In this series, we will concentrate on getting our ears accustomed to the various “maqom" – mode/melodic type – used in the Tajik-Uzbek tradition. A piece will be picked within each mode to demonstrate its characteristic.
As the first post in the series, we will begin with Buzruk, which is traditionally the first maqom to be mentioned of the six that make up the Shashmaqom – the six “grand suites" in the indicated mode.
What’s the shashmaqom?
Each of these maqom consists of an instrumental section (mushkilot) consisting several pieces, followed by the more substantial sung section (nasr) which contains a large number of pieces in the titled mode and “subsidiary melodic types". Throughout the series, pieces from both the instrumental and sung sections will be adapted for the dutar.
For demonstrating Buzruk, I have chosen a short piece, “Buzruk maqomi", adapted by the master Turgun Alimatov (note 1) for the sato, the long-necked bowed lute. He took the “Sarahbor-i Buzruk", the first piece in the sung section, known for its seriousness and complex melody, and made a self-containing piece out of its opening section.
On a technical level, the Buzruk mode is akin to a pentatonic mode, with the main notes D, E, G, A, B with occasional excursions into F natural and C as neighouring notes to E and B respectively. Furthermore, there is also the concept of the “starting note", the tonic, which is the D in this case. It is in fact the first note you hear in the piece. Another noteworthy element is a “characteristic motif" of G and E that you hear throughout the piece. If you read music, you can see the transcription for a taste of it below.
The opening up to rehearsal mark A constitute the first xat, the verse, followed by the hang, the refrain, between A and B. The second xat follows immediately at B, and the same hang returns at C. A full-blown sarahbor would normally contain many more xat and hang. This is hence a simplified version – which serves our purpose to outline the basic characteristics of this mode.
Playing it on the dutar
The melody of the piece is actually very arhythmic – there are many long-held notes and drawn-out ornaments disguised as “rhythmic" movements. In performance, the singer (and accompanying instruments playing the same melody) is supported by the frame drum doyra playing a simple rhythm demarcating each beat, alternatively with a low and high sound (bum-bak), thus keeping the pulse even when there is an empty downbeat. However, when playing solo on dutar, it is impossible to hold a note for long, nor is it possible to tap the pulse without a melody (except for special effects). Therefore, long notes have to be played with repeated strokes to keep it sounding. Where there ought to be rests, I leave it blank sometimes, or prolong the previous/following note to fill the void, and also to add rhythmic interest.
Tuning-wise, the dutar is tuned to G on the lower string and C on the upper string. Even though there is a B lower than this C in the original, tuning the string down to this note would make the piece unidiomatic to play and so the note will be skipped subtly without affecting the overall presentation.
And for the really interested…
The Turgun Alimatov recording of the piece is taken from this recording, which itself is adapted from the Sarahbor-i Buzruk on what ought to be the official 1965 recording of the Shashmaqom directed by Yunus Rajabiy, the entirety of which can be downloaded here or heard on Spotify:
According to Theodore Levin’s dissertation on the Shashmaqom in 1984, this performance ought to be the basis of the complete Shashmaqom transcription edited by Faizulla Karomatov and published in 1969 and 1975. It differs subtly, especially in phrase length, from the commercial recording by Ilya Malayev, and from this rendition.