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  • Women Musicians of Uzbekistan: From Courtyard to Conservatory by Tanya Merchant
  • Victoria M. Dalzell (bio)
Women Musicians of Uzbekistan: From Courtyard to Conservatory. Tanya Merchant. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2016. New Perspectives on Gender and Music. xii + 208 pp., 8 black-and-white photographs, 1 map, notes, glossary, works cited, index. ISBN: 978-0-252-03953-9 (hardcover), $95.00; ISBN: 978-0-252-08106-4 (paperback), $26.00; ISBN: 978-0-09763-8 (e-book), $14.95.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan became a nation by default instead of by revolution. Creating a national identity was accomplished largely through institutions established by the Soviets—including music conservatories. In Women Musicians of Uzbekistan, Tanya Merchant examines [End Page 151] how women shape discourses about Uzbek nationalism by participating in institutionalized music traditions. Merchant constructs each chapter around biographical profiles of women musicians, allowing her to trace historical developments through individual experiences beyond the time constraints of her fieldwork periods. Through these women's experiences, Merchant demonstrates not only how Uzbek music traditions are deeply entwined in ideas of nation but also how women, as musicians, shape the way heritage is deployed.

In chapter 1, Merchant recounts the roles of women in maqom music to provide a holistic picture of these music traditions. Women have always participated in these Central Asian classical music traditions, but their stories are usually omitted from official histories because their roles were in the private sphere. Merchant uses biography to tell how two of her instructors—Malika Ziyaeva and Komila Aminova—broke into careers as maqom musicians. The Soviet policy of bringing women into the workforce and higher education gave these women the opportunity to make maqom their career. Merchant does much more than answer second-wave feminism's question, Where are the women? She provides key perspectives on maqom from women and demonstrates how women maqom artists embody specific musical legacies and national identity narratives through their master-apprentice relationships and public performances.

Moving from the private to public sphere in the maqom tradition was a leap for women, but they always publicly participated in other Uzbek music traditions. One such tradition is arranged folk-music ensembles. Like other Soviet member states, Uzbekistan musically represented itself on the public stage via orchestras of reconstructed (equal-tempered) folk instruments. Chapter 2 demonstrates how these ensembles have continued relevance in independent Uzbekistan. Merchant introduces women who have had careers as arranged folk musicians, working as performers (Faizila Shukurova) as well as leaders of their own orchestras (Firuza Abdurahimova) and dutar (two-stringed lute) groups (Ro'zibi Hodjayeva). Since independence, Uzbekistan has redirected this music toward an international audience. Because the repertoire consists of material derived from folk music but arranged according to the rules of Western tonal harmony, it sounds more like "music" than maqom to the uninitiated. Merchant recounts how arranged folk music is featured in concerts at embassies, at which set lists often include music from the hosting embassy's country arranged for the Uzbek ensemble, and describes an amateur dutar ensemble at a Japanese business center for foreign businessmen's wives. One of the strengths of Merchant's book, especially in chapter 2, is the demonstrated "difference between public perception and actual practice" (74). Merchant interrogates whether comments from listeners and audience members resonate [End Page 152] with professional musicians and shows how misunderstandings nevertheless shape the expectations under which these musicians work.

Chapter 3 focuses on the roles of women in Western art music (WAM) in Uzbekistan. Women may not be composers, but they are nevertheless influential as interpreters of the canon. This chapter describes the work of a conductor, Dilbara Abdurahmanova, and a concert pianist, Ofeliya Yusupova. As performers, these women are more than the "face of the nation" (122): they decide which Uzbek compositions get performed for audiences not only in Uzbekistan but also on international tours. Although this chapter's material may initially seem out of place, Merchant demonstrates the crucial roles women have in disseminating the work of Uzbek composers and participating in cosmopolitan art circles, and she reminds readers of an extensive Russian WAM canon that has linked Central...


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