The Uzbek are said to be good at singing and their folk music is melodious and appealing. They have a great variety of musical instruments. Most of them are plucked and percussion instruments. One string instrument with a triangular sound box is known for its sweet and appealing tone. [Source: |]

Uzbek music includes folk songs, dance songs, rap, working songs, customary songs, love songs and classical song cycles. The folk music instruments include the dutar, rewapu and dobro. Uzbek folk songs feature beautiful tunes with lively rhythm. There are various performing forms, such as unison, solo and antiphonal singing. [Source: \=/]

Uzbek styles include folk music, Bukharen style classical music and “exuberant Uzbek folk chants.” Describing Central Asia music, Laura Young wrote in the Washington Post: "Like much of Asian and Indian repertoire, this music emphasizes the vertical line, undulating melodies, without harmony, that spin out over a steady rhythmic accompaniment. The highly expressive vocal sound can strike Western ears as penetrating and exotic."

The traditional music scenes is kept alive by small ensembles or musicians and “sozanda” (female singers accompanies by percussion) who perform at tois held in weddings, festivals and events. They sometimes sing for eight hours. The Rough Guide described sozanda singing as "a cross between an Asiatic cowboy lament and Eurasian bardic wail. Long notes of immense power are interspersed with rapid-fire verses." Many groups play at teahouses. A typical teahouse group has two singers with a damdura and ghichack. These groups often compete against one another competitions. The music incorporates religious and satirical poetry.

Early History of Uzbek Music

On the orginis Uzbek music, Nathalie Tsoy, a Canada-based music director educuted in Tashkent, wrote: “Concerning musical and theatrical art, which also has deep roots in past centuries, it was born in the midst of the multinational peoples of Central Asia. During the era of the Samanids (9th-10th cc.), rope walkers and stilt walkers and performances of national comedians were developing. They slightly remind one of modern popular circus performances. Most vividly, these tendencies were shown in the creativity of the actors of the "Maskharaboz" theatre. [Source: Nathalie Tsoy, ***]

“We know of the old musical traditions, also from monuments of the fine arts of culture during the Kushan period on which musicians are represented. One of them is presented on a frieze with string alpha-type musical instrument in hand, another with a wind musical instrument, similar to a flute, and the third with a bilateral drum of oblong form. From these facts it is possible to conclude that the Kushans and Sogdians knew the basic types of musical instruments and used them both solo and in ensemble. ***

“In the 10th century, some kind of "Renaissance" occurred in Central Asia, meaning that Samanid cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara, Herat, Ghuranj and others become the leading scientific and cultural centers. Local traditions in all areas of science, literature and art were revived. A huge number of scientific and medical treatises were being created; treatises on music by Farobi, Ibn-Sino, Khorezmi and Fakhruddin Ar-Razi gained great importance, becoming a component in European musical - theoretical science which underwent brilliant development in the subsequent era.” ***

Early Russian Influence on Uzbek Music

Nathalie Tsoy wrote: “The connection of Turkestan to Russia played a huge role in the development of Uzbek culture in the second half of the19th century. Russian and Czech musicians who had came from Russia created musical courses, choral societies, symphonic orchestras and private musical schools. At the same time attempts at the first recordings of national melodies of Turkestan were undertaken. [Source: Nathalie Tsoy, ***]

“The "Musical society", formed in 1882, was of huge importance in Tashkent and in four years the "Circle of fans (amateurs) of choral singing" named "Lyre" was created. Czech musician V.V. Lejsik became the Musical head of both societies. He lived in Tashkent and made a contribution to the development of musical art of pre-revolutionary Turkestan and the first decades of Soviet Uzbekistan. ***

“Musical societies were engaged in huge educational activity, amateur performances and concerts were arranged and V.V. Lejsik, with the assistance of local musicians, recorded his interpretations of national songs, which he arranged for wind orchestras. So, for the first time national folklore started to be heard in the performances of the European musicians on a concert stage. Thus the basis for the further development of the musical art of Uzbekistan was solidified.” ***

Bakhshi of Khorasan

A Bakshi is a singer-storyteller similar to an akyn in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The France-based musicologist Ameneh Youssefzadeh wrote: “In Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as well as in Khorasan, the word bakhshi means instrumentalist, singer, and storyteller. The origin of the word bakhshi comes from Turkish which in turn comes from the Chinese word "po-shih" meaning erudite. It was through the Turkic Uigurs that certain elements of Chinese language infiltrated 13th and 14th century Mongol literature. The word bakhshi appeared in Iranian and Turkish literature with the advent of the Mongols. At the time, the role of the bakhshi seems to have been sometimes that of a healing shaman, and at other times that of a Buddhist priest. [Source: Ameneh Youssefzadeh, August 1995, +++]

