Some 40 Uyghur singers of long rhymed tales that extol heroes in the Turkic tradition—known as dastan in Uyghur and Persian, destansı in Turkish and dasitan (达斯坦) in Chinese—gathered recently in Hami (哈密) for an event that featured seminars and actual performances.
According to the report re-published on the China Ethnic Literature Network (达斯坦奇), some forty dasitanqi took part, with younger ones learning from masters such as 吾布力艾山·麦麦提, 居买·努力, and 买买提图合提·亚森 who performed 《伊斯拉木碧格木》,《铁穆尔哈里法》and《霍佳尼亚孜阿吉》in the Hami tradition. Some 30 hours of audio tracks were reportedly recorded.
Seminar topics included Current Status of the Three Grand Epic Dasitan of the Uighur, Kazakh, Mongolian and Kirghiz Peoples, and Formation and Categories of Uighur Folk Dasitan.
Billed as a “training session,” this event is part of recent efforts by the authorities to document and preserve art forms of non-Han peoples in the PRC that have been categorized by Unesco as an “intangible cultural heritage.” Considered a dying art, traditional dasitan are largely restricted to cities such as Khotan, Kashgar and Kezhou, as well as small towns in the Hami region of Xinjiang. But they are still frequently performed there in tea houses, bazaars and at maja (麻扎)—the burial sites of revered Muslims—and during the traditional Uyghur Meshrep (麦西来甫).
Here’s Unesco’s description of a Meshrep:
A complete Meshrep event includes a rich collection of traditions and performance arts, such as music, dance, drama, folk arts, acrobatics, oral literature, foodways and games. Uygur muqam is the most comprehensive art form included in the event, integrating song, dance and entertainment. Meshrep functions both as a ‘court’, where the host mediates conflicts and ensures the preservation of moral standards, and as a ‘classroom’, where people can learn about their traditional customs. Meshrep is mainly transmitted and inherited by hosts who understand its customs and cultural connotations, by the virtuoso performers who participate, and by all the Uygur people who attend.