Uzbekistan | Kurt Cobain Effect

The music college here in Samarkand is a hive of activity. The school
has 900 students. The hallways are crazy. There are kids everywhere
with their doiras, tars, rubobs, violins, cochnais. They are
practicing in the halls, in every corner. In every room. Jamming out
in the back yard. Playing scales under the watchful eyes of
professors. It’s not clear if there’s any actual classes or

They take me to a room and sit me down. The director of the school
shakes my hand. Then, I realize that there’s sort of a tryout thing
happening here, with me as judge. First, the dutar players come in.
Maybe 30 of them in the room. And they all play some tune. Then they
leave and in are shepherded the rubob players. Then the nai players.
Then the Doira players. I’m sitting, stroking my beard, nodding my
head approvingly.

At the end, Anatoly turns to me and says, “what do you think?”  All
these teachers and students are looking at me. I’m not sure what
anyone told them about why I’m here. I really don’t want to start
pointing at people and it’s not like I have a plan or a clear vision.
I just tell him that I want to keep it simple – two musicians. Drum
and string instrument.

The next day, I’m starting practices with Shaxzot and Oscar – two of
the top players in the school. If you’d asked me ahead of time, I
wouldn’t have wanted to work with students. Masters please!!! But,
given the evolving nature of the project – that I would be putting
together an entire set of “experimental” music – it made sense to work
with some younger folks who would be open minded to try whatever I
asked of them. It ended up being the best of both worlds – these guys
totally shred, but they were also ready to try anything (mostly
because the director of the school told them they had to). Maybe they
lacked some of the confidences of legit masters, but I hoped that I
would compensate for that by instilling a sense of humor in them about
the whole affair.

Unfortunately, Anatoly didn’t exactly share that same sense of humor.
He was really nervous the concert was shaping up to be a flop. And
since he was my translator (Shaxzot and Oscar don’t know a word of
English), I think he wasn’t always passing along the gist of my pithy
Western musician wisdom.

Me: “Anatoly, tell them that as long as they rock on this one, it
doesn’t really matter what they play. Just tell them to rock.”

Anatoly: “Okay Okay.”

[Anatoly doesn’t say anything to them. Errr…]

Me: “Just tell Shaxzot to strum so hard that the strings almost break.”

Anatoly: “Yes, yes, I understand.”

[He still doesn’t say anything. Damn.]

I tried to show Shaxzot how to headbang, but he wasn’t quite into it.
And the Uzbek standard haircut isn’t so conducive to a Kurt Cobain
effect anyway.


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