“As for the bakhshi of Khorasan, they claim that the origin of their name can be found in the word bakhshande (donor, bestower of gifts) because of the musical gift that God has bestowed upon them. This is a title of respect in northern Khorasan and among the Turkmen of Torkaman-Sahra. The bakhshi can also be found in almost all of Central Asia, among the Kazakh, Kirghiz, Uzbek, and Turkmen people as well as in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and in Xinjiang. Among other ethnicities, on the other hand, the term bakhshi, throughout centuries has designated a bard, a story-teller, and singer of legends and epics. +++

“As a singer, the bakhshi is more precisely a narrator of dastan (stories) and an instrumentalist who plays the dotar (long-necked two-stringed instrument) and who, in most cases, produces his own musical instrument. The majority of the great bards of Khorasan, regardless of their ethnic origin, sing in three languages (Turkish, Persian, and Kurdish). Whether professional or semi-professional, these days the bard doesn't usually earn his living solely through playing music. Most often, he is also, for example, a farmer, a barber, or a teacher. With his instrument, the dotar, he usually sings and plays by himself. However, Turkmen bards prefer to play in groups of two or three. In this case, the bard is accompanied by another dotar player and a person playing the kamanche. +++

“The right to assume the title of bakhshi is subject to specific conditions. A bakhshi should not only be a good musician and have a good voice, he also needs excellent diction for telling stories. Ideally, he learns his art from his father or his uncle while living under the family roof. Some acquire their apprenticeship under the tutelage of a master (ostad). The learning process evolves in three stages: 1) Learning the dotar technique; 2) Learning vocal techniques; and 3) Memorizing the stories. In the last stage, the master teaches his student a fragment of a dastan on a daily basis, so that he can memorize and recite it the next day. The bakhshi is renowned for his prodigious memory. +++

“Traditionally, the bakhshi plays at village ceremonies such as weddings and circumcisions, but he also performs at private gatherings and in the ghave-khanas (coffee houses) of the bazars. Unfortunately, today, television has taken the place of the traditional bard in the Ghave-khana. Fortunately, at present we can also hear the bakhshi being performed in concerts, often within the context of festivals.” +++

Katta Ashula — Uzbek Big Song —Recognized by UNESCO

In 2009, Katta Ashula, an Uzbek song form, was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list. According to UNESCO: “Katta Ashula(literally ‘big song’) is a type of traditional song that forms part of the identity of various peoples of the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan, which is also home to Tajiks, Uyghurs and Turks, and of some regions of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. An original genre, Katta Ashula combines performing arts, singing, instrumental music, Eastern poetry and sacred rites. It covers a range of subjects, from love to philosophical and theological concepts of the universe and nature, while leaving some room for improvisation. Transmitted orally from master to pupil from one generation to another during a demanding apprenticeship, it is interpreted by a minimum of two and a maximum of five singers.[Source: UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity ~]

Nowadays, Katta Ashula is an important expression of Uzbek cultural identity that can promote dialogue between cultures. To keep this tradition viable, festivals, contests and various other activities already organized by the Government of Uzbekistan and the local authorities are to be reinforced through the introduction of programmes for transmitting the tradition to young people and research (creation of a database, organization of conferences, publications, etc.).

According to UNESCO Katta Ashula was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list because: 1) Katta Ashula is a singing tradition that is cherished by the community as a symbol of its identity and continuity that it endeavours to transmit from generation to generation; 2) The inscription of the element on the Representative List would greatly contribute to the visibility and awareness of intangible cultural heritage at the local, national and international levels, and help ensure the element’s continuity and transmission; 3) Various safeguarding measures at different levels, such as the organization of festivals, traditional competitions of performers, legal measures, school programmes, or documentation have been implemented and are proposed, with the expressed commitment of the communities and the State.


Shashmaqam—meaning the “six maqams” of Uzbek and Tajik music—is a form of classical court music traditionally enjoyed by the upper classes and associated most with Bukhara. Even though it was considered a type of Islamic classical it has been kept alive by Bukharan Jews. The Communists banned it until the form was adapted for propaganda purposes to proclaim the glory of Lenin and express love for one’s collective.

