Shahidi Cultural Foundation

Ziyodullo Shahidi: Songs and Romances

Ziyodullo Shahidi: Songs and Romances

(from the archives of the Ziyodullo Shahidi Republican Museum of Musical Culture)

Several generations of Tajik musicians have drawn upon the songs and romances of my father, the composer Ziyodullo Shahidi (1914-1985). Many Tajiks sing these songs from early childhood to old age, and Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Russians, Turkmen and Kyrgyz enjoy them as well. As a result of today’s independent cultural policy, Shahidi’s music has emerged from behind the former Soviet borders and become available to musicians and singers in Iran, Turkey, Sweden, England, USA and elsewhere.  However, an updated evaluation of his art and contribution to Eurasian cultural development is still necessary.

When Central Asian countries adopted the European educational system in the 1920s and 30s, a common challenge arose: could Central Asian composers master Russian and European styles, while still expressing their own ethno-national musical experience?.  The response to this challenge was a crucial push towards the formation of a new musical culture, on the cusp of which stood Ziyodullo Shahidi. The young Shahidi had many sources of inspiration.  From early childhood he heard Nye’s stories of humanity, the rhythms of doira, dutar and tanbur in the hands of folk and shashmakam musicians of his birthplace Samarqand, as well as the hymns of falakists from the mountains of Tajikistan, where he moved in early youth with his father and his associates. Later in life, Shahidi witnessed performances of Russian pianists, violinists and saxophonists, and upon arrival in Dushanbe, he found his own native sounds.  In his mature years, studying at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Shahidi began to rethink all of these unfolding sounds, voices and instruments, creating the famous opera ‘Komde va Madan’, his ‘Symphony of Maqams” and many other works that have become part of the common treasury of Eurasian music.

Interaction and cross-pollination between traditional Tajik and Russian-European classical music has formed the basis for the creation of a national school of modern Tajik music. Contemporary cultural studies, however, have not yet evaluated this phenomenon in terms of the formation of an intercultural musical identity of our own times. Many books and articles devoted to the study of musical cultural diversity in the past century have been published; however, they have been primarily collecting artifacts, creating the impression of a varied landscape of musical cultures rather than realizing the formation of intercultural musical identity as a global phenomenon. As a result, national musical identity has been broken into two parts: ‘folk’ and ‘Westernized’ music. To bridge this gap in people’s minds is the task of the Z.Shahidi Museum and the Ziyodullo Shahidi International Foundation for Culture.

The first step in doing this was to create a database of scholars, composers, musicians, singers and other actors that form the cultural infrastructure of Tajikistan, a country which first appeared on the world map only in 1929. As a part of that process, the house-museum appeared in 1987, which was renamed the Ziyodullo Shahidi Museum of Musical Culture two years later. The intent behind renaming was to initiate a popular discourse to define the role of music in national identity, in its inward/outward dynamic. Very soon, however, it became clear that the lack of experienced specialists and the weak economical base of the museum would not allow that type of work. Although the composer’s widow Markhabo Shahidi offered the whole family property due to the wish of the late to create the museum at his house, and although the government supported the project, Tajikistan’s cultural isolation and the dissolution of the intercultural Soviet space greatly hampered the museum’s development. Nevertheless, today people’s generous contributions to the preservation and development of the musical tradition have provided some results.

Upon independence, cultural life in Tajikistan changed dramatically. The worst drawback was the loss of the social protection that the state provided to musicians and cultural figures. On the other hand, the greatest advantage was that musicians and artists were able to create their own professional links, expanding their field of interactions with others. However, to create new contacts virtually from scratch was not an easy task. Loss of common intercultural space became one of the causes of the 1992-97 civil war. Although at the war’s outset the Ziyodullo Shahidi International Fund for Culture, organised by scholars, artists and other cultural actors, directed its activities to support the museum by creating cross-cultural contacts, their efforts again started from zero.  Nevertheless, the museum remained a meeting place for poets, musicians and singers, and its activity was met with international interest. With the support of the Ministry of Culture of Tajikistan, the Public Fund of the President of Tajikistan, UN peacemaking organizations and various embassies, the Fund began to conduct concerts, seminars, and even festivals abroad. Thus the music of Tajik composers began to reach an international audience.

