Uyghur Music

Uyghur people has been known for their vibrant music and ethnic dances since very anciant times. Music and dance occupy a significant place in life of the Uyghurs. There are no holidays, parties and wedding festivities without music and dances. Uighur traditional songs are remarkable for their melodious originality.

The most prestigious and well-known genre of Uyghur music is the Muqam. 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. Unlike the Arab tradition, the term muqam does not imply mode to Uyghurs. Its associations include mood, smell or style (piraq), pitch, tone of voice, person, time or place.

The music of Uyghur Muqam is characterized by variations and continuity of musical patterns. 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.

Uyghur Muqam can be classitied into four main categories, namely the Twelve Muqam, Dolan Muqam, Turfan Muqam and Qumul Muqam. Among them, Uyghur Twelve Muqam , known as the mother of Music, embodies as a concentranted reflection of the wisdom and talent of the Uyghur People in Music creation. It consists of more than 300 pieces of a total length of over 20 hours.

In November of 2005, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization) proclaimed the Art of Uyghur Muqam as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of humanity (a UNESCO program that ensures that the best of every country's traditions is preserved, developed and made known to the outside world).

In addition to the Muqam, the Uyghurs maintain popular traditions of sung epic tales (Dastan) and other forms of narrative song (Qoshaq, Leper, Eytishish etc.); suites of dance music (Senem, Sama, Nazirkom); instrumental music; musical genres linked to the ceremonies of the Sufis, and a huge repertoire of folksongs.

Folk songs and Muqams are performed to the accompaniment of folk instruments, which the Uyghurs have in a great number. Some of the principal Uyghur musical instruments are Dutar, Tembur, Rawap, Chang, Qalun, Satar, Ghijek, Khushtar, Dap, Naghra, Sunay, Balaman, Ney, and Qowuz.

Uyghur Dance

Uyghur dances demonstrate diligence, bravery, openness and optimism. Uyghur folk dances are distinguished by head and wrist movements. Their clever coordination is enhanced by the typical posture of tilted head, thrust chest and erect waist. The dances, Sanam in particular, express the Uygurs' feelings and character.

The fast turns of Uygur folk dances emphasize speed and are followed by an abrupt stop, like a soaring eagle that stops suddenly. The various dances all have their own turns. A turning contest brings the dance to its climax. There are special tempi for various Uygur folk dances, but syncopation and dotted rhythms are prominent features in many.

Sanam is the most popular folk dance among all the Uygurs. At weddings, on festive occasions and at parties people invariably dance Sanam.

Dolan dance is an ancient Uygur folk dance popular in parts of Kashgar and Aksu area. Dolan is an ancient name for Uygurs living in several places in the Tarim Basin. Dolan is said to describe hunting. However, some people say this dance depicts a battle.

Sama, a form of group dance for Newruz (Uyghur New Year) and other festivals, is popular Uyghur dance especially in Kashgar and Kucha area. Originally Sama was the name of a primitive religion among ancient Uygurs. People would pray to gods of nature for hunting and harvest by singing, beating drums and dancing at the command of the ritual leader Sama. This ritual ceremony gradually turned into group entertainment for Newruz and other festivals, then evolved into a solo performed on festive occasions. The dance and its musical accompaniment have been included in the third part of the Twelve Muqam.

There are many other genres of dances in Uyghur culture such as Shadiyane Dance, Nazirkom etc.


  • Rachel Harris, Yasin Mukhpul: Music of the Uyghurs. Encyclopedia of the Turks, vol. 6. Istanbul: Yeni Turkiye, pp542-9. (Link).
  • China Vista: Uyghur Dances. (Link)

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