According to UNESCO: Shashmaqom “constitutes a fusion of vocal and instrumental music, melodic and rhythmic idioms and poetry. The genre is performed solo or by a group of singers and an orchestra of lutes, fiddles, frame-drums and flutes. Performances generally open with an instrumental introduction followed by the nasr, the main vocal section consisting of two distinct sets of songs.” [Source: UNESCO]

A maqam is a suite. The six maqams—Buzruk, Rast, Nava, Dugah, Segah and Iraq—all get their names from classical Persian musical forms. A maqam consists of an instrumental prelude followed by Sufi poems sung by a soloist or a group of singers. The poems are generally expression of love, passion, despair or hope and the music tends to build and climb to a climax and then retreat to where it came from. A typical Shashmaqam ensemble has traditionally embraces two tanburs, a dutar, a gidjak and dor and two or three singers.

Shashmaqam Recognized by UNESCO

In 2008, Shashmaqom music was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list. According to UNESCO: For over ten centuries, the classical music tradition of Shashmaqom has evolved in the urban centres of Central Asia formerly known as Mâwarâ al-nahr, an area which now encompasses present-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.[Source: UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity ~]

“Dating back to the pre-Islamic era, Shashmaqom was continually influenced by developments in musicology, poetry, mathematics, and Sufism. So popular was the maqom system in the ninth and tenth centuries that numerous music schools were founded, mainly by the Jewish community, in the city of Bukhara, the historical and spiritual centre of Shashmaqom. Shashmaqom genre requires specially trained musicians because the standard notation system can record only the basic framework. Consequently, oral transmission from master to student remains the principal means of preserving the music and its spiritual values. ~

“From the 1970s, many of the best-known Shashmaqom performers emigrated from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to diaspora communities in Israel and the United States. Since Uzbekistan and Tajikistan gained independence in 1991, many measures have been taken to safeguard Shashmaqom. Only a few performers have maintained local performance styles as taught by independent teachers. With the passing of many Shashmaqom masters, the overwhelming majority of presentday performers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are graduates of the Tashkent Conservatory, which offers training in Shashmaqom composition. ~

Musicians in Uzbekistan

Munadjat Yulchieva (Munojot Yo'Ichiyeva) is Uzbekistan’s most famous classical music performer. She performs Shashmaqam, classical court music and songs rooted in the Sufi tradition that formally only men were able perform. He names means “ascent to god.” She began singing as a child and decided to stick with Central Asian music even though some wanted her to become an opera singer. [Source: Rough Guide to World Music]

Turgan Alimotov is regarded as a master of instrumental maqam. He plays the dutar, tanbur and sato He is regarded as a an ascetic and a philosopher and often performs with his son Alsiher. Sherali Djuraev is a popular wedding singer who once was voted the most popular man in Uzbekistan. Ilyas Malayev and Ensemble Maqam kept alive the tradition of music played by Jewish musicians for Muslim emirs in Bukhara. They play Azerbaijani instrumental music and Tajik and Persian folk songs that are part of the classical shashmaqam repertoire.

Yulduz Usmanova is probably the biggest star in Uzbekistan. Hailing from the Fergana Valley and educated in Tashkent, she has performed at WOMAD festivals in the United States, Germany, France, Belgium and many other countries and was named the Voice of Asia” at a music competition in Almaty in 1991. She is crediting with incorporating modern Turkish, Arabesque, Bollywood and pop music into her songs while staying true to her Uzbek roots. Her name means “star.” Groups and singer available on Imagina include Yalla, Yulduz Usmanova, Oleg Fesov, Ziyod Ishankhojaev, Kumush Razzakov.

Behzod Abduraimov; Young Pianist from Uzbekistan

Behzod Abduraimov is young pianist is has earned rave reviews in the United States. Richard S. Ginell wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Abduraimov, the 24-year-old breakout pianist from Uzbekistan, is making a formidable name for himself in Los Angeles through the time-honored means of subbing.” In July, 2014 “he stepped in for Yefim Bronfman at the Hollywood Bowl and made a big impression with the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto.” In October 2014, “he did it again at Walt Disney Concert Hall, replacing pregnant violinist Leila Josefowicz. Obviously, this required a switch in the program. [Source: Richard S. Ginell, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2014 /]

“Abduraimov's vehicle this time was the Prokofiev Concerto No. 3, which has been getting a lot of exposure in L.A. lately. Lang Lang played it in May, and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet did so with the London Philharmonic last week. But I doubt if even the most jaded, super-saturated listener could have resisted Abduraimov's spectacular take on the Prokofiev with Juanjo Mena and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. /

