SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

5. Shynrau

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.

5. Shyŋyrau,Yqylas Dükenūly

One day during his travels Yqylas stopped by a tree on the riverside and lay down for a rest in its shadow. Suddenly he became aware of a bird flying with distressed cries around the tree on whose branches was her nestful of baby-birds. Meanwhile along the tree stem a snake was stealing towards the nest. Touched by the outcry of the bird and her nestlings, Yqylas stood up and killed the snake, throwing it into the river. The bird returned to her young. And Yqylas is said to have thought to himself: “A predator is a predator; whether man or snake, he wants to prey on the weak. I shall tell this on the strings of my qobyz so people are reminded about the black activities of all predators.” So he made this küi (Jūbanov ibid., 294–5).