SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

9. Ighai-au


Singing tradition

From the heights of Altai the journey passes along the ranges of Tarbaghatai and Alatau into the region of Jetisu, stretching from southeastern Kazakhstan into Chinese Xinjiang, and crossed by several rivers, notably the Ili flowing into Lake Balkhash. Out of this land comes a remarkable tradition of singing celebrated for its sweet-voiced ‘nightingales’, Äset Naimanbaiūly (1867–1922) and his successor Dänesh Raqyshev. Though stylistically recognisable, Jetisu singing tradition is connected with the Altai and Sary-Arqa regions. Akin to Altaic songs, some folksongs of Jetisu are based on regular metre and diatonic sequences of narrow range (often hexachord), reminiscent of melodic patterns of throat-singing and harmonic instruments widespread in the Altai region. Some other songs from Jetisu, mainly those by known composers, bear features of the Arqa singing style, marked by irregular metres, complex melodic structures and high opening tones.

Nūrjan Janpeisov, one of the last pupils of Dänesh Raqyshev, embraces a variety of local repertoire. With a voice ranging from a bright, sparkling falsetto to warm low notes, he renders skilfully diverse folksongs (Tracks 8–9, 11) and those by Sädiqoja Moshanūly (Track 10) and Äset (Track 12) in which deep lyricism is set beside vivacity, wit and humour.

9. Ighai-au, folk song

The untrained racer gleams,
Like an owl in a gust of wind floating.
A young falcon will not seize a wolf,
Even tethered to a pole placed nearby.
A mottled duck, beautiful curved neck, my sweet lovelock, 
Like a white swan flew from the lake.

Mottled duck, beautiful curved neck, my sweetheart,
It is vain to utter a word to the wrong [person].
Narrow lips, delicate mouth, blackcurrant eyes,
Every time I see you, I rejoice.
Mottled duck, beautiful curved neck, tender (lit. chicken-like) throat,
Seeing you raises our spirits.