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Michael Church

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Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Prom - and the story behind it [Sep. 4th, 2009|06:51 pm]
Michael Church
This year’s penultimate late-night Prom - on September 13 - will see Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble celebrating 10 years of musical discovery and experiment. An inspired project, whose growth and development I described in the Independent on Sunday. But this is just the tip of a far more important iceberg, in the form of the Aga Khan Foundation’s remarkable cultural conservation work spanning the whole of Central Asia, without which Yo-Yo Ma’s project would not exist.

This foundation is currently running a broad package of development projects - ranging from microfinance to music - intended to improve the material and spiritual well-being of the inhabitants of old "Turkestan": this includes all the countries bounded to the north by Kazakhstan and by Afghanistan to the south, most of which are seriously poverty-stricken. When the Soviets arbitrarily carved up the map, they tried to erase ethnic identities, with particularly damaging results for music. Nomadic instruments were "tamed" by being marshalled into orchestras, Sufi chants were proscribed, and shamans - whose flutes and horse-hair fiddles were their professional armoury - were persecuted, sometimes to the point of execution. The region's master-musicians are now being supported in a variety of ways: help with international tours, permanent recognition through Smithsonian Folkways’ superb 10-CD series on Central Asian music, and, most importantly, appointment in a tutorial capacity in one of the new music schools which the AKTC has set up across the region. For more on this, see my article in the March 2009 issue of ‘BBC Music Magazine’. For more on the Aga Khan Foundation, go to www.akdn.org.

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