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Shashmaqam is a Central Asian musical genre, (typical of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), which may have developed in the city of Bukhara. Shashmaqam means the six Maqams (modes) in the Persian language, dastgah being the name for Persian modes, and maqams being the name for modes more generally.

It is a refined sort of music, with lyrics derived from Sufi poems about divine love. The instruments of shashmaqam provide an austere accompaniment to the voices. They consist, at most concerts, of a pair of long-necked lutes, the dayra, or frame drum, which, with its jingles, is very much like a tambourine, and the sato, or bowed tanbour, which vaguely resembles a bass fiddle.


In the first half of the 20th century in Uzbekistan, Abdul Rauf Fitrad, member of the Jadid, was particularly interested in shashmaqam, the traditional music of the Court. In 1927, he wrote a book called Ozbek klasik Muzikasi va uning Tarikhi (Uzbek classical music and its history), in which he presented shashmaqam as a grand musical tradition of the Uzbek people. In the 1930s, during the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin, Uzbek shashmaqam was seen as an echo of the feudal ruling class and as a kind of music that promoted cultural progress toward adoption of European-style harmony. Finally, in 1951, a decree from the president of the Uzbekistan Union of Composers, reaffirmed by the committee of Uzbekistan, suppressed the maqam and the development of the musical practice.

During the mid-50s, the maqam began an ideological rehabilitation. Tajikistan, which had been an autonomous region of Uzbekistan in the 1920s, finally became a republic. The Tajik leaders decided that shashmaqam should form a part of their great cultural tradition. Thus, shashmaqam was divided in two: the Tajik shashmaqam published in Dushanbe, and the Uzbek shashmaqam published in Tashkent. The Tajik books made no mention of Uzbek shashmaqam and vice versa.

During the 1980s, this artificial division began to change. Uzbekistan began to learn of the Uzbek-Tajik shashmaqam, and Tajikistan learnt of the Tajik-Uzbek shashmaqam. This has survived to the present, but a surge of nationalism in Uzbekistan may change that: singers on the radio in Bukhara, a city perfectly bilingual in Uzbek and Tajik, are using only the Uzbek texts in their shashmaqam music broadcasts.[1]

This style of music was brought to the Western world, particularly to the United States, by the Bukharian Jews of Central Asia. Many of them were successful performers of Shasmaqam and brought their talent to the West.


  1. Theodore Levin, The Reterritorialization of Culture in the New Central Asian States: A Report from Uzbekistan. Year of traditional Music, Vol. 25, Musical Processes in Asia and Oceania. (1993) pp. 51-59

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