SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

25. Sary-Arqa

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.

25. Sary-Arqa (Golden Steppe), Qūrmanghazy Saghyrbaiūly

Originally from the Ural region, which in the nineteenth century was a part of Bukei Orda annexed by Russia, Qūrmanghazy clashed with local Tsarist authorities and under threat of persecution and imprisonment escaped to the eastern Kazakh lands. It is said that when he stopped on his way to take leave of his homeland, Qūrmanghazy composed the küi Sary-Arqa. The küi evokes heroic images, while at the same time drawing a picture of an endless, animated steppe. It is both a farewell to his homeland and a greeting to the steppe region the composer was about to enter (Jūbanov ibid., 28–30). Symbolically, this last küi on the CD has been perceived as a hymn of freedom and unity among the Kazakh people across the steppe.