The Art of Uyghur Muqam of Xinjiang

The Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam is the general term for a variety of Muqam practices widespread among the Uyghur communities, which form one of the largest ethnic minorities of the People’s Republic of China. Throughout history, the Xinjiang region has been marked by a high degree of cultural exchange between East and West, in particular due to its location on the hub of the Silk road. 


Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam is a composite of songs, dances, folk and classical music, and characterized by diversity of content, dance styles, musical morphology and instruments used.

The songs vary in rhyme and metre and are performed solo as well as in groups. The lyrics contain not only folk ballads but also poems written by classical Uyghur masters. Thus, the songs reflect a wide range of styles such as poetry, proverbs, folk narrative and popular topics such as the praise of love and contemplation on life, reflecting the history and contemporary life of the Uyghur society.

The music of Uyghur Muqam is characterized by variations and continuity of musical patterns, indicating close affinity with the musical culture of China’s central plains. In Muqam ensembles, the lead instruments, called Satar or Aijak, are made from local materials and vary in form (they may be bowed-stringed, plucked or wind instruments).

The dancing skills involve unique steps, rhythms and formations as well as figures such as flower-picking-by-mouth, bowl-carrying-on-head and imitation of animals in solo dances.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Muqam has developed four main regional styles, namely the Twelve Muqam, Dolan Muqam, Turpan Muqam and Hami Muqam.

Today, community festivities such as meshrep and bezme in which everybody participates in the Muqam, are held much less frequently. The responsibility for passing on the tradition to new generations of practitioners has fallen almost exclusively on the shoulders of folk artists, and the interest of young people in Muqam is gradually declining. Today, several Muqam pieces are no longer performed, in particular certain elements of the “Twelve Muqam”, which consists of more than 300 pieces of a total length of over 20 hours.