It is amazing to observe so many events and societies in London and especially in the UK, focused on everything Central Asian – be it its fascinating history, culture, fashion, tourism, geopolitics, economics or anthropology. I remember when I came to the UK as a tourist for the first time in 1997, very few people, I spoke to knew more or less where or what Kazakhstan was. Now all sorts of groups and societies have mushroomed in the UK and generally in Europe – researching, discussing and exploring all angles of this fascinating region. Of course, needless to say, it is the Chinese grand Belt and Road Project that has contributed immensely to the revival of this insatiable interest in Central Asia as it is a vital part of the Silk Road.
Last week, I attended a beautiful event hosted by the Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centre, based in Maple Street, in a busy, lively area of London. The event was dedicated to a book launch Turkic Soundscapes: From Shamanic Voices to Hip-Hop edited by Dr Razia Sultanova (The UK) and Dr Megan Rancier (The USA). Dr Razia Sultanova is Affiliated Researcher of the Faculty of Music at the University of Cambridge, a leading expert on Central Asian music and a prolific writer in the field of Central Asian musicology.
The gathering started with an introduction by the Ambassador of Kazakhstan, Mr Erlan Iddrissov who congratulated all the ladies present on the Women’s International Day – he started his speech in Kazakh and then smoothly switched to English. Astonishingly, a year ago, he presented his credentials to Her Majesty the Queen on the International Women’s Day when he had to explain to the Queen the meaning of this day! He mentioned that the audience for Central Asia is growing in London and it is pleasing to see that Central Asia is not behind the closed wall anymore as was the case before. He highly praised Dr Sultanova’s book for bringing the rich kaleidoscope of the musical culture of Central Asia to a wider audience. I liked his statement that ‘the history of a human race can be easily traced through the simple things, such as: what you eat, where you live and what you sing’. Indeed, wisdom and knowledge often come in simple terms and shapes.
For me, it was the discovery of the evening to learn about the Turksoy, the organisation which supported and brought this 5-year project to fruition thanks to its generous financial contribution along with the Kazakhstan Embassy’s support. In my conversation with Professor Ducen Kasseinov, The Secretary General of Turksoy, I learned that the organisation supports projects that promote multifaceted Turkic culture, and its status is equal to that of the UNESCO of the Turkic World (it is based on similar principles and goals). It was established in 1993 when the Ministers of Culture of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey signed an agreement to promote a common heritage of Turkic culture, literature and art. The following members have the observer status: the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the autonomous republics of the Russian Federation, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Altai, Sakha, Tyva, Khakassia, and Gagauzia (Moldova). The organisation has a portfolio of cultural and academic events taking place in different parts of the world.
Going back to our event, there was a range of speakers at the Centre, mainly academics, who gave a high appraisal to the collective work led by Dr Razia Sultanova. In her presentation, Razia mentioned that the project has eventually become a reality thanks to 13 contributors living and working in different countries:
‘It is a very first publication that presents a survey of music from the Turkic-speaking world. It is also an attempt to bridge cultures, as our authors come from Europe and the USA, offering Western scholarly academic views on the music of the area […], as well as from the Former USSR […], Eastern Europe […] and Turkey […]. The contributions of some authors examine how music was affected by the Soviet Union’s heavy ideology and how the centuries-old music of oral tradition developed under the Soviet style of life. Most of our authors are also performers whose academic activity coexists with practical musical experience […] which brings to their writing the additional knowledge of participant observation’.
On the Waterstones Marketplace website, the book is described as ‘ a well-balanced survey of music in the Turkic-speaking world, representing folk, popular and classical traditions equally, as well as discussing how these traditions have changed in response to growing modernity and cosmopolitanism in Europe and Central Asia’.
I am pleased to add that for the book cover, the editors chose the artwork by the Kazakh artist Saule Suleimenova. The book is being sold via Amazon and Waterstones Marketplace at the price of over £100 for the hardcover – not cheap, obviously, but, perhaps, something worth investing in if you are really interested, and if it helps your research and understanding of the incredibly wide-ranging and versatile Turkic music and culture.
The evening ended with a beautiful concert of Central Asian performers: Sardor Mirzakhodjaev (a prominent Uzbek musician), Rasim Fayziev (Azerbaijani Mugham performer), Yeraln Ryskaly (the Honoured Artist of Kazakhstan) and Rahima Mahmut (a well-known Uyghur singer, a member of the London Uyghur Ensemble). They are the most enjoyable performers if you have the opportunity to listen to them live.