“Apples and Music” by Horacio, a music writer
~ All About Apples ~

Vol.3 To Central Asia,gnawing at an apple

What comes to mind when you hear the word “apple” or see the fruit? Perhaps most of you would imagine an extensive apple orchard scene in Aomori or Nagano Prefecture. The close relationship between apples and these prefectures is almost common sense to most Japanese people. Conversely, many people would think of apples first when they hear the names of these prefectures. In fact, there are many varieties of apples and there exist some delicious kinds that are cultivated in other areas besides these two prefectures. Next time you buy an apple, it might be interesting to try not only a different variety, but also a fruit from some other production area.

Well, I started by saying that the image of apples for Aomori and Nagano Prefectures is so strong that seldom anywhere except these two places come to mind when you hear “apples.” Now let me introduce you to some information that might help expand your idea of apples. The apple originated in Central Asia, located in the middle of the Eurasian continent. Different from the word “apple”, there are few Japanese people who can come up with the names of countries or cities when you say the region name “Central Asia.”

Some people may be able to name them already; Central Asia consists of five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. We frequently see varying opinions on if Mongolia or the northern part of Iran should be included. I take those five countries to be included in what is called Central Asia, as this seems to be the most accepted opinion. This time I’d like to introduce a bit of its culture, including music with YouTube clips. I hope you enjoy it while gnawing at an apple.

Uzbekistan is more famous for the city of Samarcand, with the world heritage site Registan, than for its capital city Tashkent. The country is also known among railroad buffs as the only country in Central Asia to possess a subway. When you hear “Central Asia,” most people would associate it with remote regions, even some educated people. It is surprising to know that they have a subway system, isn’t it? Even Aomori doesn’t have one! Most importantly the country is, for me as a music journalist, the birthplace of Enver Izmailov, who is a master of guitar. Normally people play the guitar by strumming with the right hand and fretting the strings on the neck with the left hand. However, Izmailov plays guitar by tapping the neck of the guitar with the fingertips of both hands as if it were a keyboard. Moreover, since he looks like a drunkard to almost everyone, audience members seeing him for the first time receive quite a shock. Seeing is believing. I'll let you watch now.

Yes. The play style shows that “you should avoid imitating if you are good.” Besides the outstanding technique, the melodies and rhythm originating from the folk music of Central Asia attract us with their exotic sounds. He'd lived and found success from adolescence in the Ukraine, where his parents are from. The other cultural aspect of Uzbekistan noted here in Japan is the movie “Abdulladzhan, dedicated to Steven Spielberg”, directed by Zulfikar Musakov, which is a parody film of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.”

Let me take you to Tajikistan next.  When you talk about the country, it definitely reminds me of Bakhtiyar Khudoinazarov, a film director, who passed away a few years ago. He was a great movie director. The films titled “BRATAN” and “Kosh Ba Kosh” are his major works. If you see his films, you’ll go crazy for the peculiar tempo created by the slow passage of time. With the political crisis of the civil war in the background, “Kosh Ba Kosh” has so much war presence that you hear constant gunshots. It makes for a pretty thrilling acoustic. I was fascinated by the music in the last scene. Just listen to it.

It also has a touch of ethnic music, doesn’t it? Khudoinazarov’s works are shown frequently in theaters nationwide because of his recent death. You can easily check the schedule on the Internet.

How about Turkmenistan? Not too much information seems available, but the country is pretty familiar to a certain group of Japanese music fans. The group I'm talking about is progressive rock fans. The fans of so-called “progre”, for short, are so greedy that they tend to name any resembling music “progre.” As a result, a wide range of music is involved in the genre. This has caused a bit of a side effect: they cannot answer well when someone asks, “What is progre?” All joking aside, the Gunesh Ensemble, a transcendent progre band, left an impression on the fans when they appeared from Turkmenistan. Rishad Shafti is the band leader. The sound is a mixture of everything, which is hard to explain. It has an ethnic taste to it as well. The photos of the band in the video, one after another, are powerful.

Was that a little too strange? Well Central Asia, where the remaining two countries of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan reside, is known as the region where the Silk Road passes through. If “Central Asia” sounds strange to you, you may recall the Silk Road. Also, there is a perfect textbook for learning the culture of 19th century Central Asia. It’s called “Otoyomegatari”, a popular manga by Kaoru Mori. Another comic essay was published recently titled, “Silk Road Journey of One Woman” by Hiroko Orita. For some reason, the Silk Road images have a strong charm to Japanese people, such as the music by Kitaro, a synthesizer player; “Ihojin or a foreigner”, an exquisite piece of Japanese pop music by Saki Kubota; and “Gandhara” by Godiego.

This time I forcibly introduced the countries of Central Asia using apples as a tool. The unfamiliar region is at least connected with Japan through apples. Why don’t you treat yourself to an apple, and bring a spark to the routine life of autumn and winter? It would be wonderful to think of something unusual and unseen far away in Central Asia.


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A music writer who loves Polish Jazz, from Osaka, now lives in Aomori.


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