Loss of a Notable

May 7, 2008 at 12:37 pm Leave a comment

This obituary of Uzbek poet and musician Ilyas Malayev tells me how little I know about the sizable population of Bukahrian Jews living side by side with me, in Forest Hills (not to mention, the type of music he mastered). A great loss to his community.

Before emigrating from his native land in Central Asia, Mr. Malayev won fame and official plaudits in the former Soviet Union for his interpretation of the shash maqam, a body of folk melodies and songs that originated as the court music of feudal Bukhara. He also performed his own songs, and wrote lyric poetry in several languages, which he published in the United States under the titles “Milk and Sugar” and “Devon.” Still, he struggled to build a new creative life after immigrating to America in 1992.

“He’s one of maybe half a dozen people in the world who has such a deep knowledge of the shash maqam,” said Walter Z. Feldman, an expert on Ottoman Turkish music, told a reporter for The New York Times in 1997. “What Malayev knows almost nobody knows.”

Mr. Malayev was born in Mary and grew up in Kattakurgan, a small town near Bukhara, where he learned to play the tar and the tambur, string instruments similar to the lute, as well as the violin. He also applied himself to the shash maqam, studying with local teachers and listening to recordings made in the time of the last emir of Bukhara….

Despite his reputation, Mr. Malayev was unable to publish his poetry in the Soviet Union. He attributed this to anti-Semitism. He belonged to a small Jewish minority in a predominantly Muslim (although officially atheist) society. Traditionally, Jews performed as musicians at the court of the Bukharan emirs.

After emigrating, Mr. Malayev found his way to Queens, where an enclave of Bukharan Jews was developing in Rego Park and Forest Hills. He became a central figure in the area’s cultural life, organizing local musicians and singers into an ensemble, Maqam, for which he was an instrumentalist and music director. As the Ilyas Malayev Ensemble, the group released a compact disc on the Shanachie label in 1997 called “At the Bazaar of Love.” After Mr. Malayev’s death, the group was renamed the Ilyas Malayev Ensemble Maqam.

The original is here.


Entry filed under: Forest Hills.

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