See, about ten years ago, I was a theater and music major at the Fairest College, and I was taking one of my two elective courses, Introduction to World Music. The professor, Ted Levin, was (and remains today) a specialist in Central Asian music, and he'd invited an ensemble of Bukharan* Jewish musicians called Shashmaqam for a performance at the campus center. He encouraged all of us in class to go, though I don't remember whether or not we had a writing assignment about them. Anyway, I went. The performance was very much like this one.
It was a complete revelation to me. Up until that point, my experience of Jewish music had been limited to what I'd heard in my own personal family and community -- my family sang imported Aramaic Passover songs, and we were Neat and Different because of that, for instance. But I'd never seen or heard anything like Shashmaqam. In addition to being a fabulous show, I remember perceiving them as both "like me" and "not like me" at the same time. I thought that was pretty cool, and that it might be a neat thing to look into this whole "world Jewish music" deal at some point in my life.
Fast-forward ten years. I'm a Ph.D student in ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago, a student of Jewish music under one of the world's foremost scholars on the subject. I'm also this guy's TA for Introduction to World Music. And Shashmaqam -- that same group -- came to the U of C for a performance last night! I was truly excited to see them again after ten years, and I told the class about them and exhorted them to go.
Well, they were as beautiful and exciting as I remembered, the music was fantastic, and the costumes even more glittery (I covet the manager's cloth-of-gold dress and gold-spangled hat with the gold lace veil). They really are master musicians, they've been working together for decades, and they were just enchanting.
And I spotted two of my students in the audience, too! Who knows? Maybe in another ten years, one of them might be an ethno grad student telling his students all about how Shashmaqam made a big impression on him and they should really go see the group in concert . . .
*Bukhara is a city in present-day Uzbekistan that was a great and famous cosmopolitan Silk Road hub way back in the way-back-when.