The cultural performance by the Xinjiang Mukam Arts Ensemble from China had all the grace and the beauty of something that has been preserved and carefully handed down generations. The performance, which took place recently at the Jnana Jyoti Auditorium, was a burst of joy and colour. The ensemble, consisting of 38 members from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, performed a few “mukams” from the traditional Uyghur Mukam Opera of the region. There are supposedly twelve mukams in all but these would take 24 hours to be performed in their entirety.
The performance was an amalgamation of various styles of song and dance under the tradition, beginning with the “Qubiyat Mukam Selections” performed by Osman Amat and his accompanying singers. The troupe sang to a live band, consisting instruments like the rawap, which is essentially a lute plucked with a horn plectrum, dap — which is a frame drum, chang, another stringed instrument, ney that sounds like a shrill flute, and hejak, which is a type of fiddle. There were solo performances by singers like Izzat Eliyas and Gulnur Kadir, with their soprano voices and raw, undulating melodies.
Izzat Eliyas even sung a much-cheered Hindi song, “Pyar na ho to” with almost perfect pronunciation while Gulnur Kadir sang of the joys of an incoming spring after the bitter winter the region is known to face. Male singers, like Mawlan Niyaz, had interesting, strong, almost booming base voices.
There was also an instrumental performance of the “Ussak Mukam”, a solo piece that was supported by the rest of the instruments. The piece had a rich, rustic, heart-rending melody that sounded uncannily like a slightly shrill, melancholic Carnatic raga. Then there were the dances, composed of simple movements woven into more complex patterns and formations. Some of the dances were done to live folk music while others had more peppy recorded tunes.
The difference between the male and female dancers was enchantingly stark. The female dancers were nimble and graceful in their delicate movements while the male dancers exuded strength with their bold movements, occasionally accompanied by loud cries. The groups danced together in “Nazirkom” and “Golden Dolan”. “Nazirkom” was introduced as a partly humorous dance portraying animals.
While the only dance where both parties had strong, majestic movements was “Golden Dolan” where the dancers wore tall colourful hats matching their robes.
But the “Bowl Dance” performed by the female dance troupe stole the show. The dance consisted of simple movements, but what was interesting was that the dancers danced with a stack of bowls balanced on their heads. At the end, they even removed the bowls and poured out its contents. The show also featured a thoroughly enjoyable juggling performance by Hayrat Eziz.