Hear the Sounds of the Silk Route: Music of the Karakalpaks (VIDEO)

Hear the Sounds of the Silk Route: Music of the Karakalpaks (VIDEO)

In the remote desert region of western Uzbekistan lies the small city of Nukus. It’s here that you’ll find the famous Savitsky Art Museum, which houses a massive collection of once banned Russian avant-garde art.

It’s also the capital of the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, home to the Karakalpaks, a Turkic people more closely related to Kazakhs than Uzbeks. Though they only comprise about a third of the area’s population, they take immense pride in their history and culture, a trait reflected most notably in their vibrant musical traditions.

Epic PerformancesOn a recent trip to Uzbekistan, MIR staffers caught some footage of a traditional Karakalpak musical performance while touring the Savitsky Museum. The footage highlights two distinct musical styles and types of performers.

The first half of the clip features a type of bard known as a jiraw. Jiraws are masters of throat-singing and typically choose epics that portray the courageous deeds of a well-known hero. They often play on an upright fiddle known as a qobiz, which is meant to imitate and complement the unique sounds of throat singing.

The second half shows another type of musician, known as a baqsi. A baqsi sings more lyrical epics, illustrating love stories, historical accounts, or favorite Karakalpak myths. The instrument of choice for the baqsi is a duwtar, a two-stringed lute with a long neck. Though they usually play solo, baqsis may also perform with an ensemble; in the video, for example, the male baqsi is joined by a woman on the girdjek, a fiddle that rests on a long spike.

Three traditional musicians and their instruments perform for a MIR group Photo credit: Jillian Schneeman

Three traditional musicians and their instruments ready to perform for a MIR group
Photo credit: Jillian Schneeman

Celebrity MusiciansThroughout history, musicians held one of the most important roles in Karakalpak society, acting as both singers and storytellers, and were an essential part of special occasions and weddings, many of which lasted for days, sometimes weeks.

Karakalpaks had no written language until the early 20th century, so history, myth and knowledge were passed down orally through epic tales and poetry. Musicians memorized these poems and developed individual performance styles, composing original pieces and adding lyrical embellishments or expressive facial movements to entertain their listeners.

Karakalpaks take immense pride in their history and culture, a trait reflected most notably in their vibrant musical traditions. Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher

Karakalpaks take immense pride in their history and culture, a trait reflected most notably in their vibrant musical traditions
Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher

Feats of Memory Up until recent times, musicians were required to know a large number of epic poems, as the night’s performance was based on popular vote from the audience. Karakalpak epics could have had anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 lines each. Even after hours of playing, most musicians would not have had enough time to complete an epic, so the tale would continue the following evening or at the next gathering.

 

Travel to Uzbekistan with MIR

MIR has 30 years of travel experience in Central Asia and has an affiliate office in Uzbekistan. We have a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you didn’t even know you wanted to go. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

You can see a traditional Karakalpak music performance at the Savitsky Art Museum on MIR’s small group tour, Silk Route Odyssey: Caravan Across Uzbekistan. Or we can arrange a private performance on a custom journey based on your interests and schedule.

Chat with a MIR destination specialist about travel to Uzbekistan by phone (1-800-424-7289) or email today. We would love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you.

Top photo: Three Uzbek musicians pose for a photo after a private performance. Photo credit: Lindsay Fincher

PUBLISHED: July 21, 2016

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