Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Music from the Top of the World: Modern Pop from Tajikistan

Tajikistan is a small country nestled into the folds of several high mountain ranges we usually call the Roof of the World.  I lived and worked there for some time about ten years ago and it is a place I remember, if not with fondness, not, also, without a certain affection. 

Every once in a while in the winter in the city where I now live I remark to no one in particular, “This is a Dushanbe day.”  What I mean is the air is cool, the tree branches are naked and the sky is an unscarred blue.   The blue skies of Tajikistan are impossible to forget. As is the stone fruit--apricots, peaches, cherries--and the hundreds of varieties of melons all of which ooze with juice and a sweetness never achieved by orchard keepers in the West.  

When I arrived in Tajikistan it was still way off the beaten track. Even foolishly courageous adventure loving tourists rarely came.  There was no internet and only one restaurant that didn’t serve local Tajik food.  A civil war had recently ended but tension was palatable. Warlords and mafia type gangsters controlled the state apparatus and it was not unusual to have gun battles in the middle of Rudaki Avenue, the main tree lined boulevard of Dushanbe.

Tonight the Washerman’s Dog Productions presents a collection of contemporary Tajik pop and folk music. I must thank my old colleague and friend, Manzura, who now works in the President’s Office, for providing me these tracks.  Unfortunately, many of the tracks are unattributed  and the titles of several I’ve had to make up.  Apologies. But then of course, what really counts is the music itself. 

Tajik culture is ancient and closely linked to Persian civilization.  A strong classical music tradition, kept alive for centuries in places such as Bokhara (now in Uzbekistan) and Khojand, by Bokharan Jews, continues to thrive.  In tonight’s collection there are echoes of that tradition in some of the instruments and language and musical structures of the songs.  But this music is really modern pop music ala mode Tajiki.

Some info on some of the artists and bands follows (thanks, again to Manzura).
Daler Nazarov

 Daler Nazarov (born on September 8, 1959)  is a Pamiri from the far Eastern part of the country. He has lived in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan for most of his life, but had to leave the country in the early 90's due to a civil war that ended around 1997. For the next few years he lived in AlmatyKazakhstan and then returned to Dushanbe. Among his recent work is music for feature movies. Nazarov sings many of his songs  in the Shughni language.

Muboraksho Mirzoshoyev better known as Muboraksho also as Misha was a Pamiri Tajik singer, songwriter and actor recognized alongside Daler Nazarov as a pioneer of the Tajik rock music. Muboraksho was born on August 19, 1961 in Rushon district of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) of Tajikistan. He died on February 8, 2000.

At the age of 14, he composed his first song, Chor javon which later became an instant hit across Tajikistan, when it hit the radio waves in the late 1980s. From 1984 to 1987 he studied at Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg) Leningrad Aviation Institute, but his early success solidified his desire to pursue a career in music.

Muboraksho started his professional music career in 1988 when he joined Daler Nazarov's music group after he was introduced to Nazarov by Ikbol Zavkibekov, a professional musician and son of famous Tajik actor and musician Gurminj Zavkibekov. The same year Muboraksho Mirzoshoyev's music became very popular in Tajikistan.

Some of Muboraksho's music centered on the themes of sadness and mysticism, which evoked strong emotions in his fans. He was very close and dear to all Tajiks, as his music and lyrics, some of which borrowed from the medieval mystical Persian poets were able to capture the imagination of his fanbase. His repertoire also included some very upbeat songs. One of his greatest hits was "Ay yōrum biyō" released in 1988, which has become a staple at weddings throughout Tajikistan. Many musicians have made covers of Muboraksho's songs including n.A.T.o.. The Persian rock group Kiosk also made an Iranian cover version of "Ay yōrum biyō" as "Ay Yarom Bia" featuring Mohsen Namjoo.

Muboraksho is a cultural symbol of the Tajik popular music of the 20th century, who had been among a very few artists that have had an enormous influence on the contemporary Tajik music scene. His music has been one of the primary unifying forces among the diverse ethnic groups of Tajikistan.

