SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

21. El airylghan

Western Kazakhstan

Dombra performance

The dombra performance style of western Kazakhstan, exemplified in both solo playing and song accompaniment, is known as tökpe (lit. ‘stream’, ‘constant flow’), with reference to simultaneous strumming of the strings with all fingers in a down-up movement. The dombra in this area, in contrast to the type current in Sary-Arqa, is larger and oval-shaped, with a long, slender neck and twelve to nineteen frets, and has a brighter, more resonant sound. Tökpe küis are distinguished by sonorous heterophonic texture, dynamic articulation and powerful regular pulse. The major figure of the tökpe tradition is Qūrmanghazy Saghyrbaiūly (1823–1896) from Ural, whose widely acclaimed küis through their widespread adoption in institutional practice, including folk orchestras, have become emblematic not only of this local style but of Kazakh dombra music in general.

Asylbek Akhatov, a dombra virtuoso from Atyrau, is a leading member of the Qūrmanghazy Folk Orchestra. Here he performs a folk küi (Track 21) and pieces by Däuletkerei Shyghaiūly (Track 22), the Manghystau küishi Nausha (Track 23) and Qūrmanghazy (Tracks 24–25), recapturing the dramatic and philosophic spirit of the western Kazakhstan dombra tradition.

21. El airylghan (Parting of the People), folk küi

The küi relates to the time of the Jungar occupation of Kazakh lands in the eighteenth century, known among the Kazakhs as the period of 'Great calamity' (Aqtaban Shubyryndy). Massive loss of human life and livestock resulting from upheaval and famine in the steppe impelled many Kazakh communities to seek refuge outside their former lands by migrating into the southern part of the Altai, the Chinese region of Xinjiang. This küi bears witness to the suffering of the people and their feelings of nostalgia, as they leave their homeland for good.