Commercially Available Kazakh and Central Asian Music

On this page you will find music that I have been able to find at either/or iTunes or Barnes and Noble for purchase online at one point. Songs with link in new window open in a new window in the Barnes and Noble Music Store.

Music from Almati link in new window by Wolf Dietrich.

National Anthem of Kazakhstan: There is a version that was used from Independence to January 2006. A new anthem was written with lyrics by President Nazarbayev; you can see the Kazakh, transilliteration, and English translation at Wiki: My Kazakhstan (anthem) [external [link] and listen to it on YouTube - National Anthem of Kazakhstan [external [link].

Silk Road: a Musical Caravan link in new window |, released April 2002, "Produced in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, this 2-CD set presents a carefully curated selection of traditional musical masterpieces from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian nations and peoples linked by the Silk Road. The trade routes collectively known as the Silk Road crisscrossed from China to the Middle East and Europe from around 200 BCE to 1500 CE, and represented civilization's first great period of globalization -- an unprecedented cross-pollination of art, technology, fashion, and ideas. The legacy of these centuries of cultural exchange is a dense web of human connectedness that has yielded remarkable music, vibrantly performed on these CDs by some of the greatest exponents of their traditions." RealAudio clips available.

Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet link in new window, released April 2002. "Yo-Yo Ma has played tangos, jazz, and Appalachian fiddle music, but the Silk Road Project is certainly the most far-reaching of his musical explorations. Gathering together musicians from Iran, India, China, and other countries along the historic trade route, as well as a few Americans, Ma and musicologist Theodore Levin have woven a new tapestry of sounds from many different threads, some old and some new. The result is an ear-opening, mind-expanding kind of fusion. Among other pieces, Ma plays a work based on the classical traditions of Azerbaijan accompanied by a piano prepared a la John Cage, as well as Finnish folk songs. Recording in big jam sessions, Ma says he had "a huge amount of fun," and that's perhaps the most memorable feature of this disc. Authenticity is beside the point -- the disc captures a joyful spirit of sharing and cooperation among people whose backgrounds are vastly different. In today's world, so full of conflict and misunderstanding, this spirit is of incomparable value. " Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. RealAudio clips available.

Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon new window link, released April 2005. "Continuing their explorations on Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet, Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble go even deeper into cross-cultural studies on this 2005 soundtrack album. Produced for a 10-part series on Japan's NHK television network, the CD's 15 tracks are arranged in three suites, entitled Enchantment, Origins, and New Beginnings, more reflective of inherent musical affinities than of the way the music was used in the program. The musicians tap into the variously overlapping musical styles of lands stretching from China and India to Iran and Turkey, and the arrangements by Zhao Jiping and Zhao Lin include a mix of instruments from around the world, to add greater color and sonic dimensions. The album's exotic and meditative qualities may attract fans of both international and new age music, though there is perhaps little crossover appeal for Ma's classical devotees. Due to the group's cohesion and spirit of cooperation, solos are fairly evenly distributed, and Ma stands out no more or less than the other players. Indeed, kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor and vocalist Alim Qasimov have greater prominence, and it may even be said that tabla master Sandeep Das steals the show. Sony's sound quality is satisfactory, though a little soft in places." Audio clips available.

Tuva is in the Russian Federation, just north of Mongolia betweenthe Sayan and Tannu Ola mountains, literally in the center of Asia; the area is known for khoomei or "throat singing" where the singer produces a low drone and a high pitched flute-like sound at the same time (also found in Mongolia and Tibetan monks in India). The following artists are Tuvan singers.

