You are here
Kazakh Musical Instruments.
Cultural tours in Central Asia and Kazakhstan.
“Kazakh traditional musical culture, belongs to the large ethnic civilization of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia”
World ethnomusicology research has proved that tribes, whose main profession was herding animals, produce, as a rule, a great diversity of musical instruments. Along with this is a highly developed instrumental music, which accompanies important activities that affect all spheres of life.
'Kazakh traditional musical culture', to quote L. N. Gumilyev, 'belongs to the large ethnic civilization of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia'. The special role of music in the life of Kazakhs is reflected in many ancient myths and legends.
There is hardly a match to these myths and legends, in terms of beauty and profundity, in Kazakh folklore. They lake their origin from the ancient tribes and peoples involved the ethnic formation of Kazakhs, who in their turn enriched these wealthy cultural traditions of their ancestors.
The Musical Instrument is accorded the highest category of the universe in the musical myths and legends, which are u part and parcel of the traditional religious system. The Musical Instrument is considered to be the creator and the bearer of cosmic order, and the conductive medium of immaculate powers that harmoniously unify Cosmos, Nature and Man.
"Many, many years ago, there lived an old man who had seven sons.
It so happened that during the famine all his sons died. After the death of the first son, the old man single-stringed a gouged piece of wood and played the kyui-requiem (kyui - a piece of instrumental music).
After the second son's death, he stringed another cord and played the kyui Broken Wings. He dedicated the following kyui to the sons who died in succession, each time adding another string to his instrument: The fire's Cone Out; Joy Has Left Me; The Sun Has Darkened; The Moon Has Disappeared. After the death of his last son the old man stringed the seventh cord and played the requiem After Losing My Seven Sons, I’ve Gone Blind for all his dead sons.'
A musical instrument, as a conductive medium of life-giving energy, opens all tamyrs (blood vessels, sinew and energy channels) in a human body, which according to Kazakh traditional medicine number 62.
'Many years ago, on the banks of Zhaik River, there lived a beautiful girl called Akzhelen. When night fell, she went to the aul (village), on a white horse. Her set of silver jewellery and white dress only accentuated her extraordinary beauty.
She would sit in yurta (nomadic tent) and play all her 62 kyuis-akzhelen all night long. Each one was believed to opened a particular tamyr in the human body. A person feels revitalized and immensely delight when all these tamyrs are opened.'
There is a reverberation in this legend of the ancient notion of a pure, female deity, who with the help of music influences these human tamyrs by opening them to the life-giving current of cosmic energy.
The sound of instruments is vivifying both to people and animals. Legends of musical therapy reflect the 'theoretical' nomadic conception of the capabilities of instrumental music as well as the real life practices of such therapy.
In the 'Bozingen" legend, a baby-camel lost its mother and was dying of hunger because other female camels would suckle it. The owner invited a shaman-musician, who managed to move the she-camel to pity with his music. In the end it started feeding the unfortunate calf.
The musical instrument's most miraculous feature is the ability to 'communicate without words'. It is this ability that saves people from death. The next legend 'Lame Kulan' confirms this notion.
'In spite of his father's prohibition the khan's son secretly went hunting. He met a herd of kulans and wounded the leader. Infuriated, Lame Kulan killed the youth with a stroke of the hoof. After waiting in vain for the return of his son from hunting, the khan declared that anyone who approached him with that estirtu (bad news) would be executed by pouring molten lead into the mouth.
The heroes of many legends successfully made use of the ability to pass on a message using this instrument. The instrument becomes the spiritual twin of a person and convey to its master the thoughts and feelings of a stranger whose music he has never heard before. Here is the "Bel Asar” legend.
'Many years ago there lived a dzhigit (young Kazakh man) who stole a herd of horses. Hot with excitement, he drove the horses through the steppe and on seeing a lonely yurta decided to stop and have a drink. As the old woman prepared tea for him, he run his fingers on the strings of the dombra that lay nearby.
