Under sharp shale peaks glowing golden-grey in the mid-summer sun, musicians from four Central Asian countries gathered in Tajikistan's remote Badakhshan Province recently to perform and exchange their respective musical traditions, and enjoy a slice of watermelon.
Set in Khorog's restored Central Park, the Roof of the World Festival in late July included two ensembles of traditional music from across the river in Afghanistan, one troupe from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan each, and a local group performing folkloric Tajik tunes throughout the day.
Bards read verses from such Persian heroes as Hafez of Shiraz while dancers in vibrant silky green and white outfits whirled before the audience. Sprinkled among the crowd were adventurous tourists using Khorog as a jumping-off point to explore Tajikistan's Pamir Mountains.
The ancient music, refined by centuries of competing influences from across Asia, sounded designed to be consumed with great quantities of melon, dried apricots and green tea. Custom was not lost on picnicking local families who demonstrated their renowned Badakhshani generosity to strangers and friends alike.
The idea for the festival -- now in its second year -- originated with musician Samandar Pulodov, who once played in a band he dubs "sufi-punk."
The festival is important for reuniting peoples and trends long separated by artificial political boundaries, he said. The fall of the former Soviet Union presents an opportunity for collaborating across these borders and encouraging musicians from remote Central Asian valleys to experiment with each other.
"People in Central Asia now have the opportunity to share their culture," he told EurasiaNet during a break in the performances. "At the same time we are trying to strengthen the capacity of local people -- local musicians to increase their skills -- to give them new ideas about new things that are happening in the world.
The musicians "would like also to be heard by other people, other communities. Musicians like to go touring. We heard that this festival [has attracted] some music producers from around the world. [?] Some tourists -- visitors -- come to this place to listen to music. Through this kind of thing we would like to, let's say, keep life vibrant, the life of musicians, the life of this place. At the same time, [it helps musicians] make a living. Many musicians are farmers, they work on land, then they get the opportunity to come here and share with the world, they are happy with that, they can make their living, they may get the opportunity for touring, and we are thinking in the future about some production [collaborations]."
The result was spontaneous dancing and rhythmic clapping throughout the day. Said one Iranian attendee, marveling at the artistic links between her country and Tajikistan: "It is beautiful how the ancient culture is shared throughout the region. During the Soviet times, it seems people were not encouraged to celebrate and share their local cultures and unique history." That it is again alive, she said, "speaks to how rich it truly is."
David Trilling is the Central Asia news editor for EurasiaNet.
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