It is known that the songs and romances of Shahidi are deeply national and at the same time, quite international. In Soviet times, they were popular not only in Tajikistan, but throughout Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Baltic and Russia. The museum staff, well aware that music is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to achieve peace, revived old contacts and created new ones.  Thus, internationalization of Tajik and other national music’s became the common task of musicians in the Soviet space. The Tajik musicians of the second half of the 20th century not only mastered the modern science of music, but also created a national school of composition, with new national songs and ballads.  With the creation of a national symphonic music, opera and ballet, they penetrated bravely into Western music spheres.

Beginning in the 1930s Tajik musicians began to explore modern techniques, preserving new sounds and melodies through notation. Though their art had much in common with that of their contemporaries abroad, it also maintained its own specific national characteristics, unknown to the outside community. Artists and especially musicians of Soviet Central Asia had no direct contact with their colleagues abroad.  Although many scholars, poets and composers have created a solid foundation for international cooperation in the present generation, their contribution to the development of cultural studies is still waiting to be explored. This isolation has had both positive and negative influence on the formation of a new cultural identity.

Devoted to incorporating his own musical tradition into the international contemporary music scene, Ziyodullo Shahidi (1914-1985) was active in the creation of the new Tajik culture. He was born in Samarqand, a city known in world literature as the “crossroads of cultures” and the “heart of the Silk Road”. From his early childhood, traveling in circles of famous Samarqand ‘shashmakom’ performers and later ‘falaki’ singers, he followed the Tajik-Persian literary tradition, constantly juxtaposing new ‘maoni’ (meaning) within the accepted musical tradition. Though he explored traditional music with great delicacy and care, Shahidi became a pioneer of modern Tajik music. Barno Iskhakova, great singer and brilliant performer of ‘Shashmaqom’, said in one of her TV interviews that only Shahidi managed to give a fresh sound to the melodies of ‘Shashmaqom’, which she demonstrated by singing his song “Shunidam’. However the composer’s other popular songs also retain this meditative spirit of the Tajik musical tradition. The well-known writer Satym Ulug-Zodeh admitted that the secret of Ziyodullo Shahidi’s music was his exceptional knowledge of Tajik classical literature. According to Otakhon Latifi and Abdurofe Rabiev, it was as a follower of Abdul Aziz Khoja, expert and performer of national and regional musical traditions, that Ziyodullo Shahidi became a real innovator. Famous Russian and Tajik musicologists Elena Orlova, I.Vizgo-Ivanova, Zoya Tajikova, Larisa Nazarova, Asliddin Nizomov and many others have noted various aspects of the composer’s creativity; however, research on the dialogue between traditional and European music in his creative process is yet to be conducted. The starting point of such research would be Shahidi’s written heritage and the legacy of his art in the contemporary world.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and especially during the civil war of 1992-97, the creative legacy of the previous generation of artists was in danger of being lost. Therefore, to preserve and protect this heritage has been the primary objective of the Z. Shahidi Museum of Musical Culture. Supplementing this book are two volumes of songs and ballads by Ziyodullo Shahidi, CD-ROMs, and numerous articles and theoretical works by musicologists of different countries published in the journal “FONUS”, a joint production of the museum and the Foundation for the past two decades.

Tajikistan’s independence has enabled the Z. Shahidi Foundation to cooperate with several international organizations, working both within the country and in other countries of East and West. International interest in Tajikistan’s cultural history is developing quickly, particularly as a result of globalization and integration of diverse societies through music and technology. Numerous websites and new channels are rapidly expanding the world music market, in which Tajikistan is gradually and deliberately taking its place. Nevertheless, material on the formation of modern Tajik musical culture, and most importantly, information about its creators, is nearly absent. It is this information that can encourage global interest in Tajik culture and music; however, its effect is just starting to become known.