“In a preview, a beautifully recorded CD of Abduraimov's Prokofiev 3 came out... on Decca — one of the best new recordings of the concerto, superior to Lang's recent version... Abduraimov's performance took it further to the extremes, with wider dynamic contrasts and stronger, tougher accents and rhythms. The lyrical stretches rippled and floated as if on a cloud; the stretch runs of the first and third movements were wild rides to the finish line. /

“Already, the magic name of Horowitz has come up in the media as a comparison, and perhaps those huge hammered octaves and a few coloristic pedaling effects do suggest this, but Abduraimov is a far more physically demonstrative pianist than was the deceptively composed Horowitz. Mena faithfully followed each and every rhapsodic rubato, and the young Uzbek pianist chipped in a lovely encore, Tchaikovsky's Nocturne in C-sharp minor.” /

Dance in Uzbekistan

The Uzbek are said to be good at dancing. Uzbek dances are famous for their vivacity, grace and variety. Most dances are solos, with the dancer waving her arms while turning round and round. The traditional tambourine dance is unique in style and very entertaining. [Source: |]

Dancing has traditionally been done in singles and pairs, not in groups, mostly by women and girls, accompanied by a variety of musical forms ranging from simple rhythms or melodies provided by a single drum or two-stringed instrument to layered music produced by a classical maqam or even orchestras made up of traditional instruments. Sometimes dancers wear wrist bells which add percussive elements to their movements. [Source: “International Encyclopedia of Dance”, editor Jeane Cohen ~|~]

Laurel Victoria Gray wrote in the” “International Encyclopedia of Dance”: “Uzbek dance is characterized by intricate arm and hand movements, a variety of spins and turns, backbends, shoulder isolations, and animated facial expressions, Portions of the dance are often performed kneeling on the floor. Footwork is relatively simple; high leaps and pelvic isolations are absent.” ~|~

Contemporary Uzbek dance has many genres, forms, and schools, including the classical Uzbek dances. In contrast to the classical dances of other peoples of the East, which mainly tell stories by means of gestures, facial mimicry, and pantomime, Uzbek classical dance is devoid of concrete imagery; the dance movements themselves express emotions. Classical Uzbek dances deal with generalized themes and emotions, for example, happiness and grief, joy and sorrow, life, death and delight and the beauty of nature and grandeur of the elements. Uzbek folk dances, which deal with themes of labor and war, also use the movements of the classical Uzbek school. [Source: |~|]

Folk dances performed for tourists tend be very commercial in nature, featuring lively dances performed to pop-style music. The costumes with sequins and rhinestones sometimes look more like something a belly dancer would wear than a traditional dancer. Tradition forms remain alive. A number fo dance companies perform regularly; folk dance is often shown on television; and no Uzbek wedding is complete without dancing.

Early History of Dance in Uzbekistan

Dances connected with everyday life, religious rites, and holidays have existed since ancient times among the peoples inhabiting Central Asia, as indicated by drawings depicting dancing figures on rock walls. Historical chronicles refer to the popularity and high level of of dance in what is now Uzbekistan between the 9th and 16th centuries. [Source: |~|]

Ancient petroglyphs, bas-reliefs and clay sculptures depict dancers. Images from the 1st century B.C. show dancers taking part in what are believed to be religious ceremonies. Between the 4th and 8th centuries dancers from Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent were so famous they traveled to China to entertain the Tang dynasty empires. [Source: “International Encyclopedia of Dance”, editor Jeane Cohen ~|~]

After the Arab invasions and the introduction of Islam, dancing was discouraged as the sexes were segregated. Women danced for themselves and public dancing was performed by young boys called “batcha” who wore make up and dressed like women and imitated women’s movements in their dances.

