Uzbekistan, with a population of some 27 million people, is Central Asia's most populous country and its most musically diverse. Classical art song (maqâm) flourished in the great Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand that became part of Uzbekistan when it was created in 1924 from the remains of Russian Turkestan, the Bukharan Emirate and the Khivan Khanate. Not far away from Bukhara and Samarkand, in the hilly steppe lands that range south toward the border of Afghanistan, bardic singers practice an ancient art of epic recitation and extemporized oral poetry. Women's music and dance traditions are highly developed in the towns and rural settlements of the Ferghana Valley, in eastern Uzbekistan.
Meanwhile, in the capital city of Tashkent, young musicians search for innovative ways to express Uzbekistan's musical heritage in contemporary musical languages. In recent years, singers such as Yulduz Usmanova and Sevara Nazarkhan have brought Uzbek music to global audiences by fusing traditional melodies and vocal timbres with pop rhythms and instrumentation. Contemporary composers such as Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky and Artem Kim have created their own musical fusions by using the sounds and colors of traditional Uzbek instruments as elements of chamber music compositions.
The rich variety of Uzbek musical instruments reflects the diversity of musical styles performed on them. Small ensembles of mixed instruments are at the heart of the classical maqâm tradition. Characteristic instruments in such ensembles include long-necked fretted lutes (tanbur, dutar, tar, rubab, sato), spike fiddle (ghijak), side-blown flute (nay), struck zither (chang), frame drum (dayra) and a small clarinetlike instrument made from reed (qoshnay). Another typical ensemble consists of long trumpets (karnai), loud oboes (surnai) and, sometimes, kettledrums (naghora), which are an obligatory presence at festive and ceremonial occasions. In rural regions, epic singers accompany themselves on a short fretless lute (dombra), while amateur musicians may play the Jew's harp (chang-kobuz) or a simple variety of spike fiddle (kiak).
The most salient characteristic of social life in Uzbekistan is the penchant for festivity and celebration. An old Bukharan aphorism advises, "Work like a slave to relax like a shah," and music has traditionally occupied a central role in festive and ceremonial events, generically called toi (celebration). Celebrations mark not only important life-cycle events such as births, circumcisions and marriages but also lesser occasions such as a child's first day at school, a boy's first haircut or, in former times, the first veiling of a girl. Before Russia colonized Central Asia and began to introduce European customs, Islamic tradition overwhelmingly dictated both the type of occasion appropriate for a toi and, to a large extent, the mode of celebration. Men and women traditionally celebrated separately, and each group's festivities were served by musicians of their own gender. Female entertainers called sozanda sang, danced and played frame drums. Music and dancing have also been a feature of men's celebration. At the end of the 20th century, some performers could still remember seeing boy dancers called bacha who wore women's dresses and painted their lips and eyebrows. In recent times, European-style celebrations that include both men and women have become increasingly common, yet in many cases they have supplemented rather than replaced the older gendered celebrations. Theodore C. Levin