People took pride in the clan's outstanding musicians and rejoiced if their child showed some affection for the dombra. It was a great honour to have a musician as a guest in one's home and an even greater honour if he dedicated his new - kyui to the hosts in appreciation of their hearty hospitality. Until today, this inherited genetic code determines the Kazakhs' attitude towards their music.
Although Kazakh musical instruments resemble those belonging to other tribes of the Central Asian ethnic group, they have their peculiarities dictated by national traditions. Firstly, the instruments were made from local materials, mostly natural or produced by nomadic craftsmanship, Clay, reeds, horns, bone and different kinds of wood form the initial materials from which these instruments were made.
Membranes, bowstrings and strings were obtained from animal skin, intestines and horsehair respectively. Their knowledge of blacksmith, a trade developed since times of old, permitted the manufacture of some of the metal parts needed in the construction of these instruments. The materials used account for the particular timbres of Kazakh instruments. However, to a greater extent, the sound quality was determined by the demands of national perception that formed its own specific ideal musical sound.
On the whole, Kazakh musical instruments are distinguished by there deep and mellow sounds, commonly used registers are the lower and middle, which are rich in overtones. The traditional musical ear is indifferent to clear timbres, achieved by overtones blended with the main tone. On the contrary, the instrument-making techniques and their mode of playing are aimed to produce sounds saturated with distinctly audible overtones besides the main tone.
The wavering overtones impart volume and different pitch levels to the quality of the sound, the type considered as aesthetically valuable and touching in traditional music. Overtones give professional musicians unlimited freedom to imitate animated voices besides the unfamiliar non-material sounds perceived by the audience to be the voice of a spirit and not the instrument.
Playing techniques also permit the production of overtone modulations and splitting the sound into two or three, hence producing complex polyphonic effects. The conception of the sound quality of Kazakh musical instruments based solely on the studies of their structural analysis could be grievously misleading.
A masterly use of overtones allows Kazakh musicians to produce a real dual-sound effect playing the single-reed flute sybyzgy, or produce real three or four distinct sounds on the double-stringed kylkobyz. An outstanding researcher and collector of Kazakh music, A. V. Zatayevieh, wrote that from the sounds produced by a double-stringed dombra he often heard a distinct third sound.
Musical instruments were used in various spheres of nomadic life - shamans magical rites (kylkobyz with metal ringers, dangyra, asatayak); shepherds' life (sybyzgy, sherter, kos syrnai, kamys syrnai); hunting (bugyshak, dauylpaz, shyndaul); military manoeuvres (dudyga, shyn, muiz syrnai, kernei, uran, dabul); children's and youth leisure (saz symai, uskirik, tastauk, konyrau, shankobyz); amateur musicians both old and young (dombra. kylkobyz without metal ringers, zhetygen, kepshik); professional music activities (dombra, kylkobyz, sybyzgy).
The peculiarities of the design of these instruments are directly linked with their functions. The oldest and simplest of them were those used for military purposes and hunting to decoy the animals by imitating the sounds they make. The dombra, as an instrument for professional musicians, is perfect in design, it is not by chance that similar instruments, classified as tambour-type chordophones, are widespread in Europe.
Traditional instrument-making docs not adhere to any fixed standard and the products made come in various shapes and sizes. They adhered to the concept that a person does not have to adjust himself to the instrument, but rather every instrument be made taking into consideration the personal constitution of the owner-to-be and the function for which it is purposed.
Many collectors and scientists occasionally studied Kazakh musical instruments. Outstanding among them however is the Kazakh scientist Bulat Shamgalievich Sarybayev who studied comprehensively their design, historic evolution and functional applications. He jointly with O. Beysembayev and A. Aukhadiyev restored and perfected many of the instruments.
According to the design, Kazakh musical instruments fall into the following groups and subgroups: The next instrument, sherter, combines features of the dombra - shape - and the kobyz -gouged frame, finger-board without frets, two or three horsehair strings and leather upper board.
It is smaller than the dombra and according to legends, shepherds used played it to round up the sheep. The sound it produces is so pleasing to the ear that even birds alighted beside the player. It was played in accompaniment to songs and epics