For over ten centuries, the classical music tradition of Shashmaqom has evolved in the urban centres of Central Asia formerly known as Mâwarâ al-nahr, an area which now encompasses present-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Shashmaqom, meaning “six maqoms”, constitutes a fusion of vocal and instrumental music, melodic and rhythmic idioms and poetry. The genre is performed solo or by a group of singers and an orchestra of lutes, fiddles, frame-drums and flutes. Performances generally open with an instrumental introduction followed by the nasr, the main vocal section consisting of two distinct sets of songs.
Dating back to the pre-Islamic era, Shashmaqom was continually influenced by developments in musicology, poetry, mathematics, and Sufism. So popular was the maqom system in the ninth and tenth centuries that numerous music schools were founded, mainly by the Jewish community, in the city of Bukhara, the historical and spiritual centre of Shashmaqom. Shashmaqom genre requires specially trained musicians because the standard notation system can record only the basic framework. Consequently, oral transmission from master to student remains the principal means of preserving the music and its spiritual values.
From the 1970s, many of the best-known Shashmaqom performers emigrated from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to diaspora communities in Israel and the United States. Since Uzbekistan and Tajikistan gained independence in 1991, many measures have been taken to safeguard Shashmaqom. Only a few performers have maintained local performance styles as taught by independent teachers. With the passing of many Shashmaqom masters, the overwhelming majority of presentday performers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are graduates of the Tashkent Conservatory, which offers training in Shashmaqom composition.
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