Symphony Center Presents “Spiritual Sounds Of Central Asia” in November

Chicago (Illinois), USA – Symphony Center presents “Spiritual Sounds of Central Asia: Nomads, Mystics, and Troubadours”—a curated program with music of central Asia’s ancient past, featuring the ,Alim Qasimov Ensemble, the Bardic Divas and the Badakhshan Ensemble—on Friday, November 9 at 8 p.m. The program will include photo projections and film segments to introduce the musicians and their instruments within the social context of their home countries; and supertitles with translations of song lyrics.

Alim Qasimov is considered Azerbaijan’s most renowned singer, a virtuoso who is equally at home in two musical genres significant to Azeri musical culture: mugham, the classical art music that has flourished for centuries in cities of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia; and ashiq, the rural bardic tradition that is found in Turkey, Azerbaijan and the Azeri region of Iran. In 1999, Mr. Qasimov was awarded the prestigious international IMC/UNESCO Music Prize. He has also participated in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, a celebration of the art and culture of the ancient Silk Road. Mr. Qasimov is joined in this performance by his daughter Fargana Qasimova and by members of his ensemble, Rauf Islamov, Rafael Asgarov, Natig Shirinov and Ali Asgar Mammadov.

The Badakhshan Ensemble hails from the area around Khorog, the regional capital of Badakhshan in the Republic of Tajikistan. The ensemble performs mystical songs from the majestic Pamir mountain range of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, an area known in Persian as bam-i dunya—“the roof of the world.” Their repertory includes maddah, devotional songs that embody the spiritual power known as baraka; laments with spare instrumental accompaniment called falak; and traditional popular songs called khalqi. For Badakhshanis, music and dance are intimately linked, and Soheba, a dancer as well as one of Badakhshan’s finest female vocalists, illustrates the rich symbolism of Pamiri dance.

The Bardic Divas feature two singers from Kazakhstan and two from Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan that borders the Aral Sea. Ulzhan Baibussynova is a jyrau—an epic singer and one of the first women of her generation to master this traditionally male Kazakh art form. Her voice is reflected in the raspy, guttural recitative in which she recites Kazakh oral poetry. Joining her is Ardak Issataeva, from the Jambul region of Kazakhstan, who currently teaches lyrical song at the Conservatory of Almaty. Ziyada Sheripova and Injegul Saburova were the first women to perform a traditional male bardic repertory from Karakalpakstan.

The 2007 “Spiritual Sounds of Central Asia” tour is a collaboration between the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA) and the New York-based World Music Institute. The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, a community of 15 million people in nearly 25 countries. On July 11, 2007, the Aga Khan celebrated the completion of his 50th year as the Imam of the Shia Ismaili community. Fifty years ago, at the age of 20, the Aga Khan succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, as the 49th hereditary Imam. He is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) through his cousin and son-in-law Ali, the first Imam, and his wife Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings will issue three new volumes of Music of Central Asia this October, all featuring the aforementioned artists. Central Asian Series, Vol. 4  is titled Bardic Divas: Women’s Voices in Central Asia (SFW CD 40523); Central Asian Series, Vol. 5 is named Badakhshan Ensemble: Songs and Dances from the Pamir Mountains (SFW CD 40524); and Central Asian Series, Vol. 6 is labeled Alim and Fargana Qasimov: Spiritual Music from Azerbaijan (SFW CD 40525). Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released the first three volumes of its Music of Central Asia series in March 2006. Produced in conjunction with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, each release includes an extensive color booklet and comes with a vivid bonus DVD containing a series introduction, 24-minute film, interactive glossary and map.

Tickets: $20-$45. Tickets can be purchased by calling CSO Ticketing at 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, or by visiting the CSO’s Web site at or the Symphony Center Box Office at 220 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60604. Student tickets can be purchased, subject to availability, at the Box Office on the day of the concert or in advance at Box Office and CSO Ticketing hours are Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. For group rates, please call 312-294-3040. Artists, programs and ticket prices are subject to change.

World Music at Symphony Center is sponsored by Sara Lee Foundation.