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Reviewed by:
  • The Music of Central Asia ed. by Theodore Levin, Saida Daukeyeva, and Elmira Köchümkulova
  • Tanya Merchant (bio)
The Music of Central Asia. Edited by Theodore Levin, Saida Daukeyeva, and Elmira Köchümkulova. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016. xxii + 676 pp., 456 color illustrations, maps, glossaries, bibliography, index. ISBN: 9780253017512 (hardcover), $40.00; ISBN: 9780253017642 (e-book). Companion website:

This volume by Levin, Daukeyeva, and Köchümkulova is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Central Asian music. The volume is a collection of chapters from 27 authors, including local scholars, and thus a [End Page 125] significant amount of material appears here for the first time in the English language. The Music of Central Asia is an incredible accomplishment. It provides a wealth of perspectives and is remarkably comprehensive in its coverage of the region. The book defines Central Asia broadly, including Afghanistan, Mongolia, Western China, and parts of Siberia, along with former Soviet republics Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Although it pays significant attention to music associated with these broader nations, it does not neglect more specific regional musics, such as that of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, which are often overlooked in less comprehensive surveys.

The volume covers a range of musics, from those that are created, taught, and performed in state institutions to those that originate and remain in the grass roots. Rural and urban musics are included, as are musics created for media and stage and those that are not. Indeed, the musico-cultural division between nomadic and settled peoples in Central Asia is a major organizational strategy in the book. After a short section introducing Central Asian music and culture broadly, the book is divided into three large sections: "The Nomadic World," "The World of Sedentary Dwellers," and "Central Asian Music in the Age of Globalization." Within these large sections, chapters focus on musical practices from specific cultures, such as Karakalpak epics, Kyrgyz music for jaw harps, popular songs in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and neotraditional music in Kyrgyzstan. The content of The Music of Central Asia provides depth and breadth, meaning that it is both a teaching tool and a reference volume for scholarship. Beyond the scope of the practices it covers, the book clearly addresses issues of musical change with historical perspectives.

Collaborating with so many experts means that the writing style and focus vary widely. For the most part, this is an advantage since it presents a plurality of ways to approach and understand Central Asian musical culture. Occasionally it makes teaching challenging, however, since the level of detail and kinds of information that students are asked to master differs significantly from chapter to chapter. The breadth and comprehensive coverage of The Music of Central Asia renders those challenges worth surmounting, though. I used the textbook in a course on Central Asian music for music majors, and it was quite a boon for the students, especially when compared to previous iterations of the course that demanded a motley collection of cobbled-together readings and resources. Having an affordable textbook with engaging readings, vivid photography, and a multitude of audio/visual resources transformed what I was able to accomplish in the course. There is only one addition that I would suggest to improve a second edition: a chapter dedicated to folk orchestras or arranged folk music or both. The phenomenon is briefly mentioned in the "Central Asian Music in the Soviet Era" section of the introductory chapter [End Page 126] (20–21) and has slight coverage in other chapters, but there is no clear place in the textbook that would provide a reading for a class meeting focused on arranged folk music.

The audiovisual resources provided via an accompanying website ( come primarily from Levin's work with Smithsonian Folkways, so each chapter has high-quality video and audio examples that students and scholars can access easily (but examples are not available for download). The website's A/V and additional readings are useful to interested students and scholars alike. As a teaching tool, however, streaming audio and video have significant limitations. It was extremely difficult to get music majors to...


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