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Reviewed by:
  • Songs from the Steppes: Kazakh Music Today, and: Songs of Defiance: Music of Chechnya and the North Caucasus, and: Songs of Survival: Traditional Music of Georgia
  • Jonathan McCollum
Songs from the Steppes: Kazakh Music Today, 2005. Recorded by Michael Church, produced by Tony Engle, booklet by Michael Church and Alma Kunanbaeva. Topic Records, CD (1), 15-page booklet, TSCD929.
Songs of Defiance: Music of Chechnya and the North Caucasus, 2007. Recorded by Michael Church, produced by Tony Engle, booklet by Michael Church and Joseph Jordania. Topic Records, CD (1), 21-page booklet, TSCD934.
Songs of Survival: Traditional Music of Georgia, 2007. Recorded by Michael Church, produced by Tony Engle, booklet by Michael Church and Joseph Jordania. Topic Records, CDs (2), 27-page booklet, TSCD935D.

Landlocked Central Asia covers a vast territory, including the Xiangjian Uygur region of China and countries such as Mongolia, Afghanistan, and the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The Caucasus are often grouped with Central Asia and encompass the nations of Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the contested region of Norgorno-Karabagh, and portions of Russia. In his recent releases on Topic Records, Michael Church offers three CD compilations as testaments not only to the people of Central Asia and the Caucasus but to the seriousness and power of music. Church, a broadcaster for the BBC World Service, as well as a writer for the BBC Music Magazine and the Independent, keeps true to his journalistic roots by using the music of the oppressed to explore the politics of oppression. Writing in the BBC Music Magazine, he describes the political ambience he encountered in this part of the world: "Not even the prettifying snow can disguise the fact that Ardon is a drab little town with a sinister atmosphere. A few miles down the road is Beslan, where 176 schoolchildren were recently murdered in a hail of bullets and bombs, the memory of which freezes on people's lips. But I'm here in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania [in Russia] to record the choir, who are rumored to be good. Even if their singing is only so-so, it will still be notable, since not much music is made in this war-torn part of the Caucasus, let alone traditional polyphony" ("Recording Songs of Defiance and Survival," May 2007, p. 47).

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus became independent states. These three recordings bear witness to decades of Soviet presence in the region. During the Soviet era, the goal set for what were known as "professional folk music ensembles" was to promote the advancement of folk music in the context of a socialist national self-expression. The work of Andy Nercessian (for example, "A Look at the Emergence of the Concept of National Culture in Armenian: The Former Soviet Folk Ensemble" in International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, 31[1]:79-94, 2000) and Max Peter Baumann ("Traditional Music in the Focus of Cultural Policy," in Music in the Dialogue of Cultures: Traditional Music and Cultural Policy, ed. Florian Noetzel, 1991) provides [End Page 322] insight into the ramification of the Sovietization on folk music. As they show, prior to the Soviet institutionalization of music in this region, folk music was traditionally passed down through oral tradition. State-sponsored folk orchestras, on the other hand, introduced music notation, undermining oral transmission. Soviet policy on art particularly limited religious music, so much so that religious and spiritual song lyrics were often replaced by texts that glorified the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, Soviet officials carefully studied and then substantially reconstructed traditional instruments, so that they would conform to the requirements of Western diatonic scales. The alteration of regionally specific tunings of folk instruments and ensembles was intended to serve a specific purpose in Soviet cultural policy—to bridge the gap between folk and classical musics and lessen the distinction between the culture of the bourgeoisie and that of everyday people. Further, by controlling how folk music was created and understood, the Soviets could ensure that folk culture in general conformed to official policy and ideology. The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-1882
Print ISSN
0021-8715
Pages
pp. 322-325
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-26
Open Access
No
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