Throughout the course of the 20th century, modern Tajik culture and those who have shaped it experienced some ups and downs. The life and art of  Ziyodullo Shahidi is no exception. How have the revolutionary upheavals influenced his life and work? What were the main stages of his development as a person and composer? And what impelled him to master further and further frontiers of modern musical thought?

The 1920s and 30s were a period of intense struggle between revolutionary and anti-revolutionary forces. To survive with dignity at this time was difficult, and not everyone managed to do so.  It was under these circumstances that modern Tajik culture in general, and contemporary Tajik music in particular was formed.
The main goal of educators and reformers of the time, who migrated from Samarqand and Bukhara to the new Tajikistan and Dushanbe (then Stalinabad), was to adopt, develop and preserve a national/regional identity based on freedom-loving and humanistic Tajik-Persian classical literature. However, this literature, born in Bukhara during the first millennium, had fallen far behind the world’s developments, and thus the Avicennian style of thinking needed to be adapted to fit the new 20th century context. For his part, Ziyodullo Shahidi chose the path of reformer of musical thought. Therefore, Shahidi’s musical legacy, while encompassing diverse genres, preserves at the same time the essence of classical poetry in its dialogical openness to cultural diversity.  This essence is at the core of his music.  He was so careful and wise in his attitude towards folk music that his compositions, stored harmonies of those pearls of folk art, are perceived with ease by all Central Asian peoples.  Drawing on a variety of traditional music “doira” (circles) of Bukhara, Samarkand, Khujand, Khatlon, Hissar, Garm and Badakhshan, Shahidi’s songs were picked up by representatives of ethnic groups both in Tajikistan and abroad. He was among those who created a new Tajik, and at the same time, international 20th century culture. Under the accompaniment of his marching song, “Hey, Dear Moscow’  the first Festival of Soviet youth in Beshkek (then Frunze) was held in the 1930s.  Today his work attracts the attention of more and more researchers, both inside and outside of Tajikistan.

Shahidi participated in creating the musical culture of 20th century Tajikistan in several ways: as a musician, organizer, composer and statesman. Along with his contemporaries, peers, teachers and students, he created the State Philharmonic, the first music schools, the Tajik Theatre and the Union of Composers of Tajikistan, which he then headed for several years. Shahidi has been elected deputy of the country’s Supreme Soviet four times.
While organizational and sociopolitical activity certainly influenced Shahidi’s creativity, the environment in which he grew up also gave him a strong foundation.  He was born into the family of Samarqand merchant Mukaddaskhon and well-educated Omina-khon, from whom he inherited his good temper and restless nature.  Their home, still notable for its original architecture, is located in one of the lanes in the center of Samarkand, not far from the Registan.  Its doors were always open to the poets, musicians and cultural figures of the time. Soon, however, a storm of revolutionary changes took Shahidi out of this bright, cozy, two-story house as he joined the company of wandering musicians. Traveling by foot, on horseback or in shaky two-wheel carts, he taught and studied dynamic Central Asia, meeting both revolutionary and anti-revolutionary bands along his way. These meetings did not always end happily, as he would later recount in his stories. Shahidi also participated actively in musical circles, including the first studio created by Russian artists in the region.  From his encounters with different musical and artistic spheres, he crafted his own musical world, in which his songs and ballads occupy a special place. A gifted writer, Ziyodullo Shahidi was friendly with many poets of his time. His mentor, the brilliant revolutionary poet of Iran and Tajikistan, Abulkosim Lohuti, once said that “Ziyodullo owns a delicate ear of the heart.”

