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Remembering a Great Voice from Regostan: Bukharan Jewish Musician Ilyas Malayev

By Benjamin Ivry

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Often forgotten in the upsurge of interest in Jews from the former Soviet Union, the Bukharans have claim to a grievance. But, on December 14, a gala concert, “Ilyas Malayev: Remembering the Poet Laureate of the Bukharian Jews,” will be performed at New York’s Center for Jewish History, presented by that organization’s An-sky Institute for Jewish Culture directed by researcher and performer Walter Zev Feldman.

Ilyas Malayev, who died last year of pancreatic cancer, was a great master of the traditional music of Uzbekistan and a cherished member of the Bukharan Jewish community. Singing and playing violin as well as tanbur Malayev became a superstar despite local antisemitism and governmental persecution (his writings were banned at one point) which eventually drove him from his homeland.

In 1992 Malayev emigrated to America, settling in Rego Park, Queens, a N. Y. neighborhood called “Regostan” or “Bukharian Broadway” due to its large Bukhari Jewish population. Listeners to Malayev’s performances need not be experts on Shashmaqam the Central Asian courtly music of divine love, to relish his ardent approach, imbued with authority born of the fact that his musical mastery dated back to his early childhood. Quiet and courteous offstage, Malayev could offer stylishly delightful and extroverted renditions, charming enough to seduce any audience.

A book-length collection of Malayev’s poetry translated into English is long overdue, and some alert publisher might consider it as a much merited follow-up to the December 14 bash. Likewise, Malayev’s only currently available CD, “At the Bazaar of Love” from Shanachie Entertainment surely deserves a sequel, drawn from abundantly available past taped performances.

Watch Ilyas Malayev and his wife Muhabbat Shamayeva in a 1992 TV performance here.

Listen to Malayev’s soulful solo singing below.


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