On The Silk Road Again…

by Laurence on 10/20/2004 · 2 comments

Due to “business in Washington,” I came late to the Central Eurasia Studies Society conference in Bloomington last weekend, so can’t comment on most of the presentations. I was too tired to take University of Chicago Professor Ronald Suny’s keynote speech at the plenary session, called (somewhat un-post-Sovietically) “Dialectics of Empire.” (I exited shortly after Suny mocked the foreign accent of a kindly Armenian dentist in Philadelphia, who hosted a previous speech, in his introduction.) Suny had been himself introduced by a CESS official who called for a revival of Mongol hordes uniting Eurasia. Frankly, as WC Fields said in another context, I’d rather be in Philadelphia…

Luckily my session, “Evaluating US Programs in Central Asia”, was interesting, and featured talks by an American diplomat from Bishkek and a Fulbright scholar who worked in Ulan Bator, Mongolia; as well as an Azerbaijani expert on Soviet children’s books. Since those are the books I learn Russian from, I was interested–and he was right to say that they featured beautiful artwork. An earlier session on the political economy of irrigation in Central Asia, by a German expert, was extremely thorough and well-researched, although her co-presenters didn’t show.

But the very best part of attending CESS was that it provided a chance to hear the Silk Road Ensemble in concert at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, a lovely old movie house cum cultural center. It was a fantastic evening.

The Silk Road ensemble is:
Rahman Assadollahi – Qarmon (Azerbaijani button Accordion)–absolutely spectacular! A real star, magnificent showmanship, passion, muscisianship, energy, and with a shock of white hair, big moustache, and dramatic flair. He’s from Tehran, and was just wonderful, such pain and sadness and joy and longing all combined in virtuoso solos. The audience went wild, all his CDs disappeared immediately from the sales kiosk in the lobby.
Munish Sharifov-Kamancha –from Azerbijan, excellent, too, played Eastern and Western numbers with great panache.
Novrus Mamedov-Vocal, Saz & Percussion–also Azerbaijani, also wonderful.
Arif Bagirov-Tar & Guitar-born in Azerbijan, he taught at Tashkent Music School Number 1, and was accompanist fro Ilyas Malayev and Mahabbat Shamayeva.
Avner Shakov-Naqara and Doira–born to a Bukharan Jewish family of musicians, he was the Ringo Starr of this group. Not surprisingly, he’s an alumnus of the drum department at the Tashkent conservatory.
Hakan Toker-Piano-from the Turkish city of Mersin, he has a piano degree from Indiana University. He was young and handsome, with a moustache that looked like one on a terra cotta relic from Alexander the Great. He got up and danced, too…
Shahyar Daneshgar-Vocal and Percussion-an Azerbaijani from Tehran, also an IU alumnus–and a lecturer on Central Eurasian Studies. He’s such a good musician, and such a charming MC, I’d believe what he says about the region…

They gave a heck of a performance. The show began at 7:30 and lasted until after 11 pm. There was a big delegation of Azerbaijanis in the audience, the concert was so exciting that lots of them marched up onto the stage and started dancing to the accordion and orchestra.

If I were I musicologist, I could tell you what it all meant. But all I can say was the show was great, the musicians were great, the MC was great. If the Silk Road ensemble ever plays near you, run–don’t walk–to the ticket office…

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Mark Hamm October 22, 2004 at 11:42 am

Are these musicians Americans? If not is the US giging Iranian entertainers visas to visit? If so I am glad to see it.

Was the CESS offical joking about the mongul horde idea? Is there a serious pan-turkic movement out there? Interesting concept, wonder what position US, Russia and CHina would have?

Laurence October 22, 2004 at 2:31 pm

Mark, He was sort of joking, and yes, thereis a pan-Turkic movement out there, but I don’t think it is a viable option, though it does have support from some in the US. Don’t think Russia would like it very much, or China. As far as the Silk Road ensemble, I don’t know their nationalities, you can click on the link to the website and email the organizers and ask them, it is a touring company…

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