Later History of Dance in Uzbekistan

Although miniature painting depicts some dancing by women in the courts of Central Asian rulers, women generally did not perform in public until the early Soviet era, and even then they received death threats by Muslim extremists. One famous dancer named Nurkhom was murdered by her own brother for dishonoring here family by dancing in public. [Source: “International Encyclopedia of Dance”, editor Jeane Cohen]

Uzbek classical dance eventually formed three schools, those of Fergana, Khorezm and Bukhara, each of which had its own dance expression, as well as a developed system of training. The Fergana school, because of historical conditions, was however the most highly developed. Despite the high level of professional dance, by the beginning of the 20th century Uzbek folk dance had nearly ceased to exist, since it was prohibited by Islamic edicts. Dance continued to develop only among professionals, who danced in solo performances, while the common people did not dare dance, even on national holidays. [Source: |~|]

In 1918, Uzbek national dance began its transformation into a practically new folk art. In 1923, Kari Jakubov formed a troupe including well known musicians and the young dancer Tamara Khanum. The first Traveling ethnographic troupe, organized in 1926, included well known musicians, singers, and dancer choreographers. In 1928 the troops made up the core of the first experimental musical drama. The new genre of stage dance, later gained wide recognition. The theatre also operated a studio. The Uzbek Song and Dance Ensemble, established in Tashkent in 1936, assimilated the best traditions of folk and classical Uzbek choreography; known as Shodlik. The Bakhor Ensemble, directed by M. Turgunbaev, was founded in 1957, and the Liazgi Khorezm Song and Dance Ensemble, directed by People's Artist of the Uzbekistan G.A. Rakhimova, was established in 1958. |~|

Types of Uzbek Folk Dances

Uzbek folk dance come in four types: 1) dances performed for special events such the Navrus festival, weddings, holiday feasts and funerals; 3) dances performed at any time for entertainment; 3) classical dances; and 4) dances with links to religion such as the incantational dances of healers of whirling-dervish-like Sufi “zikr”. [Source: “International Encyclopedia of Dance”, editor Jeane Cohen ~|~]

Several dances are associated with Navrus (See Navrus). Among the well-known entertainment dances are the “koshuk” and “kairakufair”, dances performed with “karok”, castanets made from smooth river stones or metal, and the “yalla”, a dance accompanied by humorous songs or rhythms that evoke different wild and domesticated animals. “Tanovar” is a form of classical dance from the Fergana Valley which is generally melancholy in nature and expresses the hopes and desires of women.

Professional dancers have traditionally worked at theaters and in circuses and khnate courts. The three main regional styles are associated with the main political powers in Uzbekistan: 1) the Khanate of Kokand in the Fergana Valley; 2) the Khanate of Khiva in the Khorezm region; and 3) the Emirate of Bukhara.

Gray wrote in the “International Encyclopedia of Dance”: “The most lyrical of the three schools, Fergana dance, is characterized by intricate wrist circles and undulations of the hands and arms, with pliant bending of the spine and a shy yet playful demeanor. Khorezm dances often feature trembling of the hands and torso and side-side movements of the head, and comic elements...Dances from Bukhara feature a proud carriages and juxtaposition of soft, undulating movements with crisp, staccato ones. The Bukharan style is the most acrobatic of the three, requiring fast spins, sudden drops to the floor, and deep back bends.”

Askiya, the Art of Wit

In 2014, Askiya, the art of wit was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list. According to UNESCO: “Askiya is a genre of Uzbek verbal folk art that takes the form of a dialogue between two or more participants, who eloquently debate and exchange witticisms around a particular theme. Bearers and practitioners, mainly men, must master the peculiarities of Uzbek language, and be able to improvise and reason quickly and skilfully, using humour and banter to great effect. The dialogues, although humorous, play an invaluable role in raising awareness of social tendencies and events, drawing attention to important issues through acute observation of daily life. Askiya is often performed in folk celebrations, festivities, family-related rituals and get-togethers organized in cities and villages across Uzbekistan.[Source: UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity ~]

“At present, more than thirty forms of Askiya are known, some professional and some amateur, each with its own distinctive features. Askiya-related knowledge and skills are predominantly transmitted verbally among individuals, groups and communities, based on traditional master-apprentice teaching methods. Askiya promotes humour, ensures simplicity of communication among people, and unites representatives of different communities, irrespective of age and background, around a common event. It also has a strong educational component, using humour to teach people to be more attentive, and to analyse flaws and shortcomings in daily life, thereby nurturing cultural and social development.

According to UNESCO, Askiya was placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list because: 1) Based on certain rules of respect and involving a diversity of participants, Askiya is passed down from generation to generation in the Fergana Valley and Tashkent region as a form of social commentary and community identity-building; 2) Inscription of the element on the Representative List could raise awareness of the significance of intangible cultural heritage while promoting dialogue among communities, testifying to human creativity and encouraging mutual respect and good social relations. A wide range of safeguarding measures have been proposed by the submitting State to protect and promote the element, including a legislative framework, a national programme for safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage as well as awareness-raising activities and research.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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