I became interested in the music of Central Asia in 1997 when I had the opportunity to travel by land from Lahore to Kashgar. I was struck by the different languages, foods and musical practices of those living in what is now Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan. As one ascends toward the source of the Indus river, the stark jagged mountains along the Karakoram highway give way to green meadows beyond the Kunjerab pass in China. I remember the border police, who searched our belongings invasively and walked off with some things, and I remember the marmots scampering through the tall grass. That trip lasted about a month and left me with a longing to return. In the mid 2000s, I revisited the material I had collected there when a colleague in history and I decided to coteach a course on the music and history of the silk road. But it wasn’t until 2012, when I designed a plan to conduct research on bards in Tajikistan, that I was able to return to Central Asia for a sustained period. There I began learning to perform from several musicians living in Dushanbe, including Ismoil Nazriev and Sirojiddin Juraev. I also initiated my work in the Wakhan corridor in the southeastern part of Tajikistan along the Panj river. This is the home of the Wakhis, a people who speak their own language and number about 80,000 worldwide. Part of my research has been devoted to comparing the musical practices of Wakhis in their four main countries of residence: Tajikistan, northern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and Xinjiang, China. I am currently preparing a monograph entitled The Nightingale’s Despair: Music and Moral Being in Greater Central Asia that considers the relationship between musicians as experienced and thoughtful human beings, and what they see themselves accomplishing through performance, as well as the various effects of such music on those who listen.


Images: Xinjiang, China

Images: Gilgit-Baltistan, Northern Pakistan

Images: Samarqand, Ferghana, Kokand and Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Images: Khiva and Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Images: Murghob, Tajikistan

Images: Dushanbe, Tajikistan


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