The master’s songs and ballads, such as “Khonai mo” (Our Home), “Diyoram, Tojikistoni, Azizam” (My country, my dearest Tajikistan), “Sitorai Man” (My Star), “Muhabbat” (Love), “Zi suzi sina” (The fire in the chest) and others were performed by many singers and musicians of the former Soviet Union. Today, they have spread towards Iran, Turkey, Russia, Great Britain and the United States, their invisible threads creating Tajikistan’s place in the globalizing world.
In his stories Shahidi recreates the atmosphere of the developing musical culture in 20th century Samarqand, and its deep connections with the newly emerging Dushanbe (formerly Stalinabad). He writes:
“From my early childhood I adored music and always tried to be involved in musical circles. By age 13-14 I was playing several instruments. I could quickly imitate a melody I heard on any available instrument. I liked that the music teachers encouraged me, rewarding me with prizes and putting my photos in the newspaper on the wall… After graduating seven-year school, the headmaster of the village Ravonak (near Samarkand-M.SH.) invited me to teach at the elementary school, and even promised to open a music club. So I met Muhamadazimjom of Ravonak and so our friendship began. Upon arrival in Dushanbe, he introduced me to Abdusalom Dehoti and Jalol Ikromi (the famous writers of that times-M.Sh). In the beginning of the 1930s, the exact date I do not remember, Jalol Ikromi wrote the drama “Dohunda” based on Sadriddin Aini’s novel of the same name, and I wrote a few tunes for an orchestra of folk instruments, which were performed together in concert and were noticed by an ustad (Sadriddin Aini-M. III).

In the late 1930s  Ziyodullo married Marhabokhon, with whom he lived all his life. They had five children.  Additionally, many cousins, nieces, relatives and guests from Samarkand used to stay at their house, which is now the musuem. But behind the walls of the house Shahidi led a more tumultuous life, which he revived in his memoirs.

“In 1940, during preparations for the Decade of Tajik Art and Literature in Moscow,” wrote Shahidi, “ustod Aini listened to my interpretations of the folk songs “Khush, on Zamon” (“Blessed is that time”) and “Gulparї nozam ba” (“Gulpari with tenderness”), sung by young singers. He said that if these songs could be notated and collected, then others could learn about our music” (Ziyodullo Shaҳidi. Ustod Ayni va San’ati musiқii tojik “in the book.” Musiqї dar khaeti man, Irfon, D. 1986, p. 92-93).
So, inspired by the wishes of the ustad, the young musician continued to create more and more new melodies. His first successes were associated with the theatre known as “Farmer’s House” which later became Abulkasima Lohuti’s drama Academic Theatre. During the First Decade of Tajik Art and Literature in Moscow in 1941, Shahidi’s songs “Our Toast” and “Khush on Zamon” sung by famous singer Rena Galibova attracted the attention of both Stalin, “the leader of the peoples”, and the huge, multilingual Soviet audience by their cheerful, deeply lyrical and, at the same time, bombastic melodies. While named among the candidates for the Stalin Prize, Ziyodullo Shahidi never received it. His family history put him out of favor with the authorities—his father, labeled an “enemy of the people”, was sent to the Gulag in 1937, and executed a year later in the dungeons of the NKVD.
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Shahidi grew famous writing patriotic songs such as “Ba Khamzaaliev” (in memory of the Tajik hero of the war, Hamzaalieve), “Watan Watan”, (Song of the Motherland) and “Jodu-Jodu” (Enchantress).  Performed by the ‘Song and Dance Ensemble’ of the State Filormoni, Shahidi’s wartime songs were popular among soldiers, and heard often in concerts on the war fronts of Leningrad, Kiev and other frontline cities.  However, the loss of his father and repression of intellectuals left a deep imprint on his heart for the rest of his life. His only escape was music.
In the 1950s and 60s, Ziyodullo Shahidi’s songs, performed by Hanifa Mavlonova, Shoista Mullodzhonova, Ahmad Bobokulova and Rano Golibovova really became “people’s songs”, widely known not only in Tajikistan and Central Asia, but also in the Caucasus, Russia and the Baltic states. Hence they fell into various private archives in Europe and Asia. In one of my trips to England in the early 90s, I accidentally discovered a plate of Tajik songs, including those of Ziyodullo Shahidi, in the private archive of Samuers James, an English bookseller and owner of a bookstore located just opposite the British Museum. (Munira Shahidi. Taronahoi ruhavzoi tojiki dar honavodai anglisi. In:. Osiei Markazi: hudshinosi, jahonshinosi va sulhsozi dar afkori adabi. “D., 2005, pp. 77-84)
The study of Central Asian music, including Shahidi’s, was initiated by Russian musicians and musicologists in the 1930s and 40s. Later, the composer often recalled the role of Russian musicians in the development of modern Tajik and Central Asian musical culture. These included N.N. Mironov, V.A. Uspensky, AM Listopadov, R. Gliere and others.   The process of interaction and mutual influence was not so simple and straightforward as it may seem for some students of modern national culture. In the archives of the museum remain unique photos of the first musical ensemble, formed in Samarqand. The smeary faces in the photo are the faces of repressed musicians.

