While the city of Bukhara may be well known to travellers in Uzbekistan for its well-preserved old town and historical footnotes, few people seem to know about the conservation of traditional music going on in the alleyways.
Local conductor and musician Sadriddin Gulovs has been working for years to preserve the traditional sounds of Bukhara and Uzbekistan. With his brother and band, Sadriddin plays traditional Central Asian instruments like the dourma and shashtar that have been used in the area for centuries. As his reputation spreads, the artist has been invited to play international sets in neighbouring Turkmenistan and as far away as Paris.
My chance encounter with Sadriddin occurred in a local coffee shop in Bukhara. What started as an inquisitive chat between tables ended with an invitation to join him and a musician friend for a jam session in his living room. After three or four songs and a bit more conversation conducted slowly over a Russian-to-English dictionary, we parted ways, but not before he suggested that, later that night, I attend a local wedding reception at which he was performing.
The day after my first Uzbek wedding, doing my best to shake off the combined effects of all-embracing hospitality and a proclivity for vodka that seems to pop up in many post-Soviet countries, I decided to forego afternoon sightseeing in order to drop back in on Sadriddin with a CD of my favourite photos from the day and night before. In the course of that conversation and then more chats over the next week, I was invited along to three more weddings with Sadriddin and the band.
Four Weddings and a Musical
Though the people, venue and even band members changed with each wedding, all four revolved around the same two anchors: music and dancing.
Showing up as a guest of the band meant access to every part of the performance, from carrying in keyboards and speakers to the 2am tear-everything-down-and-stuff-it-into-a-car moment at the end of the celebrations. The most exciting part, though, was always the height of a wedding itself. As soon as the first guests arrived, the band started playing. For the rest of the night, they seemed to stop only for important toasts to the bride and groom.
As the band’s music began, a professional dancer commenced her rounds of the central floor, spinning to the sounds of the performers and collecting tips to be shared out later to all the members.
What started as one woman dancing in a festive but controlled atmosphere very rapidly became a massive dance party, including everyone from the smallest child in her father’s arms to the oldest babushka who could still manage to move out onto the dance floor.
It goes without saying that as the out-of-place foreigner, I was absolutely required to get into the mix early and often.
Four weddings’ examples of overwhelming generosity, three trips to Sadriddin’s house to visit his family, two toasts in English that I’m confident only a handful of guests understood and one amazing week in Bukhara later, I finally had to flee town in order not to overstay my visa. I left Sadriddin Gulovs with a handshake, a CD of his music and an email address through which to get in touch if I ever go back.
After a week in a city famous for its giant Kalon Minaret, beautifully conserved old city and fortress, and local Jewish culture, I departed instead with memories of music, dancing and an obliging sense of welcome that leaves most others’ I’ve experienced far behind.