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LUCIS lecture & screening | Islam in Central Asia

Worlds of Love in the Wakhan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan

Tuesday 11 June 2019
Museum Volkenkunde
Steenstraat 1

Part of a larger project on music and ethos in greater Central Asia, this presentation focuses on the topic of love.  Two poets-singers, Qurbonsho and Daulatsho, express multileveled forms of relationality in their moral and physical worlds, in part through theorizations around love.  The two poets share a common language (Wakhi), religion (Ismaili Islam), physical environment and livelihood based on animal husbandry and agriculture; musical instruments and genres; and a penchant for elaborating mystical and literary themes. But Qurbonsho lives in Southeastern Tajikistan, and Daulatsho, about 50 miles away in Northeastern Afghanistan.

Wakhis in Tajikistan and Afghanistan have been divided to varying extents since the 19th century, when the Wakhan was delineated as a buffer zone between Tsarist Russia and the British Empire. The ensuing differences in economic and cultural development have led to striking contrasts in music and everyday life on either side of the Panj river (headwaters of the Oxus), where Wakhis live. The two poets are known to each other by reputation, through recordings, via family ties, and through ongoing links that have been provided over the last 4 years by my cross-border visits.  This presentation, then, considers the broad trope of love as well as aspects of relationality that extend to community members across a national divide.

We will provide coffee, tea, and cookies during the break!


Two Poets and a River
Tajik, Dari and Wakhi with English subtitles
Runtime 53 minutes

This work-in-progress by ethnomusicologist Richard Wolf is based on ethnographic research (2012-2018) with two influential poet-singers who live in the Wakhan valley on opposite sides of the Panj (Oxus) river in Tajikistan and Afghanistan.  Inheritors of a cultural and economic divide brought about by a border negotiated between British India and Czarist Russia in the 19th century, the two musicians nevertheless share a common language and faith.   The film traces the two individuals’ contemplations on separation, family, and environment, as well as their imaginations concerning what lies on the other side of the border.

About Richard K. Wolf

Richard K. Wolf has been conducting ethnomusicological research in South Asia since 1982 on topics that have included “style” (bani) in South Indian classical music, emotion in ritual contexts, and issues of music and language. He is the author of The Black Cow's Footprint: Time, Space, and Music in the Lives of the Kotas of South India (2006), which received the Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr. Prize in the Humanities, and The Voice in the Drum: Music, Language and Emotion in Islamicate South Asia (2014), a hybrid ethnomusicological study written in the form of a novel.  His most recent coedited volume is a cross-cultural collection entitled Thought and Play in Musical Rhythm (OUP, in press). Wolf is currently preparing a monograph and an ethnographic film concerning music, language, and moral being among Tajiks and Wakhi people of adjacent parts of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and western China.  In addition to writing and teaching, Wolf is also a performer on the South Indian classical vina. He has been teaching at Harvard University since 1999, where he is Professor of Music and South Asian Studies.  He is currently the 2018-2019 Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Fellow at the National Humanities Center.

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