Documentary Review: The Silk Road of Pop (2012) by Sameer Farooq and Ursula Engel

One of many nice pleasures of visiting new locations is exploring the landscapes of their standard tradition. Particularly if they’re situated outdoors the facilities of cultural hegemony. There are all the time superb artists, a few of whom unknown superstars, who work onerous to make the artwork they really feel keen about and thru it, make their individuals and tradition recognized to the broader world. To place their tradition on the map, because the cliche says, but additionally shield their individuals’s tradition from vanishing or being assimilated into one of many facilities. Sameer Farooq and Ursula Engel’s documentary about Uyghur music in Xinjiang Area in China “The Silk Highway of Pop” is stuffed with such individuals. They’re musicians and thru their artwork, they’ve aimed to let the world know that they, the Uyghur individuals exist.

Shot within the span of a number of years, “The Silk Highway of Pop” exhibits the normal and trendy music of Xinjiang facet by facet. Neither of them takes priority over the opposite, neither is paid extra consideration or portrayed as extra necessary. They co-exist, and to a sure diploma, affect each other. This permits Farooq and Engel to discover and query the place of music among the many Uyghur inhabitants of Xinjiang. They take a considerably chronological strategy to the presentation of music-making among the many Uyghurs in that the primary a part of the film focuses on conventional music and its performers. Although most of them communicate extremely of the music they’ve devoted their lives to, some artists notice the marginal place the music from the area has in China. The nation’s media has paid some consideration to Uyghur conventional music, ignoring the whole lot else. This has pressured many artists from the ethnic minority to focus solely on it. In any other case, they received’t discover audiences outdoors of Xinjiang.

The concentrate on Uyghur conventional music, and extra exactly, the twelve muqam, conventional Uyghur melody varieties which have been designated intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, has resulted within the exoticization of the minority’s tradition, and worse, in self-exoticization. This, itself, has helped the Chinese language Communist Get together within the marginalization of the minority and their pressured “modernization.” Because of this, the performers of conventional music are put in a convoluted quandary. On the one hand, they wish to protect, extol, and popularize their traditions and cultural identification by way of music. On the opposite, they don’t wish to function an Different to the fashionable Han Chinese language. This introduces one of the necessary themes explored in the complete film – how can a marginalized ethnic minority handle to each shield its custom with out getting used for Chinese language nationalist and orientalist agendas, but additionally be a significant a part of the music world.

The second a part of “The Silk Highway of Pop” offers with simply that, standard music within the widest sense. We discover completely different modern genres, largely steel and rap, by way of interviews with bands from Urumqi. They’re the Slipknot-esque metallers Laji Dang (they appear to not exist anymore) and the rappers Six Metropolis. Each tasks attempt to dodge the expectations the Han Chinese language cultural hegemons have for Uyghur music. And face many difficulties for this. For instance, at one level Adil, frontman of Laji Dang, says his is the one steel band within the greatest and hippest metropolis in Xinjiang, Urumqi. They’re additionally in all probability the one steel band in the complete area. This stifles their creative progress as a band, however doesn’t cease them from pursuing their dream of creating.

Not least necessary, in contrast to the normal musicians we see at first of the documentary, Laji Dang is a way more cosmopolitan mission. Their members come from completely different minorities from Xinjiang. They actually have a Han Chinese language bass participant. As such, they, as a band, don’t actually promote Uyghur tradition, and appear to not contemplate themselves as an Uyghur mission, however a steel band from the Xinjiang area. Nonetheless, as Adil tells us, he’s pleased with his Uyghur heritage and is a giant fan of earlier rock bands from the world. He’s additionally deeply impressed by the muqam.

The state of affairs with the rap mission is a bit completely different. Although in addition they play a comparatively trendy style, although their beats and the stream of the rappers are a bit outdated, we should say, the members of the band declare to be extremely influenced by conventional Uyghur music and tradition. In spite of everything, as considered one of them tells us, they’re named after the six nice cities of the Tarim Basin area. In a considerably humorous scene, one of many members tries to recite the names of the cities his band is known as after, however fails. The explanation, be it private lack of information or a much bigger institutional downside related with training or the erasing of Uyghur reminiscence, is left to the creativeness of the viewer.

Like each musician featured within the documentary, the members of Six Metropolis additionally namedrop the muqams as a effectively of inspiration. How, although, is tough to say, as a result of the viewers can’t actually hear them a lot within the band’s beats. It’s perhaps a sense they attempt to talk or a practice they attempt to join with to allow them to make a bridge between conventional music and modern one. The reply to this isn’t pursued by the administrators, however it additionally doesn’t actually matter within the grand scale of issues. The collective works effectively inside the narrative of the documentary for instance of recent Uyghurs who respect and attempt to join with their custom.

“The Silk Highway of Pop” is a documentary about music and its position in society. And the expertise of music lovers is essential for that. We see their position for its sustenance by way of Ay, a younger lady with dyed hair who tries to interrupt away from the normal gender expectation of the conservative Uyghur society. She likes trendy music and tradition, spending all off her free time listening and dancing to the likes of Alicia Keys or going to completely different gigs, at any time when she has the time. By way of her, we meet the steel band Laji Dang and see a few of the spots the place cool trendy individuals hold. As we do this, we get to know her higher and be taught in regards to the difficulties younger nonconformist individuals face in a conservative society.

Nonetheless, Ay will not be the protagonist of this film. Nobody individual is. Somewhat, it’s the music in all its myriad varieties. On this lies the most important concern of “The Silk Highway of Pop”. Although a fantastic documentary in regards to the music of Xinjiang, it’s a far much less good one in regards to the individuals who make it. This ends in a film about artwork and its place in individuals’s lives that pays little consideration to the person individuals themselves. Nonetheless, it’s a timeless snapshot of Uyghur music, and a film everybody ought to see, particularly now, when the systemic assimilation and ethnocide of Uyghurs by the Chinese language Communist Get together is stronger than ever.



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