Shashmaqam is the best known of a pleiades of classical vocal and instrumental repertories that flourished in the great cities of Central Asia: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khujand Tashkent, Khiva, Qoqand. The roots of Shashmaqam are linked most strongly with historically multicultural cities where performers and audiences have included Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Central Asian (Bukharan) Jews.
With its Sufi-inspired texts, lyrical melodies, and austere instrumental accompaniment, Shashmaqam comprises music of great refinement and profound beauty that spans the entire gamut of traditional social life, from prayer to dance.
Transformed during the Soviet era into a cantata-like genre performed by a choir and small orchestra of indigenous instruments, Shashmaqam is presently undergoing a restoration whose vitality comes from the rediscovery and reanimation of older, more authentic performance styles.
In Tajikistan, the leader of this movement is Abduvali Abdurashidov, who, with support from the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia (AKMICA), created his Academy of Shashmaqam to offer rigorous training to a highly select group of talented young performers.
By reducing his ensemble to the essentials a few voices, frame drum, and two or three long-necked lutes, including the rarely heard sato (bowed tanbur) Abdurashidov achieves a remarkable clarity of texture and suppleness of form. His work instills new life in one of the great musical traditions of the Islamic world, and confirms the important place of Shashmaqam in any musical map of Eurasia.
Shashmaqam is a Central Asian musical genre, (typical of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), which may have developed in the cities of Samarkand, Bokhara and Khujand.
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 reign of 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 Uzbekistani 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.