SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

2. Aqqu

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.

2. Aqqu (White Swan), folk küi

Among the Kazakhs the swan is a totem bird whose hunting is forbidden. In this küi a poor orphaned boy at the time of raids and hardship goes hunting for birds to provide food for his grandmother and sister. One day, hunting by the lake, he sees a flock of swans and wants to catch one of them but misses his aim. Having returned home empty-handed, he finds his sister and grandmother pining with hunger and upset at his lack of success, so he goes off again, determined to catch the swan. However, on his way he comes across five of his people’s enemies and, entering into combat, defeats them all. Thus, his failure to kill the sacred bird brings him luck, ensuring victory over raiders of his land and leading to better fortune for his family (Qosbasarov, Bazarkhan. 2001. Qobyz öneri. Muzyka oqu oryndarynyŋ oqytushylary men studentterine arnalghan oqu qūraly. Almaty: Sanat, 25–7).