The London Uyghur Ensemble (LUE) is a London-based group playing traditional and popular music of the Central Asian Uyghurs. Our group includes Uyghur musicians from the Uyghur homeland - East Turkistan (the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China) and from the Uyghur diaspora in Kyrgyzstan, in collaboration with professional British musicians. Our repertoire includes instrumental pieces, dance, composed and traditional songs, and the classical ‘Twelve Muqam’ suites. Since the group was established in 2004‚ we have worked hard to build our repertoire and profile. Some of our musicians and associates came to the UK as refugees‚ and we made our debut at the London South Bank ‘Sanctuary’ festival for refugee music in 2005. Since the group was established in 2004‚ we have worked hard to build our repertoire and profile. Some of our musicians and associates came to the UK as refugees‚ and we made our debut at the London South Bank ‘Sanctuary’ festival for refugee music in 2005. We have played in many venues around London including St Ethelburgas Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, the Diaspora London Music Village, SOAS World Music concert series, and the Islington Folk Club. Gigs around the UK include Sheffield, Newcastle and Manchester, and the Sidmouth folk festival in Devon. Outside the UK we have performed at the Forde Folk festival in Norway, and the Taipei Silk Road festival in Taiwan. Click here for more details... read more >>
♦ Who are the Uyghurs?
The Uyghur (also spelled Uighur) is one of the Turkic ethnic groups living in the northwestern region of the present China. The official Chinese name of the region is Xinjiang (or Sinkiang) Uyghur Autonomous Region but the native Uyghurs have historically called their country or this region either Eastern Turkistan (Uyghuristan). The Uyghurs might be introduced as one of China´s less well-known though more numerous minority nationalities (compared to, say, the Tibetans or the Mongols), or alternately as the only one of the Central Asian nationalities (alongside the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Turkmen) who do not possess their own independent nation state. As in the better-known situation in Tibet, the relationship between Uyghur nationality and the Chinese state during the nearly 60 years of rule by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has been marked by tension and sometimes violence....
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♦ Uyghur Music
Uyghur music embraces several distinct regional styles, product of the geography and complex history of the region, whose oasis kingdoms, separated by mountains and deserts, have been subject through the course of history to rule by many different outside forces. The musical traditions of the southern oasis towns of Khotan and Kashgar are more closely allied to the classical Central Asian traditions of Bukhara and Samarkand, while the music of the easternmost oasis town of Qumul has closer links to the music of Northwest China. Each of the region´s oasis towns have to this day maintained their own distinctive sound and repertoire, but they are linked by a common language and overarching culture, maintained by constant communication through trade and movement of peoples. Musically there is much to link these local traditions, in terms of instruments, genres, styles and contexts. The most prestigious and well-known genre of Uyghur music are the large-scale suites of sung, instrumental and dance music known as muqam. In addition to the muqam the Uyghurs maintain popular traditions of sung epic tales (dastan) and other forms of narrative song (qoshaq, leper, eytshish and maddhi name), suites of dance music (senem,) instrumental music, musical genres linked to the rituals of the Sufis, and a large repertoire of folk songs which commonly dwell on the suffering of life on earth and the torments of frustrated love. Contrary to the common perception of Islam in the West as hostile to music, amongst the Uyghurs many traditional musical contexts are linked to the religion, largely due to the influence of the Sufis who use music to express and promote their faith. Today these traditional genres compete with a lively pop music industry and the music ... read more >>
♦ The story behind London's Kashgar Road
If one of London´s Uyghurs happens to be looking through London´s A to Z street map and stumbles upon the entry: Kashgar Road, it is with a shock of recognition. For London´s Uyghurs, used to the daily routine of explaining to the British who the Uyghurs are and where they come from, it is extraordinary to find that one of their major cities has lent its name to a London street. How did this come about? The city of Kashgar is situated in distant Asia, today a little known city, it was a capital of the Uyghur Qarakhan Kingdom in the 11th century and a political and cultural centre for the Central Asian Uyghurs. Kashgar means in the Uyghur Turkic language: the city at the river bank (Zerepshan river) and its geographical location is between the eastern foothills of the Pamir-Karakorum mountain range and the west edge of the Taklamakan desert, and its present position on the political map is within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of Northwest China. The London district of Plumstead lies to the east of the city, on the south bank of the river Thames, bordering on the industrial centre of Woolwich. Until the 19th century it was a small village whose thousand or so inhabitants made a living from fishing and agriculture; the name Plumstead means ´the place where the plums grow´. In the mid 19th century this changed suddenly and this small Kentish village mushroomed into a heavily populated London suburb. In 1841 the population of Plumstead was 2,816 but by 1891 it had grown to 52,754.
Plumstead´s sudden growth in the 19th century was inextricably linked to Woolwich, its imperial and military connections, and in particular its importance as a centre for the manufacture of arms and armaments. The site where this took place was given the name Royal Arsenal in 1805. Woolwich was also a major garrison town, housing thousands of soldiers, and home to a major dockyard of the Royal Navy. The Royal Arsenal expanded in the mid-19th century in response to the ever-growing military aspect of sustaining and enlarging the British Empire.
In the second half of the 19th century Plumstead was fast becoming one huge building site. Industry in Woolwich continued to expand, spurred on in particular by the Crimean War (1854-6). The Armstrong Gun Factory, new cartridge and gun carriage factories were built on reclaimed Plumstead marshland. The British Empire and its exploits were reflected in all the stages of development in Plumstead, as befitted an area which was contributing so directly to British military expansion. The first major building development began in the 1850s around the time of the Crimean War, and the commanders and battles of that war provided names for the new streets... read more >>
♦ The Uyghur Music Industry
"The Guest" (mehman)
I invited a guest into my home
Asked him to sit in the place of honor
But my guest never left
Now he´s made my home his own ...
-sung by Omerjan Alim
The storyof the exiled Uyghur singer Kuresh Kusen (deceased) was posted on the Internet in early 1999. Kuresh Kusen is a singer and recording artist who performs on the Uyghur dutar or two-stringed lute. He played numerous concerts in towns around Xinjiang during the 1980s and early 1990s, and owned a small independent theatre in Urumchi. He has released several cassettes of original solo compositions. Kuresh´s political problems began in 1994 when he released his fourth cassette. One song in particular attracted the attention of the censor. "Don´t sell your land," he sang, "it has been yours for generations. If you sell your land there will be no bright future for you." What he did not make explicit, but what was clearly understood by his Uyghur audience, was who they should not sell their land to: Han Chinese immigrants into Xinjiang. I spoke to Kuresh by phone in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in 1999, and he explained to me why he had recorded this song:
I performed in many towns across Xinjiang over the years. And everywhere I saw that the Uyghur peasants were very poor. They sell their land to the Chinese for cash. Soon they have spent all the cash, and then they are no better than slaves.
In 1994 Kuresh´s cassettes were confiscated by the Xinjiang authorities, his theatre was closed down, and he was forbidden to perform. In spite of this, his cassettes continued to circulate underground, and he continued to perform in defiance of the ban. In 1996 Kuresh received an unofficial warning that he was about to receive a twelve-year prison sentence for continuing to give illegal performances, and he decided to flee the country. He obtained a black market passport and moved first to Turkey and later to Kyrgyzstan. In both countries he received the protection of the immigrant Uyghur communities... read more >>