February 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) — The 49th Grammy Awards ceremonies are a forum for the U.S. music industry to highlight its top stars with awards like “Best New Artist” and “Album of the Year.” Many of the 108 categories focus on the most popular Western music — pop, hip-hop, rap, rock, rhythm and blues, jazz, and classical.
Another Grammy nominee this year for “Best Traditional World Music Album” is a project that documents attempts by Tajik and Uzbek musicians to revive “shashmaqam” — a style of court music that flourished centuries ago in Central Asia.
The album is called “Invisible Face Of The Beloved: Classical Music of the Tajiks and Uzbeks.” It is part of a project by the Agha Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia that has been distributed by the Smithsonian Folkways label.
Documentary filmmaker and Central Asian music expert Simon Broughton says Shashmaqam is gaining popularity among Westerners. But he says listeners must be educated about the music to appreciate its depth.
“Within the Asian region, I think Central Asia is attracting some attention,” Broughton says. “They’ve got to work a little bit in bringing their music across. There are aspects of Central Asian music, like the Sashmaqam tradition — the classical music tradition of Bukhara and Samarkand — which is a very erudite tradition. It is one that you really do need to get accustomed to in order to find your way through it.”
Educating Western listeners is exactly what the Grammy-nominated album attempts to do with its detailed, 44-page booklet and documentary film on a bonus DVD.
The music on the album is performed by students from the Academy of Maqam in Dushanbe. Abduvali Abdurashidov, the school’s founder and director, explains the history of the music.
“Maqam was performed at the court of the ruling emirs,” Abdurashidov says. “Generation after generation, for hundreds of years, it was transmitted from master to disciple. It went through many changes on the way to acquiring its present form. Maqam music doesn’t have a composer. Its composer is the people.”
‘Seeking To Achieve Truth’
Abdurashidov says that when he opened the music academy in 2003, it was modeled on ideals of Islamic learning that are even older than Shashmaqam. Those standards make the study of music inseparable from the study of poetry, rhythmic verse, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics.
“Our maqams have a meaning that is mystical and Sufi,” Abdurashidov says. “Maqam seeks to achieve truth. This perfection is an aim. We have to go through hundreds of levels and difficulties to reach it. In a maqam, these levels are represented by various stages of musical development. It is like a person’s movement toward spiritual perfection. A feeling that grows little by little toward a culmination. And it arrives at the ‘awj’ — the highest culmination. It is a moment when the meaning of poetry and music arrives at a supreme point and bursts through to create a particular spiritual state.”
The students at the academy have delved deeply into the relation between poetry and musical rhythm — studying the tuning, the structure of maqam compositions, and the overall form of the song cycles. In this way, Abdurashidov says, the students are able to perform Sashmaqam in a way that hasn’t been done since the 19th century.
The three other albums nominated for “Best Traditional World Music Album” feature music from Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Aga Khan Trust for Culture Music initiative receives Grammy nomination