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International Uyghur Music Study Publications

•    The Making of a Musical Canon in Chinese Central Asia:

       The Uyghur Twelve Muqam

Author: Dr Rachel Harris (Department of Music, SOAS, University of London, UK)

Ashgate Press. November 2008. 234 x 156 mm. 176 pages. Hardback. CD-ROM ISBN: 978-0-7546-6382-9 £27.50


Throughout the course of the twentieth century, as newly formed nations sought ways to develop and formalise their national identity and acquire a range of identifiable national assets, we find new musical canons springing up across the world. But these canons are not arbitrary collections of works imposed on the public by the authorities. Rather they acquire deep resonance and meaning, both as national symbols and as musical repertoires imbued with aesthetic value. This book traces the formation of one such musical canon: the Twelve Muqam, a set of musical suites linked to the Uyghurs, who are one of China's minority nationalities, and culturally Central Asian Muslims. The book draws on Uyghur and Chinese language publications; interviews with musicians and musicologists; field, archive and commercial recordings, and aims towards an understanding of the Twelve Muqam as musical repertoire, juxtaposed with an understanding of the Twelve Muqam as a field of discourse. The book brings together several years' work in this field, but its core arises from a research project under the auspices of the AHRC Centre for Music Performance and Dance.


Introduction; An overview of Uyghur music; A short history of the canon; Abdullah Mäjnun: muqam expert; Negotiating the canon; Situating the 12 muqam; The impact of canonisation; Endnote; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Dr Rachel Harris is Lecturer in Musicology in the Department of Music, SOAS, UK.

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•    Intimate Heritage:

       Creating Uyghur Muqam Song in Xinjiang

Author: Dr Nathan Light (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale, Germany)

Publisher: Lit Verlag,Germany (1 Oct 2008) Paperback: 352 pages Language English ISBN-10: 3825811204 ISBN-13: 978-3825811204 Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 3 cm Berlin: LIT Verlag. 2008. Pp. 352. 34.90 EUR.(Part of the series Halle Studies in the Anthropology of Eurasia)


In 2005 UNESCO declared the Uyghur “Twelve Muqams” a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This event was preceded by more than fifty years of work behind the scenes to record, transcribe, research, edit and reorganize the Uyghur muqams into a symbolic form representing the history and culture of the Uyghur ethnic collectivity. This study describes the present structure of the Uyghur muqams and shows how it emerged from the lives and work of performers. It presents and analyzes the Turkic poetry of the muqams in historical and cultural contexts, and shows how traditional performers created their oral versions from mostly written texts. The analysis of muqam culture and history is combined with ethnographic study of editing the canonical muqam songs and of the role of the muqams in ongoing negotiations over identity, culture and history within Uyghur society.

Editing the muqams became a process of Uyghur self-examination and self-definition. To create positive public representations, the performers, scholars and politicians who edited the muqams carefully investigated and interpreted culture and history. The variety of discourses about the Uyghur past that emerged during editing reflect the plurality of local ideas and goals. In studying how the muqams were reworked, Light investigates the social organization of cultural reflexivity within Xinjiang Uyghur society, and finds that the present Chinese political context had less influence and importance than editors’ concerns about Central Asian cultural history and spiritual practices over the past 1500 years. Conforming to widespread ideas about representing modern national cultures on stage through systematic, monumental performances, Uyghur editors sought to shape the “folk classical” muqams into a source of ethnic pride. In so doing they confronted many cultural intimacies–aspects of collective and personal life that undermined public self-images and disrupt public values and official ideologies about language, gender, love, and spirituality. Through backstage discussions in largely Uyghur contexts, the editors and performers negotiated solutions and rehearsed the framing of public muqam performances. Light explores the ways past and present cultural dynamics interact to create contradictions between public and intimate practices: for example, Central Asian ghazal poetry uses esoteric images and terms drawn from Sufism to express personal spiritual quests and critique society, but in the modern Uyghur Twelve Muqams these same ghazals are sung as love songs in public celebration of the ethnic collective and its shared culture. Influenced by secular and national ideologies Uyghur cultural elites have tended to reject the spiritual, the foreign, and the ecstatic in muqam performance, but over the past ten years they have begun to integrate these into new understandings of local heritage.

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