Various Artists

Ethnic Minority Music of Northwest Xinjiang, China

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Recorded just before the Uighur uprising in 2009, this album covers a lot of musical ground throughout the vast western end of China. The album starts out with an outstanding show of speed and virtuosity on the Kazakh dongbra, transitioning into a related piece with dongbra and an overly nasal song specific to the region. A pair of Uighur pieces on the better-known tambur and rawab present a different style. The Kyrgyz komuz shows off a stuttering analogy to the opening dongbras, with a heavier emphasis on rhythm and the stomping power of a single bare-stringed instrument. Suddenly, the musical selections start mixing. The Uighurs, the Kyrgyz, the Kazakhs (and a stray Mongol with a John Lee Hooker style) all start contributing songs that follow one another only roughly in terms of tradition, but start to line the way from one to the next with thematic elements. The music here is coarse, it's scratchy, but it's also unkempt, untamed. Music from deep, somewhat isolated ethnic pockets can be a bit much for a new listener, but often holds rewards. The virtuosos of Xinjiang showcased here are some of those rewards.

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