Liu Xiaobo Fellowship at the CECC

I’m very pleased to share that I just finished my first week of work as a Liu Xiaobo Fellow at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), a U.S. government commission tasked with monitoring the status of human rights and rule of law in China.

As a Fellow, I’m drawing on my language and area knowledge to assist CECC staff with news monitoring, research, and analysis connected to the Commission mandate. Moving to federal work in human rights and law is a bit of a change for me given my academic background, but I’m thrilled to be doing work that allows me to be deeply involved in the U.S. and global responses to China’s escalating rights abuses.

Introducing Dr. Elise Marie Anderson!

On the morning of May 8, 2019, I successfully defended my dissertation, titled Imperfect Perfection: Uyghur Muqam and Practices of Cultural Renovation in the PRC, meaning that I am now Dr. Anderson.

Me (center) with members of my committee: (from L) Dr. Javier León; Dr. Gardner Bovingdon, Co-chair; Dr. Sue Tuohy, Co-chair; Dr. Kathryn Graber; and Dr. Lynn Hooker. Not pictured: Dr. Ruth Stone.

Several days before my defense, on Friday, May 3, I walked in IU’s graduate commencement and received my doctoral hood. The pomp and circumstance of the ceremony were a lovely way to cap off my very long tenure as a graduate student.

A happy Doctor (of Philosophy) posing in front of IU’s iconic Sample Gates

The successful conferral of my degree would never have happened without the guidance, support, and cooperation of hundreds of people around the world over the past decade-plus. My deepest thanks to all who have been part of my long and winding intellectual journey.

Persian/Central Asian New Year Celebration at IU-Bloomington

The Indiana University Navruz Students Association, of which I have been President since 2016, is pleased to announce that we will once again be hosting a celebration of the Persian/Central Asian New Year on the IUB campus on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The evening will include a dinner, concert, and dance party, all of which are free and open to the public.

6:00pm Doors open
6:30pm Dinner begins
7:00pm Concert begins
7:45pm Dancing begins

Sincerest thanks to all of our event sponsors at IU, including:
Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center 
Islamic Studies Program 
Turkish Flagship Program 
Pan Asia Institute 
Center for the Study of Global Change 
Russian and East European Institute
Department of Central Eurasian Studies 
Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures 

Lotus Lineup Lowdown

I’m pleased to share that I’m going to be co-delivering the Lotus Lineup Lowdown, an introduction to Bloomington’s Lotus World Music Festival, from 12:00 to 1:00pm on Friday, September 15. Douglas D. Peach will be co-presenting alongside me. Hope to see all you Bloomingtonians there!

525,600 Minutes

A full year has passed since I moved back to Bloomington, Indiana. In celebration of the past year and anticipation of that to come, I’ve made a number of changes to this site. In addition to editing pre-existing pages, I’ve also added new sections to detail my teaching, performance, and outreach/brokerage activities.

Much has transpired in my professional life in the past 525,600-plus minutes. Shortly after moving back to Bloomington I began the difficult but rewarding process of overhauling my dissertation, which I had begun writing while still in the field but which long suffered from my physical and mental distance from American academia. My time back at IU has been very fruitful in terms of writing: I have completed most of a first draft and am on track to defend and graduate by May 2018.

On the publication front, a textbook chapter about dastan (oral epic poetry) that I co-authored with Rahile Dawut–who was my advisor during my affiliation at Xinjiang University in 2012-13 and who remains a dear mentor and friend–was published in the Music of Central Asia textbook. Additionally, a short article I co-authored with my friend and fellow Xinjiang studies scholar Darren Byler on the broad topic of popular music in Uyghur society appeared in Pop Culture in Asia and Oceania 

The past year also afforded me numerous opportunities to present my research to a variety of audiences. I gave papers at the Third International Uyghur Studies Conference in Zvenigorod, Moscow, Russia (October 2016); the annual meeting of the Central Eurasian Studies Society in Princeton, NJ (November 2016); and the annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology in Washington, D.C. (November 2016). I also delivered an hour-long lecture as part of the University of Arkansas Middle East Studies Center’s speaker series in April 2017 (special thanks to Dr. Kelly Hammond for the invitation!), and in May 2017 I was one of five participants in a collaborative reading workshop on the Tarikh-i Hamidi funded by Henry Luce/ACLS and organized by Dr. Eric Schluessel at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Additionally, I assumed a number of new volunteer and outreach responsibilities over the past year. In September 2016 I took advantage of modernist poet Tahir Hamut’s brief visit to the Midwest to organize a bilingual (Uyghur-English) poetry reading with him on the IU campus. In March 2017 I took charge of organizing a concert and reception for the IU celebration of Navruz (the Persian and Central Asian New Year); I also worked with local businesses to organize a separate off-campus dance night in celebration of the same holiday. Throughout the year I did my best to stay active as a performer and educator of Uyghur music traditions, as well, sharing bits of the Uyghur dutar, folksong, and muqam repertoires with audiences at a number of concerts and events around the IU campus.