  • Kongar-ol Ondar [external [link] was an internationally known "throat" singer from the Altai region of Mongolia. He has two albums listed. Genghis Blues new window link (released November 2000) documents blues singer Paul Pena's trip to Tuva; Genghis Blues website [external [link]. Back Tuva Future [link in new window] was produced in Nashville with names you will recognize playing backup; contains all styles of music, from country to techno and rap.
  • Voices from the Distant Steppe new window link by Shu-de, a group from Tuva.
  • Dangaa (from a family of khoomei)his album is Altai new window link.
  • Huun-Huur-Tu [external [link] is a group from Tuva. In addition to recording their own albums, the members of Huun-Huur-Tu have contributed their vocals to albums and/or performances by Frank Zappa, The Chieftains, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, The Kronos Quartet and L. Shankar and Ry Cooder's soundtrack of the film Geronimo. The name translates literally as "sun propeller", but a member says the names refers to the vertical rays of light on the grasslands just after sunrise or before sunset. Orphan's Lament new window link: "From the first track, their second album, Orphan's Lament grabs your attention with Prayer - the deep, unearthly, sounds of Tibetan Lamaist chant. Next they move to khoomei singing. Known in the West as "throat singing," the performer produces two or more high- and low-pitched tones simultaneously. The resulting sound - somewhat eerie, somewhat haunting - is a combination somewhere between the sounds of a long whistle and a Jew's harp. But Huun Huur Tu also adds new elements to the traditional sounds of Tuvan music. In addition to the igil, a two-stringed horsehead fiddle played with a bow, and the khomuz, a Jew's harp, (both traditional instruments) the group has incorporated percussion -- not a usual device in Tuvan music. Their use of a large goat-skin drum, generally reserved for shamanistic rituals, gives a rhythm to their music, making it very appealing to a Western ear. Similarly, their use of pouch rattle (made from a bull's scrotum filled with sheep knucklebones) adds a beat." I had the opportunity to see them in concert, and I would encourage you to go if you get the chance. They dress in native costume, play ethnic musical instruments, and have a slide show with pictures from their towns and countryside.
  • Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia [link in new window] and Tuva: Among the Spirits [link in new window] - Sound Music & Nature In Sakha, both produced by Smithsonian Folkways.
  • Alash Ensemble [external [link] is another group that has toured in the US.

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In The Steppes Of Central Asia new window link, written by Alexander Borodin in 1879-80, his description: "In the silence of the monotonous deserts of Central Asia are heard for the first time the strains of a peaceful Russian song. From the distance we hear the approach of horses and camels and the melancholy notes of an oriental melody . A caravan emerges out of the boundless steppe, escorted by Russian soldiers, and continues safely and fearlessly on its long way, protected by the formidable military strength of the conquerors. It slowly disappears. The tranquil songs of conquerors and subjects merge in harmony, echoes of which linger on as the caravan disappears in the distance."

Some More of Our Best new window link by Samovar, a Russian folk music ensemble, includes Kazak Molodoy.

Song of the Steppe new window link: released October 2001. "Song of the Steppe features a number of Central Asian recordings. Some of the performers featured here include Popov, Ensemble Sadiyana, Kazak Kard, Musiques de Mongolie, Melodies of the Steppe, and a few others. Most of the performers contribute multiple songs. In particular, Abrigul and Rahmatsa Berãshãyeva's Dargilik/Lala 'Ik/Falak/Ghazal stands out as the album's most epic moment, clocking upwards of 11 minutes in duration. A nice collection for anyone curious about Central Asian music, though nothing particularly special. Jason Birchmeier."

Secret Museum of Mankind new window link: Music of Central Asia, 1925-1948, released July 1996. "Not only the dissatisfaction of the proletariat class was burgeoning in Russia during the first decade of the 20th century. A recording industry was flourishing, one that was competing with western European companies for an "ethnic music" market. By drawing on the musicality of its neighboring central Asian minorities, this Russian industry was provided with the sounds to succeed. This superb CD is a compilation of 26 of these early recordings. Many of the ensembles heard on this release utilize highly developed vocal techniques, small-bodied long-necked lutes, reed pipes, and compact drums. The reason for this similarity in instrumentation is due to the fact that many central Asian cultures were nomadic and, thus, required their belongings to be portable. Because these recordings are old, you may hear an occasional skip and crackle of the needle. These extrinsic characteristics do not take away from the beauty of the music. If anything, the minor pops and hisses serve to remind listeners of the historical import of these recordings. John Vallier"

Music from the Oasis Towns of Central Asia new window link by Uyghur musicians from Xinjang, released in October 2000. "While not a band as such, the Uyghur Musicians are all familiar with the traditional music of Xinjiang, China (also known as Chinese Turkestan), which is something of an anomalous region, being the oasis towns of the old Silk Road, its people holding on to the Muslim religion. The music owes more to Central Asia than to China itself. On this disc, the music is drawn from two distinct regions, the Ili valley and the oasis towns of Turpan, and both have their beauty, whether instrumental - as on Ejem, where tambur and dutar offer a duet, the differing tones of the stringed instruments complementing each other, or the folksongs Mudan Khan and Shahzade Khan, the former with a full, glittering instrumental backing, the second a spare piece for dutar and voice. The most prestigious of the Xinjiang musical pieces, however, are the Maqams; 12 musical suites, some of which are presented here... All in all, it makes for fascinating listening, hearing how Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Central Asian music have all come together to breed this striking and ancient hybrid - and to have it given in some remarkable performances by the region's best traditional players and singers. Chris Nickson"