For the past 17 years, Avesto  has played various music, from traditional Tajik to modern swing, jazz-rock, modal jazz and free-jazz.  The group’s creativity is a synthesis of modern jazz and Oriental ethnic musical culture.

The beautiful, original voice of vocalist Tahmina Ramazanova, Oriental melodies and improvisations on traditional and electronic instruments make Avesto a unique representative of jazz in Tajikistan. Avesto is known for courageous musical choices. We experiment and develop new rhythmic and harmonious models, using innovative approach to melody and improvisation. Avesto gets inspiration from Indian, Arabic, African, Latin American rhythms and harmony.

Parem is a Tajik music band formed in March 1993 at the "Boychechak" Pioneers Club in the former Frunze district in the city of Dushanbe (Tajikistan), under the leadership of Georgiy Dmitrievich Nepomnyashiy. From the spring of 1993 till 1995 the band periodically presented in the rock panoramas without giving solo concerts. But these years were very important for the future of the band, the first songs in Tajik language start to release, which were written by Alisher. In 1995 Vladimir Yumatov left the group and was replaced by Olim Shirinov. In May 1996 year Parem released its first album, Why Love. The song Why Love of the album immediately became a # 1 hit.

Nobovar Chanorov (born on December 25, 1970) is the singer of Shams , the Beatles of Tajikistan.
Created in 1995, Shams is today one of the best Rock and Roll groups  in Tajikstan. A month before the peace agreement of civil war was signed in Tajikistan, the group returned to Dushanbe. The musicians of the group change regularly and Shams of today is known mainly by its singer Nobovar Chanorov and his guitarist Iqbol Zavqibekov.

Nobovar was born in Komsomolobod in the Rasht valley of Tajikistan and spent his childhood in the home village of his parents - Dehrushan. He started his singing from early years. As part of his family tradition, he started playing rubab (the traditional local musical instrument) and accordion and singing maddoh (traditional devotional music) and pop-songs. His father, seeing his talent, gave him to the local musical school which he attended after his formal school at certain days of the week.
As most of his youth days were spend playing different musical instruments and singing different types of traditional and pop-songs, this took him to the doors of the Institute of Arts in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. However, he graduated as an actor of drama rather than singer or musician. Nevertheless, he has maintained his commitment to and love of singing.

This collection is a little window into the popular music of a little known part of the ancient world.  Enjoy!

            Track Listing:
01 Saname (A Ahmedov)
02 Az dast doram (Avesto)
03 Dar e Khab (Avesto)
04 Khomar -e- dosti (Avesto)
05 Dutor e Gitarre (Bahrom)
06 Mastam (Daler Nazarov)
07 Rhythm of the Mountain (Daler Nazarov)
08 Sadness (Daler Nazarov)
09 Theme of a City (Daler Nazarov)
10 Ai joni man asirat (Muboraksho)
11 Bahor omad (Muboraksho)
12 Javon shudam chorjavon (Muboraksho)
13 Khiromon gashta meoi ba suyam (Muboraksho)
14 Gul Bo Tu Dodam (Nobovar)
15 Layli (Nobovar)
16 Ay Charo Ishq (Parem)
17 Dishab (Parem)
18 Guli Man (Parem)
19 Unknown (Parem)
20 Man tanho dar yodu orzuyi tuyam (Parem)
21 KokulhoiDaroz (S. Usmanov)
22 Faqat Khuda (Unknown)
23 Faqat Shumon (Unknown)
24 Naynavoz (Unknown)
25 Instrumental (Unknown)
26 Unknown (Unknown)
27 Y'Alli (Unknown)
28 Dil Raat (Unknown)

Listen here.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Beer, Dancing, Nightclubs and Politics: The Golden Era of Angolan Music

Many years ago, when war was inexorably crippling the country and hope seemed to be lost to the people, I spent  three or four months living in Angola. The period was short. I arrived in September and by Christmas had left. Another post, and another day, may be the occasion to share some of those Angolan experiences because there were many. Though my time was short the weeks were among of the most intense and trying of my life.  And though I’ve often said Angola was where I endured my personal ‘long night of the soul’ the country made a deep impression on me.

