SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

12. Sylqyldaq

Sary-Arqa

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.

12. Sylqyldaq (Joyous), Tättimbet Qazanghapūly

The küi emerged when Tättimbet in the late 1840s participated in a dombra competition with a girl from the Naiman tribe. A skilful dombra player and horse rider, the girl challenged men in dombra contests and horse racing and on this account was nicknamed Erkekshora (lit. akin to a man). It is said that Tättimbet and his female opponent competed for a long time and exchanged many beautiful küis, not being able to defeat each other. However, the girl stopped after performing thirty-nine küis, whereas Tättimbet went on to play a fortieth küi and thus won the competition. This küi, dedicated by the dombra master to the remarkable girl, came to be known as Sylqyldaq (Jūbanov ibid., 221–3).