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These are artists and CDs from Uzbekistan

  • Best of Yulduz Usmanova new window link, released May 2000. She has 6 other CDs. "While the Turkish, Persian, and Central Asian elements of Uzbekian folklore are preserved, Usmanova's music reflects the influences of Western rock, jazz, and dance music as well. According to German music magazine, Stereoplay, Usmanova's "rhythms and melodies are based on Turkish-Ottoman bar and harmony structures but avoid that harmony nerve-killing for European ears." A graduate of the Department for Oriental Music at the Conservatorium in Taschkent, Uzmanova attracted worldwide attention when she placed first in a competition at the first Voice of Asia festival in 1991. Her debut album, Alma Alma, released two years later, was followed by her inaugural European tour.... Craig Harris"
  • Yol Bolsin new window link by Serara Nazarkhan, an Uzbeki singer, translated the title means "where are you going"; she is touring with Peter Gabriel.
  • Ouzbekistan: Monajat Yultchieva [link in new window]; she is a classical singer.
  • Music of Uzbekistan [link in new window]: Field Recordings by Deben Bhattacharya
  • Mokhira is from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Galing Galing (Come to Me) is the title track on her CD. It is also available on several compilation CDs, including Namaste Experience [link in new window] (she has another song on this as well, and one song by Dangaa). Another of her songs is on World Music Cafe, Vol. 2 [link in new window]. This 2 disc set also contains selections from Yulduz and Dangaa.
  • Samarkand [link in new window] by Nasiba, a well known Uzbek ethno-pop Artist and was chosen by the Uzbek people as the 'People's Artist of Uzbekistan'.
  • The Beard of the Camel by Yalla, released June 2000. "The first western release by the leading popular musical group in Central Asia. The music of "Yalla," whose name is an Uzbek word for a song accompanied by dancing, incorporates traditional ethnic folk tunes and poetry of their native Uzbekistan and other Central Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, along with contemporary pop and dance influences, into a unique international blend that spells "d-a-n-c-e" in any language."

Marat Bisengaliev external link is a classical violinist from Kazakhstan. He has played on:

Turkmenistan: The Music of the Bakhshy [link in new window]: "Their music is mainly from Turkish and Iranian origin, although there are many other influences. It is mainly a vocal music, sung by men, the bakhshy, who accompany themselves with a lute, the dutâr, and/or a fiddle (the ghidjak). They also use in instrumental music a flute (the garghy tüydük), a kind of clarinet (the dilli tüydük), and a Jew's harp (the qopuz). They sing for all kinds of important events and ceremonies, such as weddings, the birth of a child, the circumcision of boys, boys' first haircut, and so on. The only time music is not used is for death. In Turkmenistan, the term "bakhshy" is of Mongolian origin and designates the singer, the musician, and the storyteller, and they are professionals with a particular status; their training can last more than ten years. This CD gives the listener an excellent overview of the diversity and quality of this very particular music. ~ Bruno Deschênes, All Music Guide"

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Mountain Tale by the Bulgarian Voices: "A highly ambitious and chance-taking project, Mountain Tale unites the Bulgarian Voices (a 24-member vocal choir from Bulgaria) with the Moscow Art Trio and the Tuvan ensemble Huun-Huur-Tu. The songs, which include "Sad Harvest" and "Dancing Voices," are traditional, but what the participants do with them is quite experimental. Elements of Bulgarian folk are combined with Russian and Tuvan folk as well as European classical music; occasionally, traces of jazz and Scandinavian folk can also be heard. The vocal harmonies that the Bulgarian Voices provide are simply amazing; one shouldn't even think about doing this type of singing unless he/she has serious chops -- members of the Voices obviously do. Mountain Tale is highly recommended to those who are seeking something fresh and adventurous from world music. Alex Henderson"