I am in the middle of an amazing book written by an American academic called Intonations: A Social History of Music and Nation in Luanda, Angola, from 1945 to Recent Times which shows how “Angolan musicians and audiences…developed their politics and sense of nation in and through the activity of producing and consuming music: buying records, hanging out with friends and family, and dancing in clubs moved them ‘into nation’”.

Angola’s music of the 1960s and 70s is popularly referred to as semba. And though the semba rhythm is but one of the many to grow out of the lush Angolan landscape, along with others like kabetula, rumba and rebita. To Angolans of the last generation of Portuguese rule and the first generation of Independent Angola, all of these musical styles are simply semba which at its most basic level meant ‘Angolan music made by Angolans’.

Luanda, the capital of Angola, was a fast growing, large relatively sophisticated commercial center under the Portuguese.  Outside of South Africa, Luanda was the most ‘European’ city on the continent. (When I was there in the early 1990s the city seemed to be a set out of Apocalypse Now, the sky constantly filled with planes, helicopters and refugees flooding into the slums. But I digress). 

And like all colonial cities it was divided into zones: African and European.  The neighborhoods where Africans lived were (are) known as musseque “a Portuguese word deriving from the Kimbundu mu-seke which means, literally, ‘sandy place’. It originally referred to areas of the city where the asphalt did not reach.”

In these musseques Africans developed, performed and consumed their own music in their own clubs. It was their mini-country, a place where neither the colonial masters nor the exiled nationalist leadership intervened. And in the clubs, among the bands and singers that performed semba there developed a strong sense of political angolanidade (Angola-ness).

In effect the Angolan city dwellers self consciousness and national identity and political agenda developed in the beer drenched night clubs of Luanda’s sandy places (musseques). A very nice thought!

And so tonight the Washerman’s Dog presents semba hits from the golden era of Angolan music, the 1960s-70s. This is music by some of Angola’s seminal bands and singers as well as obscure tracks not widely heard outside of Angola.  The CD was included in the book I’ve quoted from but I’ve created the cover.

Some brief notes on some of the perfomers.

Ngola Ritmos: formed in the 1940s and considered Angola’s first and most influential group. Mainly made up of educated Angolans Ngola Ritmos drew on folk themes and musical styles and by promoting a distinctly Angolan music made a political anti-colonial statement.

Os Keizos: One prominent Angolan music producer has stated that it is unpatriotic for Angolans NOT to know the music of this group. Members of the group were executed by the MPLA, the current ruling party in 1977. Their song Milhorro was a big hit in 1970 and was a direct critique of the Portuguese police which includes the line “In our land where we were born, we only cry”.

N’zaji: a band of MPLA fighters that at one time included the current President of Angola, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos.  Very popular with the fighters, this music mixed folk with overtly political themes.

Paulo Flores: a contemporary Angolan musician who continues the tradition of writing socially and political provocative songs.

       Track Listing:
01 Kia Lumingo (Urbano de Castro)
02 N'ginda (Tony de Fumo)
03 Semba Kassequel (Dina Santos)
04 Muximo (Ngola Ritmos)
05 Madya Kandimba (Gardo e o Seu Conjunto)
06 Joao Dumingu (Ngola Ritmos)
07 Chofer de Praca (Luis Visconde)
08 Milhorro (Os Keizos)
09 Diala Monzo (Elias dia Kimuezu)
10 Bartolomeu (Prado Paim)
11 Kaputu (N’zaji)
12 Valodia (Santocas)
13 Na Rua da Sao Paulo (Kaboko Meu)
14 Amanha Vamos a Procura da Chave (Uniao Mundo)
15 Poema de Semba (Paulo Flores)

Listen here.