SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

17. Qunan nar

Western Kazakhstan

Singing tradition

Our journey through Kazakh music lastly arrives at the western frontiers of the Kazakh steppe, the Manghystau peninsula, the regions of Atyrau and Ural. Here one encounters a distinct range of styles, though encompassing similar genres of epic and lyric songs and instrumental pieces. The singing tradition of Manghystau, connected across the Aral Sea with that of Syr-Darya, arose at a meeting-point between epic and lyric performance, represented by the bards Närik, Sügir, and the art singers Qaiyp, Tastemir, Jylkeldi, Tūrsyn, Dosat, Sholtaman and Ädil, known as jeti qaiqy or ‘seven musician artists’, qaiqy being the local equivalent of sal-seri. Songs by the jeti qaiqy are all imbued with sorrowful images conveyed by means of descending melodies, modal shifts and fluctuating metres. By contrast, the style of lyric singing (änshilik) in the northern part of the region, notably that of Mūkhit Meralyūly (1841–1918) from Ural, draws upon the art of poet-improvisers (aqyndyq). This can be felt in a number of Mūkhit’s songs, where the extended vocal tone is set against impetuous strumming on the dombra.

Possessing a dramatic voice of extraordinary range, Aigül Qosanova comes originally from the Manghystau region and trained under Säule Janpeisova, a representative of the school of Mūkhit Meralyūly and Gharifolla Qūrmanghaliev, the ‘Second Mūkhit’, also celebrated as an operatic singer. Here, she gives a flavour of western Kazakhstan vocal styles by performing songs from Manghystau (Tracks 16–19) and a song by Mūkhit (Track 20).

17. Qūnan nar (Three-Year-Old Camel), Jylkeldi Teŋizbaiūly

I’ve bargained one song for one three-year-old camel.
I’ll give it away, if need be, to anyone interested.
This wretched voice is not flowing as before.
Old age has come: so what can be done? 

An aged camel can’t lift a load after his back is worn.
The steppe becomes desolate when people leave.
I’m like a grey ambler with his bridle dragging along the ground,
Like a girl of marriageable age, hurt by any petty word.

A dry pine tree I clasp in my hands.
My voice, what has happened to you that you don’t glide any more?
Lacking laughter and playfulness,
This world is passing away without looking back.