Life has been busy with non-research work, as well. Last July I began working at the Indiana University GradGrants Center, where I have delivered numerous workshops and presentations on grant-writing in addition to working one-on-one with scores of graduate students from across the various disciplines at IU to refine proposals for grants from NSF, Fulbright-Hays, SSRC, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, and various other funding agencies. I have also continued to grow my freelance business, teaching Uyghur intensively to a private student over the past year and taking on occasional jobs in editing, grant-writing, and translation. A number of my personal translation projects remain in various stages of completion, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them through to the publication stage.

I’m excited to see what the coming year holds and hope to be around here more often to share news from my professional life in real-ish time. Here’s to the next 525,600 minutes.

Site Updates

After months of silence, I’ve decided to make a few changes around these parts. I’ve already updated my site design and layout; additionally, I am planning to make some other adjustments and add new content/pages over the coming weeks, inshallah. Please bear with me!

“Making Music in Kashgar” Published in IAUNRC Newsletter

The Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center at Indiana University, a center near and dear to my heart for all the support it has offered me throughout my graduate career, recently published a short travelogue of mine in its Spring 2016 newsletter. Check out “Making Music in Kashgar” to read about a lovely experience I had attempting to play Uyghur music with a hobbyist tämburist in Kashgar back in 2014.

Review Published on Dissertation Reviews

A review I wrote in 2015 about my 2014 experience conducting research in a Uyghur music collection at an archive in Stockholm, Sweden has just gone live on Dissertation Reviews as part of their “Fresh From the Archives” and “Performance Studies” series. Please give the review a read and consider arranging research with the collection if you’re interested in Uyghur music and/or diaspora groups.

In the past I have also written about the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum for the site.

Celebrating Uyghur Women in Music on 3.8 (Part 2 of 2)

In the first episode of Season 1 of the Voice of the Silk Road there is a brief and poignant exchange (starting around 1:22:48) between contestant Subhinur Hékim and coach Nurnisa Abbas.* Subhinur has told the three male judges that she loves their music but does not want to be on their teams in the televised singing competition, and then comes to Nurnisa, the one female judge on the first season, and hints that she wants to be in her group for the fact that Nurnisa is a woman and she, a girl. And then she asks a question: why has Nurnisa only ever released only one album, when Subhinur was young, and then none after that? Nurnisa fumbles a bit, admitting that this wasn’t a question she expected to be asked, and she begins to suggest that to be a woman—ayal digen uqum, she says several times over, or “the concept of ‘woman'”—brings with it a special set of expectations that make a career as a singer hard. It’s not easy to put out an album every few years like it is for a man, she says. To be a woman is difficult. 

The exchange is not all that eloquent, and Nurnisa ends it with a slightly over-the-top gesture, standing up and thanking all the hard-working women singers she knows and has worked with throughout her career. There were so many more things she could have said but didn’t—perhaps because they didn’t come to mind, or because there was no time for them, or because she felt they wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about onstage. But what Nurnisa didn’t explictly say seems fairly evident: to be a woman is difficult, and to be simultaneously a good woman and a successful, prolific singer is even moreso.** Remember: It’s not easy to put out an album every few years like it is for a man. To be a woman is difficult.

In my March 8 post, I hinted at the idea that Uyghur musicians—and men in general—are often able to lead public lives and have very successful, visible careers in ways that women are not. Much of this has to do, I think, with a broad and sweeping set of social expectations that spells out very specific, gendered roles for Uyghur men and women, encapsulated in a notion that the work of men is “outside,” while the work of women is “inside,” or in the home. Marriage, preferably early, is important; to look after a husband is paramount; having kids, or “leaving descendants,” is prized; and the domestic work of keeping house, on the “inside,” is a woman’s job. This is what it means to be a good woman.

How do women figure out being all of that and a successful singer? Some women singers—including a couple on this list—have skirted the issue completely by foregoing marriage, almost unheard of in this society, in order to pursue their careers. Some have not yet married, either because they’re too young (as is clearly Berna’s case) or because they want to delay it, but most likely will someday. Others have already married and had children, disappearing from the stage for years at a time. Some of them deal with abusive husbands who strike and belittle them. And they continue to make great music, forging their way through life as both women and singers.

Izzet Ilyas ئىززەت ئىلياس

Izzet Ilyas is an Ürümchi native and actress in the Xinjiang Opera Troupe. She graduated from the acting major at the Central Theatre Conservatory in Beijing in the 1980s and has performed in Japan, Taiwan, and the former Soviet Union. She gained a following as a singer in the 1990s and still appears onstage today, including in the championship round of Season 1 of the Voice of the Silk Road.

Here’s a recent recording of her “Quyash Qizi” (Daughter of the sun):

And a much older recording, recognizable as such by the accompaniment track, of “Urghusun Naxsham” (May my song spring out):

Nurnisa Abbas نۇرنىسا ئابباس

Nurnisa Abbas, a graduate of the opera major at the Xinjiang Arts Institute, is a singer in the Ürümchi-based Circus Troupe. She has long been performing pop music on Xinjiang stages and was thrust into a major spotlight when she served as a coach on the first season of the Voice of the Silk Road in 2014–15.  Nurnisa is once again a coach on Season 2 of the show.

