Sevara Nazarkhan, an Uzbek singer-songwriter and musician, plays the dutar, a fifteenth century two-stringed Central Asian lute that is plucked, not strummed. When music was the domain of shepherds and lonely wayfarers, the strings were made from animal intestines. As the Silk Route became better established and the dried fruits and animal skins that Marco Polo carried were traded for gems and Chinese porcelain, the strings were woven from silk. The dutar has a warm dulcet tone. In Sevara’s hands combined with her voice, an ancient tradition respires.
Her album Yol Bolsin (Where Are You Going) for Real World is a meeting place between the old and the new. Along the Silk Route, even today, some traditions haven’t faded. Folk songs from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reinforce the popular music of the region.
In Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital Sevara is a pop star. It is not unusual for Sevara a slight striking woman with long dark hair to be stopped on the street by her fans. Her first group in 1998 was a soulful women’s quartet. During this period she also sang in the city’s popular arts cafe Taxi Blues. A year later she released her debut album and established herself as a solo singer.
Despite her choice of western musical forms, her roots are apparent. Sevara’s father, formerly a vocalist of European classical music, headed the traditional music department in Tashkent radio before his retirement. Her mother teaches traditional string instruments and is the director of an extracurricular music school. Sevara studied voice at the Tashkent State Conservatoire where folk music is a rigorously taught musical art.
Matlubeh is known as the turquoise of Uzbekistan. Her voice has such a large range that she is able to move freely from classical music shahsmaqam to folk music.
Originally from a Tajik village near Samarkand she sings in her native tongue as well as in Uzbek (a language closer to Turkish as opposed to Tajik which is more related to Persian. From the age of four she accompanied her mother who was later to become her first singing coach. “In my family music is in the blood,” she says. “My mother would take her dayera and sing with the accompaniment of her children at all sorts of occasions like wedding ceremonies etc ..). There were ten of us children and my mother hoped with all her heart that one of us would grow up to be a musician. When I was little I listened to the radio and imitated great classical singers. I wrote songs and sang them while we picked cotton. I owe all of my success to my mother and her advice. I think of her words before each concert: “You must sing so that your voice can reach its highest point and give its fullest strength.”
Matlubeh is a good example of how musical transmission operates in the Uzbek tradition. While her mother was a folk music singer in a village Matlubeh went on to become one of the greatest singers of classical and folk music in Uzbekistan. When Uzbek television featured a documentary on her life it did not fail to pay homage to her mother who at that time had already passed away but is considered one of the greatest representatives of the folk tradition.
After five years of music study at the Music University and conservatory of Tashkent the young singer began to perform with The Shashmaqam Ensemble of Radio Uzbekistan. She is now the soloist of this ensemble. When she is complimented on her vocal technique she is quick to praise her professors: “I owe everything to my mentors Aref Khan Haternov and Turgun Alimatov.”
Currently as she continues her engagement with radio she performs and records with Turgun Alimatov one of the last masters of classical music. After a private concert in his garden in Tashkent Turgun Alimatov pointed to Matlubeh and said: “I have tried to give everything I know to this student. She is my hope for the future.”
As a singer originally from the Samarkand and region who lives in Tashkent, Matlubeh sings both the classical and folk music of the two regions.