Samanid Masusoleum, Bukhara. From Uzbekistan
Layers of history one on top of another
By Shahriar Zahedi
August 25, 1999
His name is Mahdi Ibodov. To us, he could be Mehdi Ebadzadeh, or Ebadpoor.
Who knows what would have been?
His face, darkened and weathered by the intense rays of the steppe sun,
is an amalgam of racial features; Turkman, Iranian, Hindu, Greek, Uzbek,
Tajik, Maybe even the Arab has contributed to his make up. This is how
people are in this part of the world. Layers of history are deposited one
on top of another, each group dominating and at the same time embracing
the one that came before it.
There are no fine lines separating the many peoples that roamed the
steppe at one time or another. All those nomads, all those who settled,
and all those who couldn't make up their minds, and still can't. They're
all here, all present. At times, this can be an eerie place.
This is Bukhara, in Uzbekistan. It is an oasis in the middle of a valley
of the ZarafshAn River, and on the old Silk Road. One of the two cities
that Hafez so generously offered to give away in return for the affection
of his beloved Turk. Yes. Bukhara. The birthplace of my mother tongue.
The cradle of Iranian culture.
But where is everybody? Where is the sound of Farsi speech? Where have
they all gone?
Mahdi is a singer, a performer who does gigs at weddings, or toi, as
they call them. Mahdi claims Iranian descent and as such is a member of
an underclass in Bukhara society. A second class citizen among the Uzbeks.
He is a Mavrijikhon, literally, singer of Mavriji.
In the old days, the Turkman tribesmen regularly raided the travelling
caravans inside Iran. They'd mostly attack the pilgrims-on their way to
Mashhad - and steal their property. They'd also take hostages back to Turkman
Sahra. Young girls and boys were specially sought after and they'd be the
first ones to be taken.
Once the agile Turkmans departed with their loot, the families of the
hostages would have had to go through a great deal of trouble arranging
to pay ransom money through intermediaries to gain their release. For the
unlucky few who were never claimed, the next destination would be the city
Marv, in northeast Khorasan (of those days), was for a long time the
cultural center of the region. It also boasted the most prosperous slave
markets in the area. Slaves from all over were displayed at its markets.
On a good day, you could find a fair Gorji girl, a strong African laborer,
and everything in between, at reasonable prices.
The unclaimed Iranian hostages too, would end up in the Marv slave markets
and be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Some would be bought by Uzbeks
and find their way to Bukhara.
Over time, some of these Iranian slaves in Bukhara, lamenting for their
lost homeland, started singing out about their misfortune. A singing style
unique to these slaves was hence developed and was called gharibi. This
would be the Central Asian equivalent of Soul music, or we can even call
it the Bukhara Blues.
The Gharibi style, originating from Marv slave markets, is better known
by the locals as Mavriji (Literally, from Mavr). Mavr being a corruption
of Marv, which is hard for the Turkic speakers to pronounce. (The city
has since been renamed Mary by Turkman officials.)
Mahdi is a Mavrijikhon. His songs are mostly in Farsi. He does throw
in a few Turkish verses here and there to keep his customers happy but
the language of his soul is still Farsi . His lyrics deal with the usual
stuff of exile, of bondage, and of his utter lack of luck in the affairs
of both the material and the emotional realms.
amAn, amAn, az in tAle'ee keh man dAram
Cho zar dast giram khAk gardad, amAn amAn
And so it goes.
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