Music and Entertainment in Uzbekistan

Day by day, young musical talents are appearing in the cultural life of Uzbekistan. Moreover, some of the well known professional musicians who play different styles of music in Tashkent are giving concerts. presents information about the music being played in Uzbekistan, numerous bands and ensembles of classical, jazz, folklore and modern pop music.

History of Uzbek music

Since ancient times, on the territory of Uzbekistan various civilizations have developed, blossomed and fallen into decay, and left a deep mark on the history of world culture.
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.), rropewalkers 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.

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.

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.

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.

The Bakhshi

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.
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:

Learning the dotar technique
Learning vocal techniques
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.

Ameneh Yousefzadeh, August 1995. Info from

We thank Musical Producer Ms. Nathalie Tsoy for her kind support and cooperation in this web-page development.