“For many years, I have felt that traditional music played such a critical role in the cultures of Central Asia that it deserved attention and assistance…..The need became all the more apparent after the countries of the region achieved independence and began the process of redefining themselves. When Jim Wolfensohn introduced me to Yo-Yo Ma, I realised that here was someone whose work the Aga Khan Trust for Culture could support, and also use as a springboard for its own Music Initiative in the region.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
The musical traditions of Badakshan have been influenced by the surrounding Muslim cultural context, but the inaccessibility of the Pamir Mountains has been an important factor in the development and preservation of some of the unique musical practices of the region. Badakhshan is the name of the mountainous Pamir region in the east of Tajikistan, bordering on China, Afghan-Badakhshan, and the Kyrgyz Republic.
The Pamiris, as the people of this area are referred to, are divided into ethnic groups according to their origin and language. Since Badakhshan has been a point of cultural exchange between the East and the West for centuries, various influences can be observed. For instance, similarities between certain instruments reflect a cross-mountain relationship between the Pamirs and the Himalayas, while tonal traces in Kyrgyz tunes of the Eastern province of Badakhshan suggest influences from China.*
Music is still passed down from generation to generation, thus continuing the rich oral tradition of the area. In addition to this, Central Asian music enjoys a rich history in archaeological finds and writings. Sculptures and wall paintings found in Badakhshan, dating from the first decades BC, show angular harps, flutes, drums of different shapes, and lute-like instruments.
In 2000, Mawlana Hazar Imam established the Aga Khan Music Initiatives of Central Asia (AKMICA) to support the efforts of Central Asian musicians and communities to sustain, further develop, and transmit musical traditions that are a vital part of their cultural heritage. AKMICA’s first major undertaking was collaboration with the Silk Road Project, the international arts initiative founded and directed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
As part of the Music Initiative, Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble perform concerts and conduct master classes, featuring the performance of pieces written by outstanding composers from the Silk Road region.
The largest collaborative event involved a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution through which AKMICA provided expertise and support for a major representation of Central Asian musicians and artisans at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The ten-day festival took place in Washington, D.C. in summer 2002.
Through the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the lead funder and creative partner of the Silk Road Project, seeks to preserve and revive the traditional music of Central Asia and enhance its role through providing financial resources, technical assistance and organizational support directly to individuals and organizations in the region.**
*Reprinted from Music and Poetry from the Pamir Mountains, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
**Music Initiatives in Central Asia, Aga Khan Trust for Culture
***Press Release, AKDN
Preserving and Promoting Traditional Music of the Silk Road, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Compiled by Nimira Dewji