I spent a great few hours in London lately at the School of Oriental & African Studies on Russell Square. I’d seen a note about the onsite Brunei Gallery’s show on Kazakh carpet making – or rather, felt carpet making by ethnic Kazakhs in Mongolia. Small in scale and excellently explained and curated, complete with yurt, the exhibition also opened my eyes to the work being done at SOAS on Central Asian music. Leaflets at the Brunei alerted me to a new double CD of Kazakh music produced by the School. It’s a collection of masters of Central Asian instruments like the dombra. But they’ve also found performers of the pobyz, “the two-stringed fiddle with shamanic roots” and the sybyzghy, an open-ended flute “amplified by a vocal drone.”
The 44-track collection is intended as a musical journey across vast, sparsely populated Kazakhstan. Hence the qobyz tunes were picked up in the country’s southern and central plains while there’s “virtuoso” dombra playing from eastern and western settlements on the steppe, as the vast grasslands are known. I was happy that the Kazakh embassy in London seems to have pitched in with SOAS and the Art & Humanities Research Council to release the collection, which I’m dying to hear in its entirety. That’s good to see, because the totalitarian regimes who’ve run most central Asian states for decades have never been renowned for their preservation of traditional local culture, certainly not during the USSR years of Russification. You can buy the CD at the SOAS bookshop, nextdoor to the Brunei Gallery.
2007 - REM live in the Olympia, by Michael O'Hara. Possibly the definitive review of any of REM's performances during their 2007 Olympia residency. Even the official REM website linked to it.