Don't Torment Me Dear by the Mukam Art Troupe of Xinjiang (eastern China). "Very traditional, but as stunning as many modern experimental recordings. This is the native music of the Chinese Uighur peoples who speak a Turkish tongue. Their soaring hymns focus on love for a woman and nature. Sparsely accompanied on lute, these largely vocal pieces have an Islamic Qawaali feel about them, but remain distinctly Oriental. ~ Tom Schulte, All Music Guide"

Rough Guide to the Music of Central Asia [link in new window], released February 2005. "While there are a few handfuls of albums of Mongolian music, and older targeted albums for particular nations, this is more of a rarity: an album covering the music of Central Asia as defined essentially by the 'Stans' of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikstan. The music on Rough Guide to the Music of Central Asia ranges from the classical traditions of the region, as hailing from Samarkand and Tashkent, to modern hard rock, as well as all points on the spectrum between the extremes. A number of the performers herein are fusionists and revisionists, combining traditional folk musics with contemporary sounds. The album starts on such a note with a mix of classical Kazakh tunes pounded over by electric guitars. Pop singers from the last decade of cultural exchange are sprinkled throughout the album, as recorded locally and through international channels (some have some decent fame in Europe). Folk performers and classicists also take their share of playing time, with masters of the various Central Asian lutes prominent, such as Turgun Alimatov. The album carries a little of something for everyone, in theory, without as many of the particularly foreign sounds, or the more weathered voices and wails that are sometimes known to accompany the music of the region. It's a more accessible entry point to the region's music than many, and may provide a good reference for current listeners to find something new, as well. Adam Greenberg"

For something a little different, try a country band from Russia called Bering Strait. These classically trained musicians are from a small town south of Moscow, were introduced to bluegrass, came to Nashville, have made 2 albums, are featured in a short documentary, and have opened for Tricia Yearwood.

  • Bering Strait[link in new window] released January 14, 2003. "From the unlikely town of Obninsk, Russia, comes the mainstream country sextet known as Bering Strait, whose members have delivered -- with the help of producer Brent Maher, whose work over the years includes the Judds' formidable catalogue -- a slick debut album that's ready for prime time but isn't a soulless, assembly-line product. For the musicians demonstrate a sure touch, whether the song calls for a tough, rock-edged thrust, as per the roiling "Jagged Edge of a Broken Heart," or sensitive, blues-tinged introspection, as on the winsome love ballad "I Could Be Persuaded." The furious instrumental "Bearing Straight" -- which earned the group a Grammy nomination -- is a bracing amalgam of bluegrass, traditional country, '80s rock, and jazz-influenced new age styles, fueled by speed picking, banjo-piano-fiddle byplay, and a bristling guitar solo. In the one taste of the old country offered here, Bering Strait present a détente between Russian folk and country swing that defines a buoyant treatment of the traditional "Porushka-Paranya." The trick pony in the group is lead vocalist Natasha Borzilova, who puts across the songs (almost all supplied by Nashville pros) with palpable feeling and idiomatic precision. She has a bit of Lee Ann Womack in her voice when she goes into belting mode -- as she does most effectively on a roaring, deeply felt, pop-styled celebration of obsession, "What Is It About You" -- and a bit of young Wynonna's blues bent in her sultry, longing pose on the mid-tempo torch of "Tell Me Tonight" and in her sensuous pleading on "I Could Be Persuaded." Novelty this ain't: Borzilova is a big-league singer, her mates are right there with her, and their impassioned introduction to America portends a bountiful future."
  • Pages [link in new window], released June 2005. "On their sophomore effort, the Russian band known as Bering Strait up the ante on the traditional country and bluegrass of their 2005 debut and venture boldly and convincingly into pop and jazz, while also offering some evocative love songs and laments penned by themselves and other Nashville tunesmiths. Clearly the musical touchstones here are Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss + Union Station (US's Jerry Douglas even sits in on dobro on his own rustic, contemplative instrumental, "From Ankara to Izmir"), although the dramatic string arrangement on the dirge-like opener, "Safe in My Lover's Arms," suggests a more baroque sensibility a-borning. This development is further emphasized by a string-enriched, beautifully harmonized rendition of a stately Russian folk song, "Oy, Moroz-Moroz," which aspires to the pop grandeur of ABBA's "Fernando." With its stinging guitars, forceful percussion, and soaring chorus, "Long Time Comin' " wouldn't be out of place on a Trisha Yearwood album, or more to the point, a late-'70s Fleetwood Mac album -- and it's probably no coincidence that these folks assay Christine McVie's "You Make Lovin' Fun," with Natasha Borizlova knocking the lead vocal out of the park as the band offers some stinging slide guitar work and a funky little banjo riff. Some hot electrical and acoustic picking is the order of the day on the jittery, group-composed instrumental, "What's for Dinner," which explores jazzy, Allmans-like avenues. A lovely acoustic-based ballad, "Choose Your Partner," and a shuffling, mid-tempo country rock ditty with Dire Straits overtones, "It Hurts Just a Little," close out a stimulating musical exercise that never forgets to have a heart." David McGee

