SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

1. Qorqyt

Southern and Central Kazakhstan

Qobyz performance

The recording begins in the southern and central regions of Kazakhstan, historically linked to performance on the qobyz, a fiddle with two horsehair strings, with which the Kazakhs associate the beginnings of their music. Although known across Kazakhstan, the instrument is believed to have emerged on the shores of the Syr-Darya River with the first legendary Kazakh shaman and musician, Qorqyt, who created it to escape death by means of its magical sounds. Originally used by shamans (baqsy) and epic bards (jyrau) to call ancestral spirits, the qobyz was brought into art music by the master of instrumental pieces, küis, Yqylas Dükenūly (1843–1916), while retaining its sacred significance. Following suppression and modernisation during the Soviet period, the original instrument and its repertoire were revived in the late twentieth century.

Aqnar Shäripbaeva, a direct descendant of Yqylas who studied under Äbdimanap Jūmabekov, a pupil of Yqylas’s successor Däulet Myqtybaev, performs a küi ascribed to Qorqyt (Track 1), two onomatopoeic folk küis (Tracks 2–3) reminiscent of shamanic music-making in which spirit-protectors were invoked through imitation of totemic animals and birds, and pieces by Yqylas (Tracks 4–6). Her interpretations bring out the extraordinary expressive versatility of the qobyz, whose raspy sound enriched with harmonics derives from elaborate techniques of finger stopping and bowing the horsehair strings.

1. Qorqyt, Qorqyt

The küi narrates a story of Qorqyt, the legendary Kazakh shaman, epic bard and musician, and the emergence of the two-stringed fiddle qobyz. Qorqyt was searching for immortality and, trying to escape from death, he visited all four parts of the world. But wherever he appeared, death would meet him in a different guise. Then he returned to his homeland, the shores of the Syr-Darya River, and invented the qobyz from a whole piece of wood, covering the instrument with the skin of his sacrificed camel, Jel-Maya. Thinking that death would not reach him on the waters of the Syr-Darya, he spread out a carpet on the river’s waves and came there to play the qobyz day and night. His playing attracted all earthly creatures, animals and birds, who gathered enjoying the music, and so long as he played death could never approach him (Jūbanov, Akhmet. 2002. Ghasyrlar pernesi: Qazaqtyŋ khalyq sazgerleriniŋ ömiri men shygharmashylyghy turaly ocherkter. Almaty: Daik-Press, 280).