A review of Kurash Sultans samlung at the Svenkst visarkiv (Center for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research) (Stockholm, Sweden)
My dissertation is an intellectual history of the “Uyghur performing arts,” exploring how ideas about arts systems and genres have emerged through performance and discourse from the early 20th century through the present. I have been conducting field and archival research for this project primarily in Ürümchi, Xinjiang, China, since December 2012. The difficulties of conducting any kind of research in China—particularly in “minority regions”—are well documented in other pieces posted to Dissertation Reviews. In a 2012 series on DR, Rian Thum mentions archives in Sweden, along with several other European countries, as partial solutions to this problem, in that they are friendly, accessible places to conduct research with sources about and from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
In July 2014, I set out for a month-long research stay in Sweden, halfway through my second year of fieldwork abroad. I had long been planning to conduct research in both Stockholm and Lund—and as luck would have it, just one month before my trip I happened across a since-deleted Uyghur-language article describing archival resources for “Uyghurology” in Sweden. The article suggested that a national music archive in the country was home to the personal collection of Küräsh Küsän, a prominent Uyghur musician who had lived in Sweden. After only a couple of days of correspondence with several of the archive staff, I had managed to loosely arrange a week-long visit to Svenskt visarkiv (the Center for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research).
Location. The archive is located in the basement of a complex of buildings in the Normmalm district. The address is listed at Torsgatan 19, but I was instructed to enter through a door into the yellow brick building at Torsgatan 21. The archive is only a twenty-minute walk from Centralstation, Stockholm’s main train station, the immediate neighborhood of which is home to hotels in a range of budgets. Because transportation in Sweden, like most everything, can seem prohibitively expensive for anyone on a budget, I opted to stay in a hotel close to the archive and walk twenty minutes round-trip each day. An affordable option for accessing the neighborhood from further away would have been City Bikes, the Stockholm bike-sharing system, which had a docking area just a five-minute walk northwest of the archive. This same neighborhood is also home to a number of restaurants selling semi-affordable lunches in the 100–200 kroner (roughly $15–30) range, and has affordable bakeries and cafés perfect for taking a fika, or Swedish coffee break.
Hours. The archive website currently lists its visiting hours from noon to 4pm Tuesdays through Fridays. However, when I was there (Monday, July 7–Friday, July 11, during Sweden’s summer holiday), I was able to access the office every morning from 9am until 5pm, despite many of the staff being out for their summer holidays. Per my experience, staff will work with you to craft a schedule that is both convenient for them and productive for you.
Access. Gaining access to the archive and registering was delightfully simple. On my first day, I introduced myself to a receptionist at the Torsgatan 21 entrance; she then phoned someone to escort me downstairs. From that moment, I was free to go straight down to the basement each time I entered the building. I had to be buzzed into the archive offices every time I entered, which sometimes proved a bit of a hassle because of the reduced summer staff. I was almost always able to obtain access within ten to fifteen minutes by waiting for an employee to show up, however, and when that failed, a quick text message to a contact always got the door open quickly.
On my first day at the archive, the ever-helpful Dan Lundberg and Roger Bergner gave me a short tour (including the all-important break-room coffee machine), and set me up with a private workroom, Wi-Fi password, and digital copy of the catalog I needed. I spent my first morning searching the catalog and determining a work plan. From Monday afternoon onward, I submitted requests for up to ten boxes at one time from an archivist, who fulfilled requests reliably within two hours. I was able to spend this “down time” looking through the library holdings in my collection, which allowed me to keep working while I waited on new boxes to arrive.
The collection. Svenkst viskariv, a subset of Musikverket (the State Music Archive of Sweden), specializes in the preservation of and research of what they describe as “folk music, old popular music, Swedish jazz and recently immigrated musical traditions.” They are especially proud of their Folk Music Commission (Folkmusikkommission) collection, along with a large collection of Sami music collected by Karl Tirén. But it is important to note that, as my experience suggests, the archive also holds other delightful, perhaps unexpected collections.
I was at Svenkst visarkiv to look at Kurash Sultans samlung, the collection related to the life and work of Küräsh Küsän (also known as Kurash Sultan, Kurash Kosen, Kurash Kosan), a beloved Uyghur musician from Xinjiang who fled to Kyrgyzstan and was extradited back to China in the late 1990s. Küräsh moved to Sweden in late 1999 and eventually obtained political asylum there. He settled in the small city of Eskelstuna and maintained a full life as a musician and activist until his untimely passing in 2006. Not long after his death, Küräsh’s wife donated his personal collection to the Svenkst visarkivet, where Dr. Anders Hammerlund had been heading an effort to preserve and promote his music. (Note: The archive orchestrated the 2011 re-release of Ärkäk su [Mighty Waters], one of Küräsh’s albums from 1990s Xinjiang, which they had re-recorded from scratch in Sweden.)
The collection consists of ten main sections: 1) handwritten notebooks, including song texts, poetry, and stories; 2) correspondence, including email chains between different actors working to establish Uyghur diaspora organizations; 3) documents, including more materials related to diaspora organizations; 4) photographs, including a large number from Küräsh’s early life and career in Xinjiang; 5) books, including resources from China, Central Asia, and Turkey, along with copies of Ghärb shamili [Eastern Wind], the Uyghur diaspora journal printed in Sweden in the mid-2000s; 6) concert programs, primarily from performances in Sweden; 7) newspaper clippings, primarily from Swedish publications; 8) sheet music, some of which includes collaborative works with Swedish artists; 9) A/V materials, including hard-to-find cassette recordings from 1990s Xinjiang; and 10) various personal items, including trophies and miniature instruments.
The catalog, compiled by Patrick Hällzon and later revised by Anders Hammarlund, is multi-lingual: while the introduction to and overarching framework of it are entirely in Swedish, many items of note are listed under their Uyghur-language titles. Some entries, especially those for the books in the collection, include English-language translations. The vast majority of materials in the collection, however, are in Uyghur, followed by a fair number in Chinese and Swedish, some in English, and even one in Tatar. Knowledge of the Uyghur language is an absolute must to make sense of most of the collection. Chinese is important, as well, and Swedish would also be helpful. If you, like me, do not know Swedish, never fear: your English, along with any German you might have, will be of some help to you. For everything else, Google Translate might provide a cursory way of deciphering the subject of a text when necessary.
Digitization. Virtually none of the materials in Kurash Sultans samlung were digitized, and so I spent most of my week digitizing resources for my own later use. The archivists offered me access to photocopiers and scanners, but I opted to utilize an app to scan and save files directly to my smartphone as I sat in my workroom.
I highly recommend the Svenskt visarkiv to scholars of Xinjiang. Kurash Sultans samlung will be of interest not only to those scholars who are researching Uyghur music (particularly the 1990s “new folk” scene described in Rachel Harris 2002, “Cassettes, Bazaars, and Saving the Nation”) but also to those who are studying the development of Uyghur cultural and political organizations in the diaspora. Moreover, I have only effusive things to say about the accessibility of and comfortable work environment in the archive. It was a real pleasure to spend time conducting research there.
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Department of Central Eurasian Studies
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