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Songs from the Steppes: Kazakh Music Today [link in new window], released November 2005. "This is one of a few albums to recently appear featuring Kazakh music -- could it be there's a bit of a trend happening. But if you're expecting anything radical and outlandish in this excellent collection, you're going to be disappointed. You'll find heavily arranged material by the Folk Ensemble of the Presidential Orchestra, recasting folk music to be more acceptable to the masses alongside the real, unadorned thing from artists like Klara Tulenbaeva and Edii Huseinov. In a way this is little more than an illustration of the breadth of Kazakh folk music, and in that it's fine. The raw material is indeed raw, attacking the ears in a wonderful way, and a sharp contrast to the more arranged material. If there are artists pushing at the folk boundaries in Kazakhstan, you won't find them here. But that's fine, too. Chris Nickson"

Urker: Kazakh pop-folk group. Lyrics, music, video, photos. They have several videos on Youtube.

Music of Central Asia Vol. 1: Tengir-Too - Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan [link in new window], from Smithsonian Folkways, released March 2006. "This might be a manufactured excursion into Central Asian roots, but it's one with integrity, with the intention of going to the heart of the music of Kyrgyzstani mountain music. These are traditional and nostalgic pieces, as well as modern tunes and songs that evoke the past, all exquisitely performed. What's perhaps surprising is how un-alien it all sounds, from the flute melodies of "Kyz Oigotoor," which conjures up images of the Andes, to the brilliant full-throated singing of "Kyiylp Turam," which sounds European. But even the most Kryzyg pieces, such as the jew's-harp feature that opens the album, don't come across as especially strange, given their galloping rhythms that pull the ear along. In fact, everything here is a gem, thanks to the wonderful work of the band (and it's worth adding that the overall package is superb, with extensive notes and an accompanying DVD), whose thoughtful and imaginative arrangements make the most of the melodies and rhythms."

Music of Central Asia, Vol. 2: Invisible Face of the Beloved [link in new window], from Smithsonian Folkways, released March 2006. "Much like with qawwali and ghazals, music and poetry are inextricably linked in shashmaqam, the classical music of the Tajiks and Uzbeks. On Invisible Face of the Beloved, they perform the complete cycle of one of the six maqams that make up the shashmaqam repertoire. There are male and female singers, sometimes singing solo and sometimes as a group, accompanied by a frame drum (doira) and three different lutes: the bowed sato, the strummed dutar, and the plucked tanbur. One can hear the relationship between shashmaqam and qawwali, but shashmaqam doesn't reach the same ecstatic heights that most qawwali does (at least in this performance), and there is a periodic emphasis on instrumental passages that doesn't normally occur in qawwali. The detailed liner notes do a much better job of describing and analyzing the performance than can be done here, and the accompanying DVD documents the Academy of the Maqam (whose founder and students are the performers here) and goes even further in describing all the elements of this tradition (poetry, music, and dance) and how they work in conjunction. The overview of Central Asia and instrument glossaries provide additional information and context."

Music of Central Asia, Vol. 4: Bardic Divas, Women's Voices of Central Asia from Smithsonian Folkways, released September 2007. "Sublime bel canto lyrical songs, the guttural recitative of nomadic oral poetry, lively humoresques, and poignant laments of unrequited love comprise this panoramic survey of contemporary women's music from Central Asia performed by some 15 virtuosic women of Kazakhstan and Qarakalpakstan, an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan. 18 Tracks, 59 minutes, 48-page color booklet, photos, and song lyrics; DVD contains series introduction, 24-minute film, interactive glossary, and map."

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