SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

6. Baljyn ker

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).

6. Baljyn ker (Baljyn’s Bay Horse), folk küi

A young man called Baljyn, a renowned horseman, at a grand festivity made a wager with a girl, an accomplished needlewoman. While he galloped on his swift bay horse (ker) around the big lake Marqaköl, she had to make a quilted gown. If she finished sewing it before he came back, he would give her his bay horse. If, however, he had finished galloping round, while she was still working on the gown, she would have to marry him. Taking place before a large crowd of spectators, the contest very nearly finished in a draw, as the young man and the girl were evenly matched in their horse riding and sewing skills. But, as the horseman, flying like the wind on his fast horse, reached the finishing point, the girl still had the last button to sew on to her gown. Having thus won the competition, the young man married the girl, and their wedding was celebrated far and wide with entertainment and amusements for seventy days and nights.