Uzbek Songs

About the shashmaqam and an up-and-coming singer from the legendary city of Buchara.

Samarkand, Buchara – the sound alone of the names of these Uzbek cities inspired the poetic imagination of writers like Goethe and Grillparzer. As long ago as the 14th century the famous Moroccan globetrotter Ibn Batutta told of the cultural riches of Transoxania, the region between the rivers Amudarja und Syrdarja, an area that includes parts of modern Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kirgisistan as well as Uzbekistan.

Shashmaqam: The classic song cycle

»Hindus, Jews, Orthodox Russians, Persians, Mongols and even Koreans lived in Buchara«

One of the greatest musical treasures of this sweeping region is the shashmaqam. This classic Uzbek song cycle reflects the musical wealth of the multi-ethnic oasis city of Buchara, where Hindus, Jews, Orthodox Russians, Persians, Mongols and even Koreans lived. Thus the shashmaqam is based not only on Central Asian sources, but also on Jewish culture for example, which was long represented by important communities in Buchara und Samarkand.

Gulzoda Khudoynazarova: Mo'g'ulchai Dugoh

Gulzoda Khudoynazarova
Gulzoda Khudoynazarova © Rolf Thuilot

The shashmaqam was handed down orally, and was collated into six cycles in the 18th century. The singers perform it with splendid, richly ornamented vocal lines, accompanied by the long-necked lutes tanbur and dutar and the bowed lute ghaychak. This is music that sounds alien and fascinating to Western ears: the singing explores the spaces between the notes by gliding to and from, glissando-style, and the ghaychak follows and imitates the vocal lines. The expressive passages have an overwhelming, ecstatic character.

»Splendid, richly ornamented vocal lines that glide to and fro between the notes«

The future of the shashmaqam

Unfortunately Gulzoda Khudoynazarova’s concert at the Elbphilharmonie in April 2020 had to be cancelled. She is the future of the shashmaqam; she is widely praised for her expressive and nuanced voice. The woman from Buchara has opened new doors with her youthful charisma to the genre, which was added to the UNESCO list of Mankind's Immaterial Heritage in 2003. She has won a whole series of national awards since the beginning of the millenium, and is in demand for both ensemble concerts and solo recitals. But her popularity goes beyond the confines of the shashmaqam: Khudoynazarova also enjoyed a profound training in traditional, non-classical singing. Thus she also performs Buchara's mavregi folk music, a genre that has its origins in Persia.

Text: Stefan Franzen, last updated: 9 April 2020

More stories

NDR Bigband: Homage to Charlie Parker
Play Video

Video on demand from 25 Nov 2020 : NDR Bigband: Homage to Charlie Parker

Live from the Kulturfabrik Kampnagel: The NDR Bigband celebrates the 100th birthday of the great jazz saxophonist.

Live stream in 1 Day on 27 Nov 2020 at 20:00 : NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester / Paavo Järvi

The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra plays a purely French programme including works by Francis Poulenc und Maurice Ravel.

Mahler’s Ninth with the Concertgebouworkest
Play Video

Video on demand from 11 Feb 2020 : Mahler’s Ninth with the Concertgebouworkest

A dream combination: the Concertgebouworkest, Myung-Whun Chung and Mahler’s Ninth.