SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

4. Erden

Southern and Central Kazakhstan

Qobyz performance

The recording begins in the southern and central regions of Kazakhstan, historically linked to performance on the qobyz, a fiddle with two horsehair strings, with which the Kazakhs associate the beginnings of their music. Although known across Kazakhstan, the instrument is believed to have emerged on the shores of the Syr-Darya River with the first legendary Kazakh shaman and musician, Qorqyt, who created it to escape death by means of its magical sounds. Originally used by shamans (baqsy) and epic bards (jyrau) to call ancestral spirits, the qobyz was brought into art music by the master of instrumental pieces, küis, Yqylas Dükenūly (1843–1916), while retaining its sacred significance. Following suppression and modernisation during the Soviet period, the original instrument and its repertoire were revived in the late twentieth century.

Aqnar Shäripbaeva, a direct descendant of Yqylas who studied under Äbdimanap Jūmabekov, a pupil of Yqylas’s successor Däulet Myqtybaev, performs a küi ascribed to Qorqyt (Track 1), two onomatopoeic folk küis (Tracks 2–3) reminiscent of shamanic music-making in which spirit-protectors were invoked through imitation of totemic animals and birds, and pieces by Yqylas (Tracks 4–6). Her interpretations bring out the extraordinary expressive versatility of the qobyz, whose raspy sound enriched with harmonics derives from elaborate techniques of finger stopping and bowing the horsehair strings.

4. Erden,Yqylas Dükenūly

When Yqylas was a boy, his settlement was attacked by thieves who drove away their horses. It became known that the thieves had come from the settlement of Erden, the district head. Together with a few old people Yqylas went to this settlement to negotiate with Erden and they were given a hospitable welcome. Sitting down with the guests, Erden suddenly took his qobyz and began to play a plaintive tune which reiterated endlessly. This was a tune Erden had played since the death of his only son, Aimende. At first he had played it while staying in bed, unable to attend to his duties. Then, heeding the pleas of the warrior Shoqai as spokesman for the people, he had risen and returned to his responsibilities though still playing this tune. Yqylas remained under the spell of the tune and at a point when he was alone in the yurt, he took Erden’s qobyz and played the tune, adding a continuation which said through music: “Oh, my dear, beloved” (Beu! Ainalaiyn qaraghym-ai). Erden who overheard the sound of the qobyz entered the yurt and with the words ‘Apparently you are a qobyz player’ asked Yqylas to play for him. When Yqylas had twice performed Erden’s tune with his own addition, Erden started to cry inconsolably and asked Yqylas to repeat it again and again. After that, satisfied by the boy’s playing, he kept him in his settlement with his companions as guests and, when they were leaving, returned the missing horses together with generous gifts. The küi which Yqylas based upon Erden’s tune during this trip came to be called Erden (Qosbasarov ibid., 20–1).