Geo answer and Global Hit

The World

We’re off to a former Soviet republic for today’s Geo Quiz.

We’re looking for the capital of Tajikistan.

It’s a good day for this particular quiz.

The city’s name comes from the Tajik word for Monday.

The name refers to the central marketplace that’s bustling every Monday.

The snowy peaks of the Pamir Mountains provide a scenic backdrop to the city.

One of its attractions is on Bokhtar Street right behind the mayor’s office.

It’s the museum of musical instruments.

You won’t find any electric guitars or sampling devices here…but there are plenty of rubobs, tanburs, and ghizhaks to strum.

We’ll sample this city’s traditional instruments…and throw a little funk into the mix… when we reveal the answer to our quiz.

Today’s Geo Quiz sent us in search of the capital of Tajikistan.

The answer is Dushanbe.

The city is not only the home of much of Tajikistan’s industrial growth.

It’s also the home of a band called the Shams, the subject of today’s Global Hit.

The city of Dushanbe is not only the home of much of Tajikistan’s industrial growth. It’s also the home of a band called the Shams. The Shams play traditional music from Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains.

But it’s traditional music with a modern twist. Yes, the Shams play the rabab, the sitar, and the gijak. But they weave in an electric guitar, sax, keyboards, and a funky, pop sensibility.

The World’s Mary Kay Magistad has today’s Global Hit.

This is a typical Tajik wedding reception – but it’s not your garden variety wedding band. It’s The Shams – one of Tajikistan’s hottest bands. The dance floor is packed – mostly with women in flowing, flowered silk kaftans.

Up front, the lead singer Nobovar Chanarov is in jeans, spurring the dancers on with the crowd-pleaser, “Yuriman, Yuriman,’ or ‘my friend, my friend.’ The Shams perform often, and its slick music videos are everywhere. Chanarov says there’s no question, the band is known in Tajikistan:

Chanarov:”When I walk on the street, people see us and they say, ‘hey, he’s the lead singer of The Shams! In Dushanbe, even when children see me, they start singing our songs. Even in Uzbekistan side, people know us and are listening to our music.”

There’s an eclectic mix of modern influences in the songs of the Shams. But Chanarov says he takes his core inspiration from traditional Pamiri music. That music usually includes lyrics from ancient Persian poetry. Chanarov says – that doesn’t translate so well for a young audience — so he writes his own lyrics:

Chanarov: “Basically, I write about love, not just love between two people, but love of God, and love of nature. And yes, love among people too. But I can’t love everything. Like, a guy flirting with a girl by sending her text messages – that’s not the kind of love that interests me.”

What interests Chanarov more is the love described in Sufi poetry. Sufiism is a mystical branch of Islam, to which most Pamiris belong. Chanarov says he’s drawn by the philosophy of Sufiism, but isn’t much for rituals and daily practice:

Chanarov: “Let’s just say approaches to Sufiism differ. There’s a poem that says, ‘look people. I’m a spirit. I’m not a Muslim. I’m not Buddhist. I’m not Jewish. I’m just a spirit. I’m thinking of where I go after this.’ I’m that kind of Sufi.”

Chanarov is also the kind of Pamiri whose life was turned upside by the civil war that wracked Tajikistan in the 1990s. As many as 50,000 people were killed – many of them Pamiris, who were among those targeted by Sunni militants. Among those killed were Chanorov’s sister, her husband and their two boys. They’d been living in Dushanbe. Chanarov was a student here then, and he was about to flee to neighboring Kazakhstan – when his mother asked him to instead come home, to their mountain village.

Chanarov: “My mother asked me to stay with her for a year. And then, exactly a year after my sister and my family were killed, my mother died – on the same date. She hadn’t even been sick.”

Chanarov chokes up as he talks about his family. After his mother died, he did go to Kazakhstan – where he began to play with the band that would become The Shams. When the war started to wind down, a decade ago, they returned to Dushanbe. Tajikistan is now in a more hopeful era, with its economy starting to take off. Still, Chanarov says he steers clear of singing about the war, or the issues of ethnic and religious identity behind it:

Chanarov: “These days, most musicians are writing about the government, about Somoni, about political things. I don’t like these things. I don’t sing about the Motherland, or Aryana or nationalism, because these songs themselves create disharmony within the society, and I don’t like these things at all.”

Chanarov says if he did write about the war, he’d echo the Pamiri poet Lidush, who wrote, “my child, may God keep you from such things.”

But Chanarov prefers to think about happier things like creating songs with an irresistable beat, that hook in a broad new audience for the music of his homeland.

For The World, I’m Mary Kay Magistad, Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

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