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Muqam, the Living Fossils of Uyghur Music


The most prestigious and well-known genre of Uyghur music is the Muqam, consisting of poetic songs, stories and dance tunes. There are various forms of Muqam music in more than 20 different countries. However, the Muqam music in China Xinjiang Autonomous Region boasts the biggest in composition, longest in history and richest in forms among all the existing Muqam music.

Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam is a composite of songs, dances, folk music, and is characterized by its diversities of content, dance styles and musical instruments. It serves as a witness of cultural exchanges between the east and the west. Being the communication hub en route the Silk Road, Xinjiang experienced collision and melting of eastern and western cultures. Consequently, the development of Muqam, originated from the local people, has greatly taken on the influence of multi-culture. The Uyghur Muqam of Xinjiang has been designated by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Twelve Muqam , the Mother of Uyghur Music

The Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam has developed into four main styles, namely the Twelve Muqam, Turpan Muqam , Hami Muqam and Dolan Muqam. Twelve Muqam is known as the Mother of Uygur Music. Have you ever heard such a concert that takes one day and one night to play? The Twelve Muqam of Xinjiang’s Uygur people has 360 melodies, 4,000-plus lines of lyrics, and the whole set needs 24 hours to finish.

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Legend has it in the mid-16th century, aided by other musicians, the imperial concubine Amannisahan of the Yarkant Kingdom, who was also an esteemed poetess and musician, devoted all her efforts to collect and compile Muqam music, which was then scattered across areas populated by Uyghur. She finally worked out 12 grand, yet entertaining compositions that are now known as the Twelve Muqam.
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In 1940s, the economy of Xinjiang was in recession and people lived in poverty and the 12 Muqam was facing extinction. In1950s there was only one person who could sing the complete 12 Muqam. He was Turdi Ahun born in a musician’s family in Yengisar County. He mastered 12 Muqam at the age of 20. He then performed the musical suite for more than 50 years in Kashgar, Hotan and other places. He could perform with the musical instrument of Tanbor, Duttar, Satar and Rawap. His performance with Satar was rated as unique in Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

musical instruments

The local government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region made every effort possible to preserve the Twelve Muqam. In 1956, Muqam master Turdi Ahun and musician Wan Tongshu took great effort to record most of the vocal melodies and librettos of the Twelve Muqam. Their efforts paved the way for the renaissance of this cultural tradition. In 1960, two volumes of Twelve Muqam sung by Turdi Ahun were published. The oral cultural heritage was finally secured in the form of its first publication.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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