Central Asian Stringed Instruments
by David Brown
The tar and kemanche (kemane in this case, due to Uzbeki dialect) is from Central Asia that are very well made and have excellent sound. These instruments, although not from Iran but from the countries just North of the Iranian border, are ideal for Persian music. The Kemane is a spike fiddle but unlike our Turkish spike fiddle (kabak kemence) which has a gourd body with a skin head these have a body made of strips of staved wood, and are heavier constructed and even feature a leg rest with swivel base- you don't change the bow angle to change strings but rather turn the whole instrument. The tone is comparable to Persian kemanche, and for all purposes is the same instrument, which is identical to those used in Armenia. The tar are Central Asian style with the additional side strings, but just like Iranian tar have the skin head, 3 pairs of main strings of metal and waisted body carved from wood. These tar are shaped very much like Iranian tar from last century, with the curves of the upper skin being more wide and rounded than those of the last 50 years. These are the most robust tar we have been able to offer; they even have a neck re-inforcement rod for added strength. They vary quite a bit in ornamentation, with some being austerely plain in the manner of Iranian tar, and others having inlaid patterns more in the Uzbeki and Azerbaijani style.
Several countries use the tar as one of the most important art instruments, including Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Tajikistan, and of course Iran; even the Herat region of Afghanistan had the chartar, although it was much rarer than the dutar and rebab and tambur. For many years it's been difficult to get instruments from this part of the world, and we are fortunate to have a supply of these once rare items from a part of the world that is too little known, particularly its rich musical heritage. For centuries this was the Silk road, the caravan trail from the Middle East to China, and along with silk, spices, jewels, precious metals, etc., musical instruments were carried from place to place. Many cities along the Silk road, like Samarkand and Bukhara, were known for their great musical cultures, often mixing musical elements from different regions into a rich fusion. Political upheavals of the last century and geographic isolation (the caravan trails are not the most used routes anymore) have kept Central Asia from the mainstream of the world music revival, but things are changing now as the treasures of this part of the world become better known.