Samarkand, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the oldest urban centers, has long storied relationship with music. Archaeological findings, such as the 3,000-year-old flute discovered around the old city, tell us that music culture has ancient roots in Central Asia. Additional studies provide evidence that the ud, a medieval variant of a lute, was spread throughout the orient much earlier than it was in Europe. One of the biggest influences on the music culture of Samarkand was its unique position as a crossroad of the Great Silk Road, a situation that allowed the melding of musical traditions from throughout Asia. In support and recognition of its ancient traditions in music and its position as a crossroad, President Islam Karimov of the Republic of Uzbekistan initiated an international music festival called Sharq Taronalari (Melodies of the Orient).
With the ornate architecture of Registan Square as the backdrop, Sharq Taronalari has been held between 25 and 30 August every two years since 1997 under the patronage of UNESCO. Other than the pure enjoyment of music, the main aims and objectives of the festival are to popularize the best achievements of traditional music art, to preserve and develop cultural traditions of people from all over the world, to encourage talents in musical and vocal sphere, to further international creative ties, to strengthen cultural-spiritual cooperation, and to promote peace, solidarity, and ideas of mutual respect. Because of these goals of promoting peace and intercultural dialogue and manifesting cultural diversity, the festival almost instantly won the approval of the international community, and it is now a premier international event for the arts. Testament to this is the extreme and rapid growth of the festival. The first Sharq Taronalari festival brought together artists from thirty-one countries, mostly represented by the Asia-Pacific region. The eighth festival held in 2011 included artists from fifty-six countries, representing Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America.
During the festival the performers are judged by an international jury made up of famous musicologists, art directors and managers of international festivals. This year’s panel of experts making up the jury hailed from Singapore, Belgium, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Morocco, Canada, Japan, China, India, Israel, and Uzbekistan. The function of the international jury is to select artists and groups for festival awards as a way encouraging artists and groups to further the transmission of music heritage to future generations. This year, the highest award, the Grand Prix, was awarded to Sodo Sori from the Republic of Korea for their performance of traditional Korean songs. First prize was split between two groups, Aisva from Lithuania and Dunhuang New Words from China, for their presentation of folk music in traditional and contemporary styles, respectively. The three-way tie for second prize went to Leader from the Russian Federation, Awae Mehbany from Iran, and Sato from the host country, Uzbekistan. Third prize was also split three ways with the award going to Galkinish from Turkmenistan, Chveneburebi from Georgia, and Talilema from Madagascar. In addition, the international jury also awarded three UNESCO-sponsored Samarkand Taronasi prizes to Jivan Gasparyan Junior from Armenia, Nazaket Teimurova from Azerbaijan, and Ilyos Arabov from Uzbekistan. It is through these cash prizes that the Sharq Taronalari festival helps preserve and develop tangible and intangible cultural heritage, transmit the heritage to future generations, and promote cultural diversity.
Another unique feature of the Sharq Taronalari is the organization of a scientific conference that runs in tandem with the festival. In keeping with the framework and themes of the festival, well-known musicologists, composers, and performers participate in discussions and present academic research papers related to music as a science and an art form. The titles and themes for the past eight conferences were, respectively: ‘Commonalities of Eastern Music Art,’ ‘Oriental Music Instruments,’ ‘Art of Maqom,’ ‘Creativity and Interpretation Eastern Music,’ ‘Traditions of Shashmaqom and Modernity’, ‘Music Arts in Architecture and Paintings,’ and ‘Documentary Heritage in Music Arts.’ In addition, these conferences complement the goals of the festival by providing an international forum for discussion and allowing a free exchange of knowledge related to the issues and challenges that are faced during the processes of preserving music heritage.
As a follow up to and in the spirit with the Sharq Taronalari, Uzbekistan is organizing annual nation-wide festivals and contests to promote various aspects of music arts. Some of these events include Ilhom XX Tashkent Festival of Modern Music, Tashkent Spring Festival of Symphonic Music and Opera, Aslar Sadosi Folk Festival, and the following music contests Ofarin, Zamin yulduzlari, and Nihol. Moreover, according to the decision of the Government of Uzbekistan, 119 new music schools and lyceums have been constructed in provinces throughout country between 2009 and 2011. The aim of such policy measures is to attract youth to the musical legacy of their country and to transmit these cherished masterpieces of intangible cultural heritage.
Since antiquity, music has been an essential and important part of intangible cultural heritage, serving as the basis of cultural life, as a crucial and refined criterion of development, and most importantly, as a language of communication among linguistically and culturally diverse people, who can understand music without the need of translations. In terms of safeguarding music as intangible cultural heritage, the biennial Sharq Taronalari and the initiatives of Uzbekistan are playing a vital role.