British The Calvert Journal Writes About Rhythms of Lost Time by Tajik Director Anisa Sabiri

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Earlier, the documentary film Rhythms of Lost Time by Tajik poet and director Anisa Sabiri received the award for the most popular film at the international festival Calvert Journal. The festival took place online from October 18 through October 31 and featured 35 films from Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The winners were awarded 6 prizes, one of them was the Tajik director Sabiri.

The film is 45 minutes long and is dedicated to the music of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan.

The British The Calvert Journal, based in London and launched in 2013 by the Calvert 22 Foundation to study the culture of the so-called New East (Eastern Europe, Balkans, Russia and Central Asia), wrote about film by a Tajik director.

The Journal writes that in Tajikistan’s mountainous eastern province of Badakhsan, music is embedded in people’s lives, following them from birth to death. This music is inherently religious — handed down from the area’s Zoroastrian ancestors — and was often seen as contradicting the core values of the successive governments that ruled the region. Medieval Arab and Turkic control brought Islam to prominence in the country, while later Soviet rule attempted to implement official secularism (the concept that government and other sources of law must exist separately from any type of religion). But Badakhshan’s people were better able to protect their musical traditions.

According to the author, filmmaker Sabiri’s 2021 documentary Rhythms of Lost Time is spiritual quest.

Sabiri — herself from Tajikistan — once worked as a tour guide in the country, and, in a way, the film functions as a musical tour of Badakhshan. Performances throughout the film display the myriad ways in which traditional Tajik music is central to the lives of the Badakhshani people, and the importance of it in key rituals. This religious aspect of the music varies: for some, it comes down from Zoroastrian belief and honours Ahuramazda, while for others, it is an Islamic belief that honours Allah. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan became independent, but the following year a civil war broke out, that lasted until 1997.

According to the journal, the documentary, artfully blending narration and interview with strikingly colourful imagery and immersive soundscapes, captures how music is present in the everyday agricultural routine of farmers, and it serves as a central component in significant stages of life, such as weddings and funerals.

In her director’s statement, Sabiri highlights the relationship of music to life — and, inevitably, death — as it is embodied in the Badakhshani tanbur, a local stringed instrument. “Each time I visited traditional craftsmen or artists, their practice resonated with me deeply,” she says.

“I was particularly drawn to the music of the tanbur. I wondered aloud to a local musician why its sound affected me so much, and he told me that it is not just a musical instrument: its purpose is to help the soul to separate from the body after death. Therefore, he said, the tanbur cries,” she added.

The tanbur is featured prominently during maddoh, the musical rite performed at funerals. In the film, musician Aliakbar Odinamamadov solemnly states that Maddoh is simply the word of God: music that helps the soul depart from the body and enter the afterlife. This connection of music to the body and soul is felt throughout the lives of each person within the community, “from lullabies at his birth to maddoh at his death,” the film’s narration explains. At birth, the soul is connected to the body and the earth; during marriage, the soul is joined to that of another; at death, the soul departs from the body and the earth.

In Rhythms of Lost Time, Sabiri is sometimes accompanied by Leo Abrahams, a British musician whose credits also include composition and production. Abrahams first heard the music of maddoh through musician Lu Edmonds, who recorded music he heard while travelling throughout Central Asia. Abrahams is featured sparingly throughout the film, and one might wonder what purpose his Western perspective serves in the documentation of traditional Tajik music. While the relevance of Sabiri’s perspective as a director is self-explanatory, for Abrahams, the film is just the realisation of a ten-year long desire to hear maddoh in person: “What specifically interests me about maddoh is that it wasn’t just that this music was rhythmically, and harmonically, and melodically fascinating. It was all those things. But what really struck me was that it felt like much more than music, or it felt like somehow the music of nature, or even though I don’t consider myself a religious person, a music of God,” he explains.

Source: National information agency of Tajikistan