Last month, while I was in Berlin, I immersed myself in the book
“100,000 Fools of God,” the seminal text on Uzbek ethnomusicology. The
general gist of the book is that the state of traditional music here
is sad wisp of what it used to me. Political forces of the last
century had taken their toll – during the USSR days, it was official
policy to Europeanize traditional music. Also, many of the musicians
were Jews and almost all the ancient community had left for Israel and
Queens in the 70’s-90’s, the moment perestroika kicked in and they
were allowed to get the heck outta here (because seriously you just
can’t get a good bagel and lox in Uzbekistan).
One of my guides was telling me that the yard sales on Jew Street
during those times were amazing. Everyone liquidating their family
treasures before heading off to their new lives. My hotel is in Jew
town, but there are only a handful of diehards left now.
Ted Levin, who wrote “100,000 Fools of God” in the 80’s (and who I met
once while visiting Joe Edelman at Dartmouth College) essentially
says, go to Queens if you want to hear Uzbek music.
Ethnomusicologically speaking, 20 years is a blip in these centuries
old traditions. However since Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991 there
seems to have been a major revitalization of the music. I, myself, am
not about to write my own update to Ted Levin. But my hunch is that
once people were free and unfettered by state policy, they brought
back the old school. Perhaps there were some government programs too
that pushed it? I don’t know.