SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

4. Beijin sary atan


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).

4. Beijin sary atan (Beijing’s Golden Camel), folk küi

Prior to the twentieth century the Kazakhs of present-day Western Mongolia and Chinese Xinjiang formed one community subordinate to the Qing dynasty in China. This küi refers to the time when the Qing government imposed livestock taxation on Kazakh communities migrating between the south and north of the Altai. As the küi narrative goes, a poor man’s camel was taken away by tax collectors and for a long time was used for trading, to transport goods from Beijing to Xinjiang. Missing his former master and home, one night the camel ran away and came to his home settlement. In this küi the sybyzghy player depicts the gait and roar of the fleeing camel longing for his homeland.