In the second half of the 20th century, the songs of Z. Shahidi were met internationally in the intercultural space of the Soviet Union.  The book “Ziyodullo Shahidi” by Elena Orlova, published in 1985 by “Soviet Composer” in Moscow, gives an interesting overview and analysis of the composer’s sources of inspiration: from folk songs and the famous modes of ‘Shashmaqom’ to Russian and European classics. According to E. Orlova, Ziyodullo Shahidi’s songs masterfully demonstrate not only unique Tajik rhythms and harmony, but also a deep interest and enthusiasm for the Russian and European vocal technique that gives the Tajik folk material a fresh significance. Adapting his own musical tradition into the modern musical space, the composer synthesized various genres to create a new Tajik music, rich and meaningful while at the same time accessible to an international audience of performers, composers and people. The Armenian composer Karen Khachaturian says about Shahidi’s art: “A brilliant scholar of oriental music and poetry, the bright, original composer and poet Ziyodullo Shahidi managed to embody and develop the best artistic traditions of the East in such works as his opera “Komde and Madan”, “Symphony of maqams” and magnificent Romance” “The Fire of Love” … (. E. Orlova. Ziyodullo Shahidi. M., 1986, p. 123).

Ziyodullo Shahidi knew the history of modern Tajik music intimately. Furthermore, he was active himself in the construction of his country’s theatrical and musical life. In 1934-35, when there was no Opera or Ballet Theatre, the Lohuti Drama Theatre used to show musical and comedic dramas such as “Halima” and “Orshin Malalan” (a very popular musical comedy by Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Gadzhibekov-M.Sh.). Despite the fact that music schools in the capital Dushanbe had been built only in 1933, and were just appearing in Leninabad (now Khujand-M.Sh), there was a vibrant musical scene in Tajikistan.  Musicians were brought up playing by ear, though they dream of mastering European notation—that was the challenge of the time! That’s how the change began for Shahidi.
“During one of the concerts I saw from the stage a slim man of about 50, sitting in the front row of the hall. He was holding a pencil and paper, quickly writing down something, looking up from time to time upon us musicians. During a break, I approached him and stared at the music paper, which he held in his hands. He did, of course, immediately recognize and moved a bit, inviting me to sit down.
‘I am Listopadov, Alexander,’ he said, smiling. ‘I was appointed as a music teacher at your theater. Tomorrow or the days after, classes begin and I will teach musical notation. Now, I recorded two tunes that you performed on stage. If you do not mind and have a few minutes for me, I would like you to listen to what I wrote and if there are any mistakes, I would ask you to correct them.
We went to the piano. For me it was an unforgettable lesson!  My melodies “Sari Kuhi Baland” (“On top of the mountain”) and “Garduni Segoh” (“The Third Circle”, from ‘Shashmaqam’- M.Sh.) were notated precisely by Alexander Mikhailovich. In a couple of days he started his teaching. So I was getting my first lessons in musical notation.’ (Ziyodullo Shahidi. Az dutor to ba orkestri simfoni, in the book. ‘Music in my life.’ Irfon, 1986, p.28-29).
