Riverside Theatre, September 3


muqam res
Tayir Imen, Klara Razak and Shohrat Tursun. Photo: Gerrie Mifsud Photography.

Freedom has no greater expression than music. African Americans have largely defined popular music’s last 100 years by voicing their post-slavery resilience, and, amid countless examples, explosions of musical culture occurred as the Irish survived English oppression and non-white South Africans survived apartheid.

Uyghur musical culture may not have been forged in oppression, but its expression in 2018 could not be a more poignant articulation of freedom, given its people’s current grim harassment in China. There was a moment late in this concert during a folk song, when members of the mostly Uyghur audience suddenly rose to dance, and the elation in the air would make a Xinjiang rock weep tears of joy.

Previously an abridged version of the ancient, classical Muqam Rak, featuring Australian Uyghurs Shohrat Tursun and Tayir Imen, proved a 40-minute, six-part journey from the sublime to the meticulous, beginning with a rubato introduction, in which Tursun’s singing of the Sufi-influenced poetic texts gradually increased in power, range and ornamentation. Most subsequent sections rode on rhythms established by Tursun’s dutar (two-string lute) and Imen’s daf (frame-drum), accompanied by Bukhu Ganburged (Mongolian fiddle), Kim Cunio (harmonium, baglama) and two backing singers.

Burning through the middle of it all was a deep, undeniable truth, like a bright flame of freedom. If the language was foreign to these ears, the human emotions were universal, as was the enchantment of Klara Razak’s four appearances (in four dazzling costumes) performing dances that were visions of gentle elegance.

While the filigree detail of Tursun’s main dutar improvisation was lost in the mix, his singing was the centrepiece, suddenly arching up to meteoric melodies and a timbre of striking brightness, not unlike an operatic tenor’s. And with almost every note a glissando, the music, even at its most repetitive, had a constant fluidity.

That the Uyghurs’ homeland lies on the Silk Road of old could be heard in an array of musicological echoes that stretched from the Bosporus to the Yellow Sea.

Sydney Sacred Music Festival: until September 16.