Interview with musician and festival director Samandar Pulodov

This Interview was done by ethnomusicologist and KultEurasia member Munira Chudoba.

Samandar, it’s nice to  meet you online. We are looking forward to welcoming you in Europe, particularly in Vienna in May 2023. If we may, here are a few questions supporters and potential sponsors are interested in:

What is your first memory of Tajik music? 

An early school age is when I remember my first encounter with Tajik music. I heard it from my family members. My first Tajik folk-fairy music and love songs are connected with my father. He sang them to my mother. Since then, I fell in love with traditional songs. Later in life, on old noisy Soviet tape-recorders, I heard  ‚Mado‘ – mystical songs sung by the elderly. One among many is Khujamyor Mamadyorov – a legend of traditional music and songs in my community. Besides that, as part of our schedule was a visit to an elementary school during lunchtime. In those days it was often accompanied by Shashmaqom programmes played on low-quality radio. All the above formed my first memories of Tajik music.

Tajikistan as any country big or small has different regions and many ethnographic regions. Where are your roots and what is special about this place?

I was born in Khorogh, the provincial center of the Mountain Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan which is also known as the Pamir / Roof of the World (and three of Central Asia’s five peaks of over 7,000m are located here, Ismoil Somoni Peak, Ibn Sina Peak (also known as Peak Lenin), and Peak Korzhenevskaya) to a Pamiri-Tajik family where music was highly appreciated and practiced every day. The Pamir is known for its rich music and poetry. The poetry can be divided into two main groups: spiritual and secular. Spiritual poetry is largely performed in a style called mado – a mystical performance – literary praise to the higher power. Secular music and poetry appear in a variety of genres including traditional, Falak, pop, ethnic/acoustic, and fusion music. One can find a variety of musical instruments being played such as rabbob, setor, tanbur, balandzuqom, balandmuqom, bow instruments (ghijaks), percussion (dafs, tablak) and wind instruments (nay).

As the director of the annual Roof of the World Music Festival with its unique characteristics of music and impressive mountainous location, what are your expectations of “Tajikistan Festivals” in Vienna?

As a festival director and a musician, I think it is an amazing opportunity for  the members of the folk trio band “Badakhshan“ and myself to perform in Vienna. It is an opportunity to share and introduce our music culture and our skills as musicians, as well as emotions, energy and reciprocal connections with the hearts and minds of the European, Viennese audience. I believe, music lovers in Vienna who are familiar with Central Asian music, and particularly the music of Tajikistan, can dive in and learn more about our music and culture. I hope the Viennese audience will enjoy our performances, and might even become our fans. Perhaps, one day, they might come and join our Roof of the World festival. We could create future links and joint music projects. 

What styles of music will the band be performing?  Our band represents mainly authentic traditional music of Badakhshan and Tajikistan as a whole: mado, falak, and other Tajik folk songs.

These genres are performed live and using traditional string, wind and percussion instruments. Our plan also includes performances of two or three fusion songs that harmoniously connect traditional musical instruments and songs and melodies of modern rhythms. 

As we know Tajikistan is a landlocked country, how do you think it’s reflected in music and poetry? 

The environment or geographical location of a country often is key for formulating the main ideas through poetry and music. I know this for a fact as a musician and a composer. Particularly in the Pamirs, where giant peaks surround you from all sides. 

At first it might seem that the size of the mountains form barriers for seeing a wider horizon. On the other hand, they can create unbelievable insights for inner and outer reflection and contemplation. Contemplation of heaven at the time of a full moon. When the light is so bright and it seems as though you could reach out and touch the stars. Hence, the heavens are often reflected in the lyrics and songs of local people, e.g. in the mountain falak songs. Falak, meaning literally ‚heaven‘, ‚fate‘, and ‚universe‘, is the traditional folklore music of the Badakhshan regions of northern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan. Falak lyrics can involve religious-mystical themes of divine love, separation, and reunion (often drawn from Persian Sufi poetry), or secular and melancholy lyrics of human love and suffering.

Is the music that you perform more of a meditative or rhythmical and traditional structure?

The music that we perform has all three of these aspects i.e. some songs and melodies have traditional structures like most of the folk songs that we perform, some are more rhythmical like ‘rap’ type melodies and songs, and some are more meditative like mado and falak. Some of the songs that we perform, in fact, have all three combined aspects i.e. they have a traditional musical structure, they are rhythmical, and meditative.

How can you connect Viennese classical music to yours? 

I think the local ‘falak’ songs have some connection to Viennese classical music, however, that statement requires more thorough ethnomusicological research that would be interesting for me to explore.

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