Art, Meyer Auditorium, Jefferson Drive & 12th St., S.W.
Tix: $18.00 – 25.00, Show: 7:30 pm

American Concert Premiere
03/16/2006, Thu
Washington, DC
Freer Gallery of Art, Meyer Auditorium
Tix: $18.00 – 25.00, Show: 7:30 pm
American Concert Premiere

03/21/2006, Tue
New York, NY
Miller Theater, 2960 Broadway (at 116th)
Show: 8 pm
On the Columbia University campus

03/24/2006, Fri
College Station, TX
Rudder Theater
Show: 8 pm
Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia event, lecture by ethnomusicologist Ted Levin; Texas A&M campus. FREE ADMISSION, but must have a ticket to get in.

03/25/2006, Sat
Albuquerque, NM
KiMo Theater
Tix: $20.00 – 25.00, Show: 8 pm
Tengir-Too only