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A national treasure in exile

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 11:49 UK time, Friday, 11 January 2013

This week was a sad one for me. A close friend of our family, the great Uzbek musician Abdurahim Hamidov passed away in the US at the age of 61.

Put simply, he was the best dutar player in the world. He played this piece, Qo'shtor, while was living in Uzbekistan. His skills, his passion, his greatness are there for all to see.

Abdurahim Hamidov

Abdurahim Hamidov made his simple instrument sound like an orchestra

You might be surprised to hear that the dutar has only two silk strings and yet the richness of the music which he plays on this long-necked lute is comparable in my mind to symphonies.

Qo'shtor means double string and it's not just the description of the dutar itself, but in Abdurahim Hamidov's interpretation it turns into two historic traditions of Uzbek music.

On the one hand - literally - it's sophisticated and subtle music that has come down from the courts of Samarkand, Kokand and Bukhara, and on the other hand - once again, literally - it's a nomadic tradition from the vast steppes of Central Asia.

Uzbeks lived at the crossroads of different civilizations and Abdurahim Hamidov shows in this majestic piece both wings of their culture.

My wife, Dr. Razia Sultanova, an ethnomusicologist and specialist on Central Asian music, introduced me to Abdurahim Hamidov's music some 20 years ago, when she was recording him for the CD published in Switzerland.

In one of the interviews she carried out with Abdurahim and one of his masters - the late Fattokhon Mamadaliev - they told a parable in which Socrates created a divine musical instrument which was later called the tanbur, a four-string lute. Plato was quite envious of his teacher and while meditating in the cave recreated the shape of that instrument, but because it was just a shadow of the original, it turned out to be a dutar. Thus, they said, the tanbur is a male instrument and the dutar is its female reflection.

But in the hands of Abdurahim Hamidov, the dutar superseded even the tanbur.

There is another parable that Abdurahim Hamidov and Fattokhon Mamadaliev loved to repeat.

Once a husband brought home two pounds of meat and said to his wife: "This evening we'll have a visitor so please fry this meat!"

While frying the meat the wife tasted one piece, then a second piece and then a third. She so loved the fried meat she finished it off. That evening, when her husband came home with his friend she pointed at the cat, saying that he had eaten the meat.

So the angry husband weighed the cat in front of her and seeing that he weighed two pounds exactly exclaimed: "If this is the meat, where's the cat?!"

The death of Abdurahim Hamidov was doubly sad for me because he died far away from his native country, in exile in the US.

I think that if life in Uzbekistan forced Abdurahim Hamidov - a national treasure - out of the country into exile, where he was doing all kinds of jobs unrelated to music and playing his beloved dutar just occasionally, something must be seriously wrong with Uzbekistan today.

Another prominent cultural figure of Uzbekistan, the poet and politician Muhammad Solih, who also lives in exile once wrote a poem, which I thought could be dedicated to the memory of the great Abdurahim Hamidov.

My feet are chained by the ice of December,
which thaws under the green pine-tree...
While I kneel in front of the white January
the New Year asks me: 'What are your wishes?'

I wish the following: tell your January
to keep still for a moment,
while I write this: tell your February
not to cheat on the spring.

Order to March not to turn snowdrops into dry foliage,
explain to May that we are not bad people,
tell December as soon as you can
not to take away my friends along with itself!

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