- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

The tabloid-inspired image of the Aga Khan as a jet-setting, racehorse-owning playboy unfairly obscures reality. In fact, the imam, or spiritual leader, of the world’s 20 million Ismaili Muslims devotes most of his time to a vast network of economic, cultural and philanthropic causes throughout the world.

Cultural concerns brought him to Washington this week for Wednesday’s inaugural concert introducing a 10-part CD and DVD anthology devoted to the “Music of Central Asia.” Because the Smithsonian’s celebrated Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage was a partner in the multiyear recording project, it was only fitting that the Aga Khan fly in to celebrate with an entourage that included a merry company of 17 musicians from Kyrgyzstan,Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

For nearly three hours, the folk-costumed ensembles mesmerized the crowd at the Freer Gallery of Art with song, dance and formidable talent on the rubab and tabla (lute and drums), wood and metal jew’s-harps and other string instruments (dutar, tanbur, komuz, etc.).

Later at a lavish, invitation-only cocktail buffet upstairs attended by such local pals as Alexandra de Borchgrave and Judy Woodruff, the Aga Khan, 69, made it clear that the ancient musical traditions of Central Asia’s mountain and steppe peoples must not be allowed to fade before they are passed on to younger musicians, preferably with “academic recognition.”

“This is the music of the elder generation, and it must be preserved,” he said, speaking of once-remote lands where the children of nomads now live in high rises and use computers just like their counterparts in Japan, Europe and the U.S. “It’s cultural continuity I am concerned about.”

— Kevin Chaffee


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