Here is “Nepret” (Scorn), the lyrics of which are from a poem by Chimen’gül Awut, a brilliant and highly revered poet who also happens to be a woman:

And a link to a collection of videos a YouTube user created, starting from some of Nurnisa’s much older songs, immediately identifiable as such by the midi backing:

Pasha Ishan پاشا ئىشان

Ghulja native Pasha Ishan was, remarkably, given a position in the Ghulja City Arts Troupe in 1952, when she was just 12 years old. She is one of the most beloved and respected singers of the folk repertoire among Uyghurs. In her long career she has performed all over China and the world, earning herself the nickname “Tengritagh Bulbuli” (Nightingale of the Tengritagh, or Tianshan).

Here is a performance of “Ana Méhri” (A mother’s love):

“Tagh Suliri” (Mountain waters):

Peride Mamut پەرىدە مامۇت

Peride Mamut, native of Kashgar, trained for an advanced degree in vocal studies at the Shanghai Conservatory. She shines the most, in my opinion, when she sings and plays the dutar, the two-stringed lute that she learned to play from one of her older brothers. She tends to play medleys of shox (playful) songs from the Kashgar repertoire and has a distinctive style that includes using the dutar as a percussion instrument. Her music videos provide a glimpse into the heavily gendered social worlds of Uyghur adults.

Here she is playing and singing a medley that begins with “Oynay Dep Keldim” (I came to play) and moves to a song known sometimes as “Ayropilanlar Kéliwatidu” (The airplanes are coming):

Below is another medley of folksongs, which the uploader has simply titled “Essalam” (the first part of the Arabic greeting meaning “peace be upon you”) but is actually a collection of three songs, “Essalam,” “Könglüm Xush” (My soul is happy), and “Oynasun” (Let them play):

Senuber Tursun سەنۇبەر تۇرسۇن

Senuber Tursun is one of the most famous, world-renowned of all Uyghur singers, male and female alike, largely thanks to her collaboration with the Aga Khan Foundation Music Initiative. A native of Ghulja, she is one of many children from her family who grew up to become professional musicians (here she is playing with her older brother, the late tembur master Nurmuhemmet Tursun). Senuber does it all, writing her own songs and performing from the classical and folk repertoires on dutar and voice. For the past few years she has been studying for an advanced degree in composition at the Shanghai Conservatory.

Here is her “Köngülgä Nesihet” (Advice for the soul), which includes the always-haunting line “Belkim tashlar bir küni / sen yaqturghan kishiler séni” (They might someday abandon you / the people whom you love):

Here are selections from the Chebbiyat muqam suite, but with different lyrics than that which is sung by the muqam ensemble and taught at institutes such as the Xinjiang Arts Institute (and thus different from what Ayshigül Muhemmed performed in the video from Part 1 of this post):

And for good measure, here’s a third video showcasing her dutar playing in collaboration with pipa player Wu Man at a 2015 concert in Brussels. The piece starts with the muqeddime (introduction) to Chebbiyat and also includes a lovely song from the Ghulja folk repertoire, with that distinctive Ili style, around 20:50:

Zulpiye Kurash زۇلپىيە كۈرەش

Zulpiye, an up-and-coming singer who hails from Khotän and now lives in Ürümchi, is probably the least known of the singers on this list. Her appearance at this year’s Qurban Héyt Sen’et Kéchiliki (a holiday gala in celebration of Eid al-Adha) gave her some exposure that is boosting her performance career. She performs regularly at restaurants and night clubs around Ürümchi with her husband, Alim Abdulla, whose A Studios does the arranging and audio-video production for a number of performers.

Here’s “Texi” (And still . . .), my favorite of Zulpiye’s songs; there’s a pleasant easy-ness and lightness to the way she sings:

“Qizghinmen” (I am passionate), a Uyghur-language version of an Uzbek folksong, which Zulpiye performed at a concert at Saba, the educational center run by pop singer Möminjan Ablikim:


*A note on transliteration: I have transliterated personal names and words from Uyghur using the system outlined in ULY (Uyghur Latin Yéziqi, or Uyghur Latin Script). There is a remarkable inconsistency in the transliteration of Uyghur into Latin script, and so be aware that there are many possible spellings of all these names and words.

**Another issue I’m exploring in research and hope to write about someday is the different place that Uyghur women singers and musicians occupy in repertoires. While they often sing about the same kinds of topics as men—love, mother, father, and so forth—the songs they sing often lack the emotional and climactic high points that are so important to much of Uyghur music. Emotional restraint is especially important for the woman singer, who is also discouraged from using too much vibrato because it “doesn’t suit” the female voice. There are also entire classes of instruments that women are told they cannot learn to play because they’re “too male” or require “too much strength” (meanwhile, no one talks about any instruments that men aren’t allowed to play).