TAM Sultan Mehmet Uyghur Traditional Music June 5, 2007

Sultan Mehmet Performing Uyghur Traditional Music June 5, 2007

On June 5, 2007 Radio Free Asia conducted an in-house recording session with Sultan Mehmet, the 63-year old Uyghur traditional music composer and performer. Mr. Mehmet was born in Eastern Turkistan and started to play the Uyghur dutar, a 2-stringed, long-necked plucked lute, at the age of seven. He said his parents were not very happy at that time because they were followers of the religious rules of Islam.

Mehmet’s parents’ attitude changed when his musical talent became obvious. Thereafter, his parents fully supported his studies in the Maqam College for Traditional Music, which was associated with the Conservatory in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Later, he formed the Maqam Ensemble at Tashkent’s radio station where he worked for 25 years as the lead musician. The radio station was closed after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Subsequently, Mr. Mehmet, by now a famous musician, toured the world with his Maqam Music Ensemble. Later, Mr. Mehmet moved to the U.S. and presently lives in New York City.

Uyghur music embraces several distinct regional styles that reflect the complex historical background of the region that has mountains and deserts, and whose oasis kingdoms have been the site of clashes with many outside forces. The musical traditions of the southern oasis towns of Khotan and Kashgar are closely related to the classical Central Asian traditions of Bukhara and Samarkand. Each of the region's oasis towns has maintained its own characteristic sound and music repertoire. At the same time, they are interconnected by their common language and by their dominating culture, preserved by constant communication through the movement of peoples and trade.

Uyghur scholars trace the roots of their music back to the 11th century BC, to the Di people living to the north of China. Chinese sources contain frequent references to the early music of the region, termed as the 'Western Region' (xiyu). According to early records, a musician by the name of Sujup from the kingdom of Kösän (Qiuci) traveled to the court of Wudi (Chinese emperor in A.D. 567). It was Sujup who introduced the musical theory of seven modes and five tones to China.

This complete TAM Session resulted in seventeen song tracks which are loaded in the Tam Player below for your preview:

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The best known and most appreciated genre of Uyghur music is the muqam. Muqam consists of suites of sung poetry as well as instrumental and dance music. Some of the lyrics of the muqam are from the great Central Asian Chagatay poets. Folk poetry has also been its rich source. The term muqam has moral power, as in the saying "uning muqami yoq" (he has no muqam, i.e., he is unreasonable). In addition to the muqam, the Uyghurs maintain popular traditions of sung epic tales and other forms of narrative song; suites of dance music; instrumental music; musical genres linked to the ceremonies of the Sufis, and a huge repertoire of folksongs which commonly dwell on the suffering of life on earth and the torments of frustrated love.

Mr. Mehmet recorded at RFA in order to preserve traditional Uyghur songs that are not available commercially. During the 8-hour session eighteen songs we successfully recorded. At the session, Mr. Mehmet sang and played the tämbür. The tämbür is the longest of the Uyghur lutes, and has five metal strings tuned so-so-do-soso. The melody is played on the double right-hand strings using a metal pick on the index finger. The tämbür is sometimes used as principal instrument in the muqam, as well as for folksongs, narrative songs and instrumental pieces, just as it was in RFA’s recording session.

One of the eighteen songs is a muqam (Muqam Ushok) and a few of them are folksongs. The Uyghurs classify folksongs according to their region of origin, and each region has its own distinctive sound. The singing style is highly ornamented.

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