Kazakh Music

1. Kazakh traditional musical instruments and ethnic music
Kazakh traditional music can be divided into two genres: instrumental music and vocal music. Instrumental music is called Kuy and performed by soloists using Kazakh traditional musical instruments, e.g. dombra, kobyz, etc. Among the most famous kuy composers there are Kurmangazy, Dina, Dauletkerey, Tattimbet, etc.

Dombra is probably the most popular Kazakh musical instrument. Its gentle, soft and velvety melodious sound is produced by only two strings.
Nowadays some dombra kuys are arranged and performed in rock or modern pop style, e.g. by Ulytau, Asylbek Ensepov, and even classical music is performed by traditional Kazakh instruments, which give them new sounding.

Here is an example of a Kazakh kuy played on dombra:

According to archeologists, along with dombra, a kobyz was also one of the most common musical instruments of early nomads. Kobyz is a bowed string instrument, mainly used in religious and magical rituals by baqsi (shamans), as well as folk singers. Kobyz served as a means of communication with the spirits. Imitation of nature sounds are characteristic to kobyz kuys, e.g. howling of wolves, cry of swans, running horse, the sound of a released arrow.
Kobyz is believed to be the most ancient of all bowed string instruments in the world.

Sybyzgy is widely used instrument in the past, made from a hollow stem of saltwort. The simple form and the availability of the material from which it is made, contributed to its popularity among Kazakh musicians. By its tone quality sybyzgy produces a trembling sound, resembling tremor and agitation of the sound. Sybyzgy sounds could be heard on summer pastures, at weddings, birth of a child ceremonies, during arrival of honourable guests.

Asatayak is an ancient Kazakh and Turkic percussion instrument. The shape resembles a stick with a flat head, decorated with ornaments and hanging metal rings. Asatayak has an open and sharp sound. To enhance the instrument’s sound, bells attached to the head asatayak could be used. When shaking the instrument, bells give additional metallic ringing sound.

Sazsyrnay is a wind instrument, made of clay. It has a clear, bright tone colour. In ancient times sazsyrnay was a popular instrument among children and adolescents.

Zhetygen is an ancient Kazakh and Turkic stringed musical instrument resembling a lying harp. Classic zhetygen has seven strings, modern renovated ones have 15 strings.
The most ancient type of zhetygen was an oblong box, carved from a piece of wood. On this zhetygen there were no upper decks or tuners. The strings were stretched by hand from the outside of the tool. Later zhetygen’s upper part was covered with a wooden deck. Under each string tripped on both sides asyks (bones) acting as pegs. Moving them one could adjust strings and their sound.
Currently, folklore ensembles use reconstructed zhetygen in which in order to expand the range of sounds, the number of strings is increased up to 15. Zhetygen has a mild, melodious sound.

Shankobyz is a tongue folk instrument. It refers to self-sounding reed musical instruments.
To play shankobyz, it should be pressed against one’s teeth or the lips and the oral cavity serves as a resonator. Changing the articulation of the mouth and breathing makes it possible to change the tone quality of the instrument. In addition, new tones to the sound are made by changing the diaphragm position, many pharyngeal, laryngeal, tounge, lip and other methods of sound production. Shankobyz is usually made from metal or wood.

Daulpaz is a Kazakh national percussion instrument. It is a musical instrument with a very strong loud sound, it served in the past to give military signals, such as an attack signal. Loud sounds of percussion instruments were also used to invite people to hunting or to perform religious rites, announce the upcoming migrations, etc.

Here is an example of a traditional Kazakh song accompanied by Zhetygen, Dombra, Kobyz and other instruments:

Vocal music

Authors of many Kazakh traditional songs were forgotten long ago, thus these songs are called folk music. However, authors (composers) of many Kazakh songs are famous and respected.

Jayau Musa Bayzhanuly (1835-1929) is an outstanding Kazakh composer, a singer and a poet. Jayau means a pedestrian. As a nomad Kazakh could not be imagined without a horse, being a pedestrian was not usual, it was rather humiliating. There is a story of Musa becoming Jayau, which is still remembered because of the song “Ak sisa”, in which he describes how rich Mustafa took his horse, forcing him to became Jayau.

Interesting enough is that his monument in Astana is holding a violin in his hands. That is because along with performing and composing traditional Kazakh music, he also studied European music in Omsk, Russia, subsequently introducing a violin to Kazakh steppes.

Birzhan-sal Kozhagululy (1834-1897) - an outstanding Kazakh composer, a singer and a poet. Born into a poor family in a village near Kokshetau. From a young age he was fond of music and singing and later started to compose his own songs that have received a lot of popularity in the steppe. Birzhan’s songs touches on the themes as social issues, moral concepts, the fate of individuals, as well as love lyrics.

Akan-seri Koramsauly (1843-1913) is an outstanding Kazakh composer. He was born on the shores of Lake Ulken Koskel in Kokshetau region. From his young age he stood out among peers by his attraction to music and poetry, and his constant participation in festivals and competitions has given the prefix to his name – seri. Kazakh folk music mainly impacted on the formation of his compositional talent.

2. Kazakh music in the XX century

In the 20 century Kazakh musical culture is enriched by new forms and genres of music.

In a relatively short period of time Kazakhstan mastered the polyphony and the whole genre repertoire of classical European music, i.e. opera, symphony, ballet, instrumental concertos, a cantata, oratorio, ensemble, orchestral and choral performance and has created a new school of professional composers. Based on the organic synthesis of national and European forms of content in 1930s-1940s the classics of Kazakh opera were created: Kiz Zhibek by E. Brusilovsky, Abai by A. Zhubanov, L. Hamidi, Birzhan and Sara by M. Tulebaev, etc. their dramatic and musical foundation were the inexhaustible riches of Kazakh folklore.

At the present stage of development, a branched structure of musical culture formed in Kazakhstan. Here everyone can find something that they like. Along with performance and composer creations in European styles, traditional forms of music continue to develop in the country, and the world mass music (rock and pop music, jazz) is also popular in the country.

3. Modern Kazakh Pop Music

Modern Kazakh Pop Music is not very different from the pop music in other countries. In recent years new wave of pop music in Kazakhstan has been developing, which is called Q-Pop (Qazaq Pop). Many representatives of Q-Pop are popular among young people from other countries, among them Ninety One, KeshYou, RinGo, Ayumi, etc.

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