Muqam, the transliteration of the Arabic, is a special term for Islamic music meaning 'melody' or 'classical music'. It is a musical mode and set of melodic formulas used to guide improvisation and composition. The Muqam system has already been developed in Northwest China and Central Asia for approximately 1500 years from the Arabic maqamat modal system, which has led to many musical genres among peoples of Eurasia and North Africa. As a common starting point for Islam music, Muqam is distributed in a wide area with various types. Muqam can be found in Arabia, Iran, Turkey, India and Central Asia. Xinjiang has the most varieties of Muqam in the world. Muqam in Xinjiang also has the most well-preserved structure. That's why Muqam is usually called Uyghur Muqam.
According to legend, when the Uyghur ancestors worked on fishing and hunting, they had already developed the habit of improvising songs to express their feelings in the fields, mountains and grasslands. The songs were called "songs in the wild land" at the very beginning, and, through ages of development, they were developed into the present style of Uyghur Muqam.
Besides the legend, the historical origin of Muqam can be traced back to 100 BC. The existence of Muqam had something to do with Qiuci Music and Khotan Music of those days. According to the Twenty-Four Histories (a book that recorded dynastic histories from remote antiquity till the Ming Dynasty, 1644), there was already the term of Mahadur Daqu (a similar music term to Muqam) in the Xinjiang area and in the wide areas of West Asia, where Zhang Qian (a diplomat in the Han Dynasty in the years from 195 to 114 BC, who traveled to the west, and opened the trade route between China and the western world, the Silk Road) and his companions travelled.
The Uyghur Twelve Muqams are an important contribution the Uyghur people have made to the splendid culture of China. It applies various types of linguistic and artistic forms to display the beautiful life and noble aspiration of the Uyghur people, who usually express their feelings on chasing their dreams by performing Muqam music. Muqam combines the special features of traditional music, performing music, literal art, drama and dance. Muqam has specialized lyrics and narratives, and is now a music style that is unique in the world. UNESCO has included the Uyghur Muqam in its Intangible Heritage of Humanity listings.
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