International Council for Traditions of Music and Dance

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

Report on the 4th Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Music of the Turkic Speaking World

18-20 April 2014 Istanbul, Turkey, Istanbul Technical University

For the first time, this study group met outside a European country. Together with Şehvar Beşiroğlu (Istanbul Technical University) and Okan Murat Öztürk (Bas̜kent University) we  organized the academic panels, while a large team of volunteers led by  Burcu Yıldız and  Şirin Özgün  (both from Istanbul Technical University) coordinated arrangements.  Held in the historic Architecture Faculty of Istanbul Technical University, the conference was generously supported by TÜRKSOY, the International Organization of Turkic Culture, whose General Secretary Professor Düsen Kaseinov addressed the delegates and attended events on all three days.

Some forty papers organized into eleven sessions comprised the symposium. Although it is not possible to discuss all of the papers or performances in this brief report, we thank all the participants for sharing their important research and music. The keynote presentation was given by Timothy Rice, who eloquently discussed Turkish influences and traditions in Bulgarian music. With a wealth of visual and musical examples, including gajda (bagpipe), tanbura (lute), voice, zurna (reed) and Roma clarinet, Rice’s paper perfectly illustrated the conference theme of the musical relationships between the Turkic world and its neighbours.

The first day of the conference saw four sessions covering theory and analysis, adjacent musical cultures and comparison between different musics of the Turkic speaking world, finishing with a special presentation by Razia Sultanova on the music of the Uzbeks of northern Afghanistan. The first session, which focused on analytical and historical issues, was opened by Okan Murat Öztürk, who presented a detailed paper which outlined a new method of analysing and classifying Turkish makams. This session also included a fascinating comparison by Mohammad R. Azadehfar between Indian talas and the rhythmic cycles described in Abd al-Qadir al-Maraghi’s medieval treatises. Azadehfar explained how the paper had been inspired by his experiments in cross-cultural musical performance.

In the second session, Alexander Djumaev gave a sophisticated and engaging paper on ‘constructed’ (state-led) and ‘inherited’ (practice-led) musical spaces in Tajik-Uzbek musical relations, based on his extensive fieldwork. Other papers during the second and third sessions dealt with a wide range of topics and regions, from Turkic song traditions in southern Siberia to foreign musical influences amongst the Circassian diaspora in Turkey. The final session of the day was a screening of Razia Sultanova’s affecting documentary film about Uzbek musicians in northern Afghanistan, which highlighted the resilience of the Uzbek community in spite of the difficult conditions of daily life. 

After the academic sessions, an evening concert featured exceptional musicians from the Turkic world.  The concert opened with five classical Turkish  works beautifully performed on kemençe (bowed lute), ney (reed flute), kanun (zither) and ud (lute), with the subtle singing of Sinem Özdemir.  Two segments of Turkish folk and light songs followed, performed by Abdullah Akat, Okan Murat Öztürk and Erdem Şimşek. Other artists included Togay S̡enalp , Korlan Kartenbayeva, Saule Janpeisova, Bayan Abisheva, Oyunchimeg Luvsannorov and Erdenechimeg Luvsannorov.  Erlan Riskali, whose astonishing vocal  abilities rival any opera singer, performed Kazakh virtuosic songs as well as a poignant lament, while the Azerbaijani mugam trio gave a spectacular performance.   

The second day of the conference was again divided into four sessions including three panels and a special presentation by Ameneh Youssefzadeh and Stephen Blum to conclude. The first session focused on organology, with papers on the Kazakh dombra (plucked lute) and zhetigen (plucked zither), Mongolian shudarga and the Oghuz/Turkish kopuz (both plucked lutes). Emin Soydaş’s paper on the historical journey of latter instrument was particularly well argued and showed that, contrary to what is commonly assumed, there is no direct relation between the kopuz and the Turkish bağlama.

In the afternoon, Thomas Solomon’s paper, ‘Music in the Norway-Azerbaijan Connection: Distant Neighbours, Imagined Pasts’, brought to the fore some of the key issues involved in the study of Turkic musical cultures, especially the role of music and scientific enquiry in imagining the past. Solomon’s paper focused on Thor Heyerdahl’s speculative theory of an ancient migration from the Caucasus to Scandinavia and the way that this has captured the imaginations of contemporary musicians in both regions. However, while Heyerdahl’s theory has little scientific merit, Solomon emphasised that it has engendered creative connections between musicians from different parts of the world. The final presentation of the day, Ameneh Youssefzadeh’s and Stephen Blum’s joint paper on the musical and poetic links between Khorasani and Turkmen bards (baxşi/bagşy), demonstrated once again that musical repertoires are seldom confined by national borders.         

After the academic events of the second day, delegates enjoyed a beautiful cruise up the Bosphorus, with impromptu live music on the upper deck as we passed historic Dolmabahçe Palace,  Çirağan Palace, many painted yalıs (wonderful old wooden houses) and the first Bosphorus Bridge.  A marvellous banquet at a restaurant in historic Ortaköy followed  the cruise, with spontaneous dancing and the music of the Azerbaijani mugam trio after the meal.

On Sunday, two panels and a presentation on Crimean Tatar recordings in Berlin rounded off the symposium. Ulrich Morgenstern spoke about the relationships between the Russian folk balalaika and long-necked lutes from central Asian Turkic peoples, Tatar and Mongolian groups, connections which are not typically acknowleged.  Xiaoshi Wei showed fascinating examples from Tash Music and Archives, his company’s collection of Turkic musics in China, while Alla Sokolova provided wonderful video footage of the lezginka dance from the Black Sea region.

In summary, this was an exceptional symposium with many excellent papers and performances, as well as multiple opportunities to socialize.  Our thanks again to all the organizers, academic sponsors, and TÜRKSOY.

Leslie Hall and Jacob Olley


1) Ashgate SOAS: “Soundscape of the Turkic Speaking World”, in two volumes (in preparation)