SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

3. Begim Ber

Altai

Sybyzghy performance

Our musical journey continues with pieces for the open-ended flute sybyzghy from Altai. Lying at the intersection between Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and Russia, the Altai mountain range has long been home to Kazakh tribes migrating and, more recently, settling across the area – the Chinese region of Xinjiang, the Mongolian province of Bayan-Ölgii and Russia’s Gornyi Altai. While their fellow-countrymen in Kazakhstan became sedentary early in the socialist era, the Kazakhs of China and Mongolia have kept a semi-nomadic pastoral way of life, retaining many cultural traditions. The sybyzghy, formerly used among herders and shepherds to call or soothe their animals, became less widespread in Kazakhstan and, with the loss in World War II of the sole performer, Ysqaq Uäliev, it declined, until a modernised instrument was introduced in the 1960s. The original practice of playing the sybyzghy, though, is still found among Kazakhs in western Mongolia, where this instrument with its distinctive husky sound amplified by a vocal drone remains a familiar part of everyday musical life.

Tileubek Mūsa belongs to a dynasty of sybyzghy players from Bayan-Ölgii, following in the footsteps of his ancestor Deldal Sasanūly, grandfather Qūmaqai Shamghynūly and uncle Kälek Qūmaqaiūly, now living in Kazakhstan. On this CD, he performs imitative folk tunes (Tracks 3–6), alongside küis by Kälek (Track 1) and Qūmaqai (Track 2), and a sybyzghy arrangement of a dombra küi by the Mongolian Kazakh composer Qabykei Aqmerūly (Track 7).

3. Begim ber (Give my bek), folk küi

A poor old woman used to pick a sweet plant called bek growing in the Altai mountains. She would keep it in sacks and cook it to feed her grandchildren throughout the winter. The son of a rich man, seeing this, one day stole those sacks from her and, having tied them to the saddle of his horse, ran away. The old woman ran behind him wailing and crying: “Oh dear me! Give back my bek! Oh dear me! Give back my bek!” A sybyzghy player captured this lament in a küi. If one listens carefully, her voice can be heard in it: “Oibai, begim ber! Oibai, begim ber!”