March 23, 2022


Film Screening and Discussion: Two Poets and a River

Wednesday, March 23, 2022, 5 p.m. EST (Run time: 2h 4 m) 
In-person Film Screening
Lecture Hall, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
24 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Free and open to public


Thursday, March 24-Monday, March 28, 2022
Online Film Screening

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Tuesday, March 29, 2022, 12:00 p.m. EST
Panel Discussion with the Filmmaker 
Thomas Barfield, Professor of Anthropology; Director of Graduate Studies, Boston University 
Barakatullo Ashurov, Lecturer on Eastern Christianity; Visiting Scholars at the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University 
Marc Perlman, Associate Professor Music, Brown University 
Filmmaker: Richard K. Wolf, Professor of Music and South Asian Studies, Harvard University
ModeratorJames Robson, James C. Kralik and Yunli Lou Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations; Victor and William Fung Director of the Harvard University Asia Center 


Presented online via Zoom webinar. Register here:


Sponsored by the Harvard University Asia Center; Co-sponsored by the Department of Music, the Department of South Asian Studies, the Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studiesthe Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University.

Film Overview: Using the Oxus river as a topos, this film explores themes of love and loss through the lives and musical poetry of the two most prominent and innovative Wakhi musicians in Central and South Asia: Qurbonsho in Tajikistan and Daulatsho in Afghanistan. These two poet-singers share a common language, faith, and family network and yet remain separated by vicissitudes of the 19th c. Great Game in Central Asia. In this struggle for strategic control, the Wakhan homeland of the Wakhi people became a buffer zone between Czarist Russia and the British Empire, and the river Oxus, which became the border, ran right through the center of Wakhan. After the modern nation-states of the USSR and Afghanistan shored up their boundaries circa 1930, the communities living along one side of the river were severed from their counterparts on the other side. The specific condition of being separated by a river in the region has been the basis for poetry about the feeling of separation (firāq) in Persian and Wakhi poetry more generally and thereby grounds the poets’ discussions of love and loss in their own lives as well as in their musical arts. The ethnomusicologist-filmmaker shot and produced the film over 2.5 years (2012-2020) with the editorial collaboration of both Qurbonsho and Daulatsho, who narrate the film in Wakhi, Tajik, and Dari.

Film Director’s Biography: Film Director’s Biography: Richard K. Wolf, Professor in the departments of Music and South Asian Studies, is an ethnomusicologist whose filmmaking grew out of research in South and Central Asia beginning in the 1980s. He has published on such topics as social-cultural “style” in South Indian classical music, conceptions of space, time, and music among the Kota tribal people in the Nilgiri Hills of South India, and drumming, “recitation,” and music in public Islamic contexts in India and Pakistan. He is a performer on the vina, a South Indian classical stringed instrument, and his work includes an experimental ethnography in the form of a novel (The Voice in the Drum: Music, Language, and Emotion in Islamicate South Asia, 2014). His first film, Two Poets and a River, explores the lives of two prominent poet-singers on both sides of the river that divides Tajikistan and Afghanistan (2012-2020). 

Read the piece on the film that came out in Harvard Gazette here: