The Voice of Central Asia:
The Ilyas Malayev Ensemble

Hear the legendary Uzbek singer Ilyas Malayev, who entertained Soviet leaders, drew tens of thousands to concerts in his native country, starred in state folk ensembles for forty years, and played a prominent role in bringing the music of Central Asia to the US in the 1990s. He is accompanied by an ensemble of prominent artists from New York’s Central Asian community who specialize in lively wedding music, soulful folk songs, and the region’s classical repertoire in the shashmaqām tradition. This performance was presented at the Freer Gallery in 1998 in conjunction with the exhibition Ikat: Splendid Silks from Central Asia from the Guido Goldman Collection.


The Voice of Central Asia: The Ilyas Malayev Ensemble

Ilyas Malayev (Ilyos Mallayev), tār and vocals
Muhabbat Shamayeva, vocals
Tamara Katayeva, vocals
and accompanying ensemble on tār, tanbūr, and frame drum

Bukharian Jewish Wedding Songs

  • Dar Kucha Budam
  • Ay Nozanin
  • Boy Boy
Dilbari Noz ("Sweetheart")
Muhabbat Shamayeva, vocals
Soqinomai Savti Kalon (Soqinomai Savti Navo)
from the shashmaqām repertoire in maqām Navo
Lyrics by Hilālī (15th century)
Solo for tanbūr composed by Yunus Rajabiy
from the shashmaqām repertoire in maqām Dugoh
Alloyo (lullaby)
Muhabbat Shamayeva, vocals
Dar Shahri Samarkand (“In Samarkand”)
O Khanum Kujo Meri? (“Oh Lady, Where are You Going?”)
Muhabbat Shamayeva, vocals
Music and lyrics by Ilyas Malayev
Bukharian Jewish wedding songs (Mahvashi Nozuk)
Song and Dilbari Noz (“Sweetheart”)
Muhabbat Shamayeva, vocals

This concert was presented at the Freer Gallery of Art in 1998 in conjunction with the exhibition, Ikat: Splendid Silks from Central Asia from the Guido Goldman Collection. Identification of song titles and performers provided by Evan Rapport, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School.


The Shashmaqām Tradition

In Central Asia, Jewish artisans traditionally were responsible for the color dying of ikats, as well as for the music for both Jewish and Muslim celebrations. The term shashmaqām refers to a Central Asian musical genre (typical of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) that may have developed in the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. It is a refined sort of music, with lyrics derived from Sufi poems about divine love. The instruments of shashmaqām 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 tanbūr 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 Bukharian Jews to the cultural identity of the Sunni Muslims of Iranian and Turkic descent.

—Adapted from notes by Evan Rapport, The New School


Ilyas Malayev (1936–2008) was a Bukharian Jewish musician, oral traditional composer, and poet. Growing up in Kattakurgan, a small city near Bukhara, now in the republic of Uzbekistan, he played the tanbūr from an early age and learned the shashmaqām, the orally transmitted court music tradition of the later Bukharian feudal nobility, from local teachers as well as from phonograph records. In 1951, Malayev moved to Tashkent, the capital of Soviet Uzbekistan, where he performed in a succession of state musical ensembles including the Uzbek Song and Dance Ensemble (1952–60), the Ensemble of Singers and Dancers of the Peoples of the World under the direction of Tamara Khanum (1953–56), the Folk and Variety (Estrada) Orchestras of Uzbekistan Radio (1956–62), and from 1962 to 1992, the Symphonic Variety (Estrada) Orchestra of Uzbekistan Radio. Malayev became popular in Uzbekistan as a vaudeville performer and wedding entertainer, combining comedic routines, poetic recitation, excerpts from the shashmaqām, and songs, many with his own texts and melodies. In 1992, Malayev emigrated to Queens, New York, where he quickly established himself as a leading cultural figure in the Bukharian Jewish émigré community. As the music featured at weddings and other social events in the émigré community has moved toward hybrid forms of popular music performed by a younger generation of musicians, Malayev’s focus turned to the classical shashmaqām.

Leading a group of fellow Bukharian Jewish singers and instrumentalists known variously as Maqam-i Nawa and the Ilyas Malayev Ensemble, Malayev became well known among world music audiences in the US and Europe for his interpretations of Bukharian classical music. His recording At the Bazaar of Love: Timeless Central Asian Maqam Music was released by New Jersey-based Shanachie Records in 1997. Ilyas Malayev features prominently in Evan Rapport’s Greeted with Smiles: Bukharian Jewish Music and Musicians in New York (Oxford Univ. Press, 2014), including an entire chapter devoted to Malayev’s play Levicha Hofiz.

—adapted from biographical information provided by Theodore Levin, Dartmouth College


This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by Andy Finch and Suraya Mohamed. Web production by Gio Camozzi. Copyediting by Ian Fry. Scholarly guidance and materials provided by Evan Rapport (New School) and Theodore Levin (Dartmouth College). Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. This concert was presented at the Freer Gallery of Art in 1998 in conjunction with the exhibition Ikat: Splendid Silks from Central Asia from the Guido Goldman Collection.

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