SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

7. Jyr bastau

Southern and Central Kazakhstan

Epic performance of Qyzyl-Orda

As a Kazakh saying goes, “The land of Syr-Darya is the land of epics.” Indeed, celebrated as the birthplace of the qobyz and shamanic music, the present-day region of Qyzyl-Orda, extending along the Syr-Darya and further south towards the Qyzylkum Desert, is also a recognised centre of epic performance by jyrau, who, similarly to baqsy, trace their genealogy to Qorqyt. While the tradition of epic narration accompanied by the qobyz has declined, epic singing with the dombra still thrives through oral transmission, perpetuated in both urban venues and at rural gatherings, where narration of poems and tales can last for many hours. To the north-west of Qyzyl-Orda, the Qarmaqshy district has fostered a number of epic schools attributed to individual eponymous bards, such as Balqy Bazar, Kete Jüsip and Särsenbai, each distinguished by a specific repertoire and performance style (maqam).

This recording features Maira Särsenbaeva, an epic singer of the third generation who inherited her vocation from her grandfather Särsenbai and father Alshynbek. Opening with her own epic song (jyr) (Track 7), in which she proclaims her musical and spiritual lineage, she then recites an excerpt from the famous Kazakh folk epic (dastan) Qyz-Jibek (Track 8), comprising sung episodes and a narrative interlude (älqissa). Maira’s strongly-articulated dombra accompaniment and vocal recitative, interspersed with long melismatic passages reaching towards the highest tones, illustrates the role of epic performance in edifying, soothsaying and guiding people through mediation with spirit-protectors.   

7. Jyr bastau (Opening Epic Song), Maira Särsenbaeva

If you say, ‘Sing’, how can I delay? 
I am a shaft of the sky’s song.
The legacy of my ancestors, epic songs and recitations,
I have deepened with my own, fresh feelings. 

My ancestor, Särsenbai, is known to people.
His voice is familiar to flying birds and the wind.
Having a zest for narrating epic tales and poems,
He brought epic singing to perfection.

My father, Alshynbek, was a master of song-making;
Before gatherings he was clasped with gratitude.
His father used to say, ‘Hey, my son!’
‘Hold high your art!’

Särsenbai is my revered mentor-protector;
As his descendant, I continue the stream of his epic.
Now, my audience, show me your support!
I am the flower of art.

Let me first bring back past days,
Draw the image of Särsenbai’s eloquence.
Audience gathered here, respected senior people,
I have woven a carpet from epic songs and recitations.

A dwelling’s splendour derives from its parts.
Water simmers from the warmth of my epic song.
The six [subtribes] of the Älim tribe are respected forever.
From among them I am of the Shömekei tribe.

‘Warble like the nightingale,’ my father said,
‘Kindle with the dombra before the audience,’ he said.
People lending your ears to epic songs and recitations,
I am your daughter; my name is Maira.