News & Views

Biocultural Jazz Born in Bishkek

The incredible improvisational skills of Kyrgyz Manaschi were on full display at the 9th annual Bishkek Jazz Festival held in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan from April 17 to 19, 2014. The festival showcased an exciting segment of the robust global jazz scene and highlighted the cross-cultural influences driving this musical art form into the new century.

Jazz piano prodigy Eldar Djangirov returned to his hometown to deliver a strong, emotional performance, and regional jazz groups displayed the inventive character of the robust local music scene. The talent on display at the festival included such acts as Avesto ethno-jazz band from Tajikistan. (See a video here.)

The festival’s ethno-jazz laboratory, supported by the Christensen Fund, sparked the creation of a new form of jazz focused on the Kyrgyz tradition of Manas recitation. The final act of the festival incorporated the local Manaschi, or person who recites the Epic of Manas, the centerpiece of Kyrgyz literature composed of over 500,000 lines.

That groundbreaking performance started with the lone voice of the Manaschi then grew as a back-up singer added a sultry layer of sound. Musicians from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and the USA slowly began accenting the interweaving voices. (See a portion of the powerful performance here.)