SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

11. Qyrmyzy qosbasar


Dombra performance

Tracks 9–14 take us northeast over the Qaratau Mountains to the region of Sary-Arqa, or Arqa, which extends from the Tarbaghatai spurs to Torghai and from the western Siberian plain to Lake Balkhash. Renowned for its literary and intellectual traditions, Sary-Arqa has a long and distinguished history, nurturing an instrumental and a singing school. The local style of playing the dombra, also found in the southern area of Qaratau, is called shertpe after the prevalent playing technique of plucking or flicking the strings with individual fingers. The dombra in this region had a flat rectangular or trapezoid soundboard and a short, broad neck with seven to eleven frets, and was characterised by a subdued and mellow sound. The specific playing techniques and sound properties contributed to specific qualities of shertpe küis – pieces with a leading melody and intricate, irregular rhythmic patterns. Whereas the origins of shertpe are thought to lie in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, the classical performance style is epitomised in the küis by Tättimbet Qazanghapūly (1817–1862).

Qairat Aitbaev from Pavlodar, who trained under Janghali Jüzbaev, a hereditary dombra player from Qaratau, and Talasbek Äsemqūlov, a küi master from eastern Kazakhstan, performs famous küis by Tättimbet (Tracks 11–13), alongside those by the eighteenth-century composers Baijigit (Track 9) and Aidos (Track 10). A dombra version of Yqylas’s küi Jez kiik (Track 14), heard on Track 6, illustrates the link between shertpe dombra style and qobyz playing originating from southern and central Kazakhstan.

11. Qyrmyzy qosbasar, Tättimbet Qazanghapūly

Küshikbai, a rich man (bai) from the Arghyn tribe, lost his only son and heir. Overcome by grief, and deprived of all other means to end his life, he decided to starve himself to death. Seeing this and wondering how to save Küshikbai, his alarmed neighbours invited Tättimbet to make a visit. The küi master came, stepped over the threshold and bending on one knee began to play the dombra. The gentle tunes of the dombra softened Küshikbai’s heart and relieved the anguish, restoring his will to live. Tättimbet thus revived the man who wanted to abandon his life.

The collection of sixty-two tunes played by Tättimbet were given the name Qosbasar (lit. twofold) with the separate pieces in six groups, five consisting of ten küis and the sixth of twelve, each expressing a certain emotional state and marking a particular stage in the healing of Küshikbai. The last group of twelve küis was called Qyrmyzy qosbasar, qyrmyzy meaning ‘dandelion’. Explaining the meaning of the küi’s title, Tättimbet is said to have declared: “A man’s life is as ephemeral as a dandelion. Why seek to shorten it still more?”