In the snow-capped mountain region of Xinjiang, the Uyghur Muslims struggle on a daily basis to maintain their sense of identity. Once the dominant group of the area, they have watched their numbers dwindle with the influx of Han Chinese settlers. Being pushed to the fringes of society, one of the few things they have left to cling to is their deep love of music. Director Sameer Farooq takes us to the northwest edge of China to explore how music has provided a sense of liberation for the marginalized Uyghurs.
Although the Uyghurs are known for their traditional style of music and dance, The Silk Road of Pop demonstrates that their musical taste is far more evolved and complex. Farooq shows a society that is both proud of their musical identity and somewhat conflicted by it. This is most evident when Farooq follows a young woman named Ay. More a fan of modern music, such as Pop, Rock and Hip Hop, Ay is the perfect embodiment of the divide between those who believe in a traditional way of life and those influenced by the changing world.
When the work week is done, Ay enjoys listening to tunes online and staying out late dancing with her friends. The latter of which is deemed by traditionalists as something “good girls” do not do. What makes her such a fascinating character is that she is filled with both hope and sadness. She longs to explore the outside world, but is apprehensive about what her future holds. Ay hopes of one day being in a meaningful relationship, but laments that there is little love in relationships anymore. Since most young Uyghurs are unable to find work, the thing that makes her most appealing for a potential suitor is the fact that she has a good job. It also does not help that her options are limited further because both the Han Chinese and the Uyghur are concerned with keeping the bloodlines pure. Despite finding solace in listening to the likes of Alicia Keys, Ay still finds it hard to ease into her nightly slumber without the soothing sounds of traditional rhythms.
Ay’s sentiment to live life on her terms, while still respecting tradition, can also be found in the youthful musical acts that Farooq interacts with. Whether it is the rock band Laji Dang (whom later became Karhan), that spends their own money to put on shows, or the diverse hip hop act X1, the message is the same. They each create their style of music out of love and the fact that if they do not no one else will. Though each group expresses the hardships of making modern music within a culture that is already in the minority, they could not imagine life without music. Farooq does a good job documenting how the influence of traditional music can still be found in the rock and rap music that Laji Dang and X1 respectively produce. The band members speak fondly of how their love of music in general stemmed from their parents love of traditional Uyghur music.
At a scant 53 minutes, The Silk Road of Pop does a solid job of introducing us to a culture rarely captured on film. While it would have been nice had Farooq delved into the politics of the region even further, his focus on music makes the film surprisingly relatable. Farooq shows how music, regardless of style and genre, can provide hope to even the most marginalized groups in life.
Fri Nov 8, 6:00 PM, The Royal