The Uyghur tag in the sidebar includes my review of the film Ashiq: the last troubadour, and a post on mazar shrine festivals and the disappearance of the scholar Rahilä Dawut. Deplorably, since 2016 much of the rich culture of the Uyghurs seems to have become a historical subject.
The muqam suites are mainly sung and danced to the accompaniment of plucked and bowed strings, but they are also part of the repertoire of naghra-sunay bands with paired kettle-drums and shawm. As elsewhere, these bands perform mainly for life-cycle events (notably weddings), calendrical rituals, and shop openings. The CD
- The Uyghur musicians from Xinjiang: music from the oasis towns of Central Asia (Globestyle, 2000, with notes by Rachel Harris)
contains brief tracks (#1 and #12), as well as a lengthier excerpt from the Charigah muqam as played in Turpan (#8)—including a “limping” metre of 17 beats divided 7+6+6.
Incidentally, here’s an excerpt from Charigah muqam as performed in Khotan by Chistiyya Sufis (for more, see here):
Here’s a 2006 clip of a naghra-sunay group in Kashgar playing Shadiyana to accompany sama dance at the Heyitgah mosque (longer audio here):
For more, see the “Sounding Islam China” channel on YouTube.
As always, studying such music soon leads us to consider the wider ritual culture—not least the great pilgrimages to mazar Sufi shrine festivals, at which bakhshi ritual healers who attend the mazar also play naghra-sunay. Again, we are drawn to the fine work of the anthropologist and film-maker Rahilä Dawut—and her outrageous detention.
It’s not just the religious life of Xinjiang that is being destroyed, it’s the whole culture.