Music and Poetry from the Pamir Mountains

The musical traditions of Badakshan have been influenced by the surrounding Muslim cultural context, but the inaccessibility of the Pamir Mountains has been an important factor in the development and preservation of some of the unique musical practices of Badakhshan.  Badakhshan is the name of the mountainous Pamir region in the east of Tajikistan, bordering on China, Afghan-Badakhshan and the Kyrgyz Republic. The Pamiris, as the people of this area are referred to, are divided into different ethnic groups according to their origin and language. The musical traditions of Badakshan have been influenced by the surrounding Muslim cultural context, but the inaccessibility of the Pamir Mountains has been an important factor in the development and preservation of some of the unique musical practices of Badakhshan, such as animal-imitation dances and varieties of songs. Since Badakhshan has been a point of cultural exchange between the East and the West for centuries, various influences can be discerned. For instance, similarities between certain instruments reflect a cross-mountain relationship between the Pamirs and the Himalayas, while tonal traces in Kyrgyz tunes of the Eastern province of Badakhshan suggest influences from China.









Use the links below to hear music samples according to region, instrument or genre

Regions


Instruments


Genres



Music is still passed down from generation to generation, thus continuing the rich oral tradition of the area. In addition to this, Central Asian music enjoys a rich history in archaeological finds and writings. Sculptures and wall paintings found in Badakhshan, dating from the first decades BCE, show angular harps, flutes, drums of different shapes, and lute-like instruments. Attempts are being made to preserve this cultural heritage. For example, in Khorog, the capital of Tajik-Badakhshan, there is a museum with a splendid collection of musical instruments and in Yamgan, located in Afghan Badakhshan, a local museum is being built with the help of the villagers, which will house manuscripts, carpets and other cultural objects of the Pamiris.

Most village musicians are trained and experienced, but not professional players insofar as music is not their main occupation. There are, however, a few professional musicians, like the sitar-player Mamadato Tavalloev, who make a living through their performances.


Small ensembles of various instruments perform at public festivals, domestic events like birth and circumcisions, and also while grazing the herds. Russian cultural influence during the Soviet era led to the formation of larger ensembles in the cities, bringing together traditional and Western instruments.


Notes


1) For a detailed study of the folk music and poetry of the Ismailis in Tajik Badakhshan, see Gabrielle Rachel van den Berg, Minstrel Poetry from the Pamir Mountains: A Study of the Songs and Poems of the Ismailis of Tajik Badakhshan, PhD thesis, State University of Leiden, 1997.


2) This gallery is based on the work of Jan van Belle, Gabrielle van den Berg and Jos Janssen. The Institute would like to thank them for collecting the material, providing translations and compiling the samples and information for our use.