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The Making of Pamiri Music in Tajikistan


This dissertation traces the impact of early Soviet social engineering and modernization projects on the contemporary musical life of Pamiris—peoples of the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan’s Autonomous Region of Mountain Badakhshan. Ethnographic and archival evidence shows that current conflicts surrounding cultural heritage among Pamiris are rooted in momentous transformations brought about by Soviet rule almost a century ago. At the same time, this evidence testifies to the impressive durability of Pamiri music and creative ingenuity of Pamiri musicians. During the 1930s, state planners strove to contain, consolidate, and integrate the ethno-linguistic minority populations of Mountain Badakhshan into a new Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. This led, among other things, to the formation of official, republican-level Pamiri music and dance ensembles and to the creation of what I call an “ethnographic-folkloric” performance model, which combined the scientific authority of ethnographic museum exhibits with the aesthetics of staged, professionalized folkloric performances. Such paradigms for making and displaying Pamiri music and peoples persisted as powerful legacies of Sovietization and continue to inflect diverse stakeholders’ approaches to what is now known as “Pamiri” music. Today, local practitioners of traditional Pamiri music are negotiating the ideological, artistic, and practical consequences of Soviet educational and professional music institutions, which simultaneously valorized and marginalized the music cultures of Mountain Badakhshan. Anxieties about cultural loss and assertions of cultural exceptionalism are finding expression in some musicians’ creative practices and discourses about Pamiri music. These expressions are not without internal contradictions. Soviet (i.e., European) documentary and analytical methods are decried as insufficient, while some Soviet-era repertoires and performance forms are maintained. Among the strategies for decolonizing and recuperating indigenous Pamiri musical heritage is to back away from Soviet-era musical stylistic homogenization and to foreground hyper-local musical diversity. Authenticity and sincerity in performance are increasingly seen by some Pamiri musicians to derive from personal relationships, lived experiences, local lineages of transmission, and connections with concrete physical and social spaces. Pamiri music remains as varied as those who make it.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Brown University, 2023


Wolf, Katherine Freeze, "The Making of Pamiri Music in Tajikistan" (2023). Music Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.