Sevara Nazarkhan

Uzbekistan

Central Asia's Silk Road - legend conjures a centuries-old route to a world of fabulous opulence, architectural treasure and music that has entertained kings at court and villagers in communal celebrations. Music embodied by the image of a lone woman singing and plucking away at an ancient lute; an ethereal beauty with tumbling dark hair and a luminous, otherworldly voice. A woman not unlike Sevara Nazarkhan - if she was around a few hundred years ago, that is. She is a direct descendent of this past. Her instrument is the doutar - a fifteenth century, two-stringed, Central Asian lute that is plucked not strummed. When music was the preserve of shepherds and lonely wayfarers, the strings were made from animal intestines. As the Silk Route became better established and the dried fruits and animal skins that Marco Polo carried were traded for gems and Chinese porcelain, the strings were woven from silk. The doutar has a warm, dulcet tone. In Sevara's hands and voice an ancient tradition breathes.

Armed with a healthy respect for tradition and a penchant for sonic experimentation, the pint-sized diva from 21st Century Uzbekistan is doing things her way. Her first album 'Yol Bolsin' is meeting place between old and new and her new album, Sen, takes the Silk Road on a stunning detour.

The dichotomy between ancient and modern exists within Sevara's own oeuvre. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan's capital, she is a pop star. Her first group in 1998 was a soulful women's quartet. During this period, she also sang in the city's popular arts café, Taxi Blues. A year later, she released her debut album and established herself as a solo singer. Despite her choice of western musical forms, her roots are apparent.

Sevara's father, formerly a vocalist of European classical music, headed the traditional music department in Tashkent radio before his retirement. Her mother teaches traditional string instruments and is the director of an extracurricular music school. For a number of years Sevara studied voice at the Tashkent State Conservatoire, where folk music is a rigorously taught and transmitted musical art under the country's formidable singers and ethnomusicologists. It is not unusual for Sevara, a slight, striking woman with long, dark hair, to be stopped on the street by her fans who thank her for her music.

Today her critically acclaimed albums, winner of a BBC World Music award in 2004 and internationally touring have established Sevara not only as one of Asia's most timeless and talented singers but a emerging pop diva for the future.