Music of Central Asia: Shashmaqam

Experience soulful and celebratory music from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan with Shashmaqam, an ensemble of prominent artists from New York’s Central Asian community. The ensemble specializes in wedding music for vocals, lute (tar), accordion, and percussion, as well as the region’s classical repertoire for which the group is named. This performance was presented in 2018 in conjunction with the exhibition To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia.



Shumiel Kuyenov, doira
David Davidov, tar
Rafael Badalbaev, accordion
Rustam Samarqandi, vocal
Firuza Yagudaeva, dancer

Soqinomai Savti Kalon 0:00 - 4:05
(music from the shashmaqam repertory; poem by Hiloli)
To Bodi Sabo 4:05 - 12:36
(music by Neryo Aminov, lyrics by Zebunniso)
(Bukharan folk song)
Bahoram 12:36 - 27:11
(Iranian song)
Jonon Bo’laman Deb
(Uzbek song)
Qurbon Olam
(music by Gavriel Mulloqandov)
Navruzi Ajam 27:11 - 34:20
(from the shashmaqam repertory)
Zulfi Pareshon 34:20 - 44:04
(music by Gavriel Mulloqandov/Neryo Aminov; poetry by Bedil)
Dar Shahri Samarqand
(Tajik song)
Ishqi Omidiman 44:04 - 1:00:30
(Iranian song)
(Uzbek song)
Ushshoqi Samarqand
(poetry by Zebunniso)
Medley of Bukharan wedding songs 1:00:30 - end


The Shashmaqam Tradition

In Central Asia, Jewish artisans traditionally were responsible for the color dying of ikats, as well as music for both Jewish and Muslim celebrations. The term shashmaqam refers to a Central Asian musical genre (typical of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) that may have developed in the cities of Samarkand and Bokhara. It is a refined sort of music, with lyrics derived from Sufi poems about divine love. The instruments of shashmaqam provide an austere accompaniment to the voices. They consist, at most concerts, of a pair of long-necked lutes, frame drum (which, with its jingles, is very much like a tambourine), and the tanbour, which vaguely resembles a bass fiddle.

Compared to the celebrated musical icons of Eastern European Jewish culture (e.g., Klezmer music), this genre of music seems to emanate from a decidedly Asian legacy. But the same cultural logic that links Eastern European Jews to the musical world of their Slavic and German neighbors has connected Bukharan Jews to the cultural identity of the Sunni Muslims of Iranian and Turkic descent. In Central Asia, Jewish artisans traditionally were responsible for the color dying of ikats, as well as music for both Jewish and Muslim celebrations.

- Adapted from notes by Evan Rapport


To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia

With their brilliant designs, ikats are among the most distinct fabrics produced in Central Asia. The name, derived from the Malaysian word for “to tie,” refers to the distinct technique of making these textiles: bundles of threads are painstakingly patterned by repeated binding and dyeing before being woven. In present-day Uzbekistan and the Fergana Valley, the fabric is known as abri (cloud) and the technique as abrbandi (tying clouds), referring to the fluid yet bold motifs in bright colors.

Not surprisingly, ikats caught the attention of contemporary designers, most notably Oscar de la Renta (1932–2014). In 2005, de la Renta included ikat designs in his collections, an innovation that was soon followed by other designers in the United States and elsewhere. Since then, ikat motifs have become ubiquitous—from couture gowns to jeans and T-shirts, and from carpets and sofa coverings to stationery and wall papers.

To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia brought together about thirty of the finest historical Central Asian ikat hangings and coats from the Sackler collection, donated by Guido Goldman, as well as several of Oscar de la Renta’s iconic creations. The aim was to explore the original use and function of these dazzling fabrics and the enduring appeal of their extraordinary designs.



The ensemble Shashmaqam brings to life the rich and diverse musical traditions of Central Asia, where Jewish and Muslim musicians long coexisted in a flourishing cultural symbiosis. Shashmaqam’s repertory reflects Central Asia’s ethnic eclecticism: Uzbek, Tajik, Afghan, and Azerbaijani songs and melodies are brought together in a lively program that is at once exotic and accessible to Western listeners. Asian stringed instruments (tar and tanbur) and drums (doira and nagora) mix with European instruments such as accordion and clarinet in music that ranges from virtuoso Central Asian classical pieces to exuberant wedding and ritual songs.

The group also features a dancer whose subtle arm and hand movements are characteristic of Tajik and Uzbek women’s dance. Traditional clothing, made from ikat-dyed embroidered striped silk, adds a colorful element to Shashmaqam’s performance. The ensemble’s music represents the Bukharan Jews’ love of celebration, ornamentation, and generous hospitality. Whether on the concert stage or at a festive community event, Shashmaqam evokes the essential spirit of Central Asia. The ensemble featured music director Shumiel Kuyenov on frame drum (doira), David Davidov on lute (tar), Rafael Badalbaev on accordion, guest vocalist Rustam Samarqandi, and dancer Firuza Yagudaeva.


This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording by Andy Finch and audio editing by SuMo Productions. Web design by Ryan King, with additional web production by Torie Castiello Ketcham and Gio Camozzi. Copy editing by Nancy Eickel. Photography by Demi Mohamed. Set list, attributions, and notes courtesy of ethnomusicologist Evan Rapport, author of Greeted with Smiles: Bukharian Jewish Music and Musicians in New York (Oxford University Press, 2014).  Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

This performance was made possible, in part, through the exhibition To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia, which featured Central Asian ikat hangings and coats from the Sackler collection, donated by Guido Goldman.

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