SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

24. Adai

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.

24. Adai, Qūrmanghazy Saghyrbaiūly

Qūrmanghazy once called on a visit to a man from the Adai tribe. Having entered his yurt, he noticed a dombra hung on the wooden framed wall by the entrance. He took it down and, having retuned it in his own way, hung it back again. Meanwhile, the host’s daughter came in and, taking the dombra, noticed that somebody had touched it. When she asked who had played her dombra, her father hinted that it might be their guest, glancing towards Qūrmanghazy as he was sitting silently nearby. Then the girl rested herself down and played a küi unfamiliar to the küishi. “My dear, what you have played is no good!” Qūrmanghazy said at last, and, taking the dombra from the girl’s hands, he played his küi Serper (Impulse). As the girl, called Aqmaŋdai, was herself an acclaimed dombra player in that region, she was astonished by the guest’s mastery. The hosts of the house, having recognised in him the famous küishi, entreated him to stay on and for several days enjoyed his playing. Tradition has it that Qūrmanghazy, pleased by their attention, dedicated this küi to the girl, and it came to be called Adai Qyz (Adai Girl), or Adai (Jūbanov ibid., 48–9).