Two Poets and a River

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.

  • Richard Kent Wolf
  • Daulatsho
    Key Cast
  • Qurbonsho
    Key Cast
  • Richard K. Wolf
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 15 minutes 46 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 24, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    30,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Afghanistan, Tajikistan
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • Documentary Educational Resources
    Country: United States
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Richard K. Wolf

Richard K. Wolf is an ethnographic and experimental filmmaker, photographer, and ethnomusicologist based in the Boston area. His filmmaking grew out of research in South and Central Asia beginning in the 1980s. Wolf currently teaches in the departments of Music and South Asian Studies at Harvard University. His works include academic publications as well as an experimental ethnography in the form of a novel (The Voice in the Drum). He is also an active performer on the vina, a South Indian classical stringed instrument. 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). The subject of his next film will be music and everyday life among the Kota people in the Nilgiri Hills of South India. The film will take in the filmmaker’s footage over the period 1990-2020, as well as archival footage from the early 20th century.

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Director Statement

In my work I explore what motivates musicians to be creative and why music matters. As a scholar, I immerse myself in the lives of musicians, learn to perform music, learn to speak their languages, and write articles and books to convey the insights I have gained over decades of research in South and Central Asia. As an artist, I try to evoke what straightforward academic discourse does not handle well—the ambiguity, emotion, and aesthetics of everyday life.