Tadjikistan: Chants des Bardes (Songs of the Bards)

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This French recording was made in the field in 1990-1992 and covers ten bards, one of whom is represented twice. A "bard" (or hafiz) in Tajiki parlance is not some sort of troubadour so much as the local musician, professional or amateur. These bards are the keepers of tradition in a country that traces its musical history back to ancient Greece and Persia.

The pieces typically feature a male vocalist, one drum and a stringed or bowed instrument (or both), although more or fewer instruments are occasionally to be found. The most common instruments are the small-bodied, longnecked lutes like the dombrak or the setar, which make a sound that is metallic without being jangly and that lend themselves to rapid strumming.

The music is more folk than classical: a little rough with lots of feeling. A song for two vocalists like "Three Ruba'i" is almost epic in its sweeping passion, achieved by the paired voices and the dramatic repeated motifs of the strummed instruments. Other songs are less dynamic, but most would be interesting to anyone who enjoys the folk music of Central Asia.

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