Various Artists, Music of the Silk Road

Michael Heumann The Library Discography Haunted Ink Haunted Ink Review Archive The Inkbottle

Arc Music
Released: 2004

Listen and Buy at Arc Music

I'd recommend just about every album I've reviewed on this site to anyone interested in Central Asian music. However, I've recently stumbled upon what is, I think, the best "sampler" of Central Asian music. Music of the Silk Road is, as the title suggests, an album that seeks to offer an introduction to the music created along the ancient Silk Road that connected Africa and Europe with Asia. Although it is composed largely of previously released tracks, it's still a fascinating and entertaining collection and a perfect introduction to the music of this interesting region.

Not surprisingly (considering the title), the album's structure is geographical. It begins with two tracks from Turkey, where Europe and Asia meet, and then proceeds eastÑfirst to Armenia, then Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia, before ending up with two tracks from China. All right, that's not exactly geographically sound, and the works demarcate contemporary boundaries that never existed when the Silk Road was active, but those are minor quibbles. What matters is the music, and the music is excellent. Ash Music, the UK label that put this disk out, has a large collection of Central Asian works, and they've all been appropriated for this collection. There are tracks from Armenia's Djivan Gasparian, Mongolia's Egschiglen, and Kyrgyzstan's Kambarkan Folk Ensemble, to name a few of the more well-known artists. Granted, I've heard some of the more familiar tracks, but I'm a Central Asian music nut; this work was designed for all of you out there who are curious about this music but don't want to spent $50 buying albums you're not sure you'll like.

Since I've heard a lot of music from each of the countries represented here, I can say with some certainty that the musical selections are very representative of each country's larger musical tradition. Hence, Gasparian's solo duduk performance is very much in keeping with traditional Armenian folk music, while the Chinese tracks by Wei Li and Li He are very representative of Chinese classical and folk music. Hence, if there's a particular song on this album that strikes you as particularly beautiful or enjoyable, make a note of which country that song came from and try to find as much music from that place as you can; you won't be steered wrong.

In the end, though, what Music of the Silk Road does better than any other work I've encountered is demonstrate the remarkable similarities that exist between these disparate musical traditions. Think about it: Turkey and Azerbaijan both hate Armenia, but when placed side by side, the six songs from these three countries prove remarkably similar in tone, form, and style. Similarly, the music from Islamic Kyrgyzstan, Buddhist Mongolia, and Communist (and, before that, Confucian) China all share a love of small bells, horns, and esoteric vocals. And countries like Turkey and Afghanistan have very little in common with China or Mongolia or even Armenia, but the music from all these places nevertheless hint at the cultural exchange that took place during the Silk Road era and takes place today throughout the world.

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