The New York Crimean Tatar Ensemble

Crimean Tatar
Brooklyn, New York

Called “a jewel of the United States’ Crimean community,” the New York Crimean Tatar Ensemble is the only U.S.-based group performing the exquisite traditional music of their heritage.

Crimean Tatars are an Islamic, ethnically Turkic people who trace their history in Crimea back to the 12th century, when they came west under the leadership of Batu Khan (Ghengis’ grandson) and intermarried with people already living on the Peninsula. Their vibrant music and dance traditions have substantial similarities with other cultures around the Black Sea, but with a special flair that captivates the ear and the eye: uniquely accented 7/8 dance rhythms and polymetric songs, deft interweaving of Eastern and Western modes, and precise, athletic dance steps that bring energy to any performance.

Following waves of involuntary dispersal beginning in the 1700s, nearly the entire remaining Crimean Tatar community was forcibly uprooted from Ukraine by the Russians in 1944, driven into exile in cattle cars. Many perished. Most members of this ensemble were born to exile families in Uzbekistan, only returning to Crimea in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Crimea moved towards political stability as an autonomous republic of Ukraine. Three members of the group—ensemble director Nariman Asanov (violin), keyboard player Eldar Ibraim, and clarinetist Aziz Veliev—met in 1990 while attending Tchaikovsky Music College in Simferopol, Crimea. When they came to the United States in 1994, they were part of a second wave of Crimean Tatars to settle in Brooklyn, joining earlier arrivals who had emigrated from exile in Turkey and had established the Crimean Cultural Center of the United States in the borough in the 1970s.

The musical section of this ensemble was formed in the mid-2000s with the addition of trumpeter Rustem Faizov and Lennur Mamutov on hand drum. The group also encompasses a dance troupe that often performs with them, including dancers Seyran Adilov, Dinara Faizova, Yunus Faizov, Uriane Khayredinov, and Ayshe Kubedinova. The dancers’ skill was recently recognized with an invited performance at Jacob’s Pillow, one of the most prestigious dance festivals in the U.S.

The New York Crimean Tatar Ensemble members serve as ambassadors for their culture, having performed to great acclaim at venues like the Lincoln Center and the United Nations. Recently, they co-created a multimedia performance exploring the history and current political crisis in Crimea with faculty at Wesleyan University, bringing attention to the precarious position of Crimean Tatars after Russia’s forcible annexation of the Peninsula in 2014. Perhaps most importantly, they continue to perform for Crimean Tatar weddings and celebrations, and play an essential role in supporting the Cultural Center’s dance school, which is passing on these traditions to the next generation.