Nur Muhämmät Tursun was born and raised in Ghulja in a musician family, one of eleven children, several others of whom have also become professional musicians. He was one of the Uyghur region’s most prominent instrumentalists until his untimely death in 2004. His father worked for the Military Ensemble and later for the Ghulja Theatre. Recognising his son’s talent he trained Nur on the satar, an unusual choice of instrument in Ghulja. According to Nur’s sister, Sanubar Tursun, their father once had an argument with a certain famous Ghulja musician who questioned their father’s musical skill. He was bitter, and once when drinking swore that his son would be a greater musician than he who had insulted him. When their father died in 1979 Nur felt an obligation to fulfil his wish. He practised tämbür sixteen hours a day, saying his father wanted him to be a famous tämbür player.
Nur Muhämmät joined the Xinjiang song-and-dance troupe and did indeed come to be widely regarded as the finest tämbür player in the Uyghur region, with extraordinary virtuoso technique and a large repertoire of folk and classical pieces. He was also one of the very few musicians to play the satar seriously, and on this instrument he also excelled. He knew much of the Ili Muqam repertoire, and pioneered the solo instrumental performance of sections of the Muqam. He was also known for his innovative style of playing and his explorations of new repertoires. He released a series of cassettes, CDs and VCDs, including solo instrumental recordings and group recordings with his sister, the much-loved singer Sanubar Tursun.
A late CD released in 2003, ‘Kün wä Tün’ (Day and Night), is a fine example of his fusion experiments. It juxtaposes tämbür and satar renditions of popular Spanish tunes and Hindi film tunes, and includes a radical reinterpretation of a piece at the heart of the classical Uyghur repertoire, ‘Äjäm’, with synthesiser accompaniment. Nur Muhämmät was also well known for introducing new playing techniques on the tämbür, notably an idiosyncratic strumming of all three courses of stopped strings simultaneously to produce tuned chords, a technique which he claimed to have borrowed from popular flamenco guitar. He was probably the first Uyghur musician to be interested in flamenco, and contributed to its widespread popularity in the Uyghur region in the 1990s. Some of his more traditional-style releases have also been very popular, notably Tämbürum (My tämbür).
Nur was expelled from the Xinjiang song-and-dance troupe in 2002 following his involvement in a New Year concert where an audience member stood up and recited a poem referring to the coming of Spring. This was labelled a ‘separatist incident’. Following this Nur was also refused permission to travel abroad, and was thus unable to achieve his ambition of gaining recognition on the world stage. However he leaves behind a lasting legacy through his recordings and his pupils, and his innovative and virtuosic style is now widely imitated across the Uyghur region as well as by Uyghurs in Central Asia.