Shahidi’s studies and life became full of new creative meaning.  According to Jakub  Sabzanov, a Tajik composer of Jewish origins now living in the USA, “the songs of Shahidi came from his pen like water from a spring.”  Very soon, however, the national framework for the composer became too tight. As chairman of the Union of Composers and a public figure, he was well aware that music has no boundaries and could represent the Tajik character in foreign spaces. By now Tajik musicians were quickly mastering the modern musical language, and so he put a lot of time and effort into forming the major genres: the national symphony and opera. Having lived many years in Moscow while studying at the Moscow Conservatory, he felt with every fiber of his soul the necessity to constantly widen his musical horizons! His dream was realized with the Tajik Symphony concert in the prestigious Bolshoy Hall of the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory.  Shahidi wrote:
“18 April, 1957 is an unforgettable date in the history of the musical culture of Tajikistan. The first concert of Tajik symphonic music has been given in the Bolshoy Hall of the P.I Tchaikovsky’s State Conservatory in Moscow. For the first time F. Soliev’s ‘Rhapsody’, Sh. Sayfiddinov’s cantata ‘Tajikistan’, the symphonic poem ‘In Memory of Rudaki’ by Ya. Sabzanov, a symphonic overture by Amon Khamdamova and my own suite, songs and arias were performed by the Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow Conservatory. It was great to see the opera ‘Bozgasht’ (Return) by Ya Sabzanova and the ballet ‘Pisari Vatan’ (‘The Son of the Motherland’) by Y. Ter-Osipov, presented for the demanding Moscow audience. The Committee of Radio and Television of the Council of Ministers of the Republic initiated a recording of the our composers’ pieces in the Bolshoi Orchestra’s performance in Moscow, including the operas ‘Komde va Madan’, ‘Pulod va Gulru’ and ‘Bozgasht’ as well as several symphonic works, cantatas, oratorios, songs and ballads. Thus our symphonic music will be available for the millions of music fans in our country.” (Op.cit book, p.31)

With all the richness of Tajik musical culture, the songs and ballads of Ziyodullo Shahidi represent the most significant Tajik musical event of the 20th century.  The disk enclosed in this booklet includes only a small portion of the composer’s output.  Even this part, however, (according to E. Orlova, Shahidi created more than 300 songs) can provide a worthy insight into the rest of the composer’s ouevre. The first song that begins the disc was written specifically for the world exhibition EXPO-67 in Canada, and was performed by renowned singer Hanifa Mavlyanova.

This was the first departure of Tajik artists of the Soviet period to North America. To commemorate the occasion, the Tajik government  and Prime Minister Abduahadom Kahharov commissioned composer Ziyodullo Shahidi and poet Boci Rahim-zadeh to write a song in the spirit of the times. It was promised that the authors of the key-song would be included in the delegation sent abroad; however, this did not happen.  While there may be several reasons for this, Ziyodullo Shahidi remained, by official policy, “restricted for travels”.  Nevertheless, the song was performed in Montreal and received the highest rating from listeners overseas.  Today, the works of Tajik composers are known and respected throughout the world, but the first step was made by maestro Ziyodullo Shahidi. Recently, the composer’s son Tolibhon Shahidi recorded under conductor Valeryi Gergiev in London.  And as the fates decree, in Montreal now lives the composer’s granddaughter, Farangis Nurulla, recognized today as a Canadian composer of Tajik origin.

This disc also includes other songs which brought world recognition to both composer and performer.  Performers include: Ahmad Bobokulov, Shoiste Mullodzhanova, Rena Galibova, Barno Iskhakova, Mukaddas Nabieva and Burhon Muhamadkulov.
Please listen to and enjoy these songs, but remember that this disc includes only a small part of the composer’s vast written heritage.


Munira Shahidi,

Director of the Z.Shahidi Republican Museum of Musical Culture



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