Kazakh Musical Culture
The Kazakh national legend about celestial, supernatural origin of music and singing dates back to the time immemorial. It tells that once upon a time a divine song while soaring high in the sky flew above the great steppe of Kazak nomads and descended to the earth very low, and therefore the nation that heard it is endowed with great musical gift and abilities by nature. People also say: «The God bestowed a particle of /с/шon the soul of each Kazak from the moment of his birth». It is no mere chance that foreigners who observed the way of life of Kazaks in the 18th-19th centuries were amazed and delighted to note an eye-striking ability of people to creative work, impetuous musical and poetical improvisation and involvement of all population, from infants to elderly people, in musical creation.
In the traditional Kazak society, each sex and age group had its own set of musical instruments and genres, repertoire and performing forms characteristic of that particular group only. Children enjoyed playing the wind-instruments made of clay, such as saz syrnai, tastauke, uskirike, which, whenever a master or even a child played, brought to mind the images of animals, birds, fish, many-headed horses of whimsical forms vividly painted and covered with sparkling glaze. Through rendering children’s songs and playing musical games, listening to mother’s lullaby and adult men’s sermon songs (the so-called osiyet oleng), kids got acquainted with the world around them and gradually learnt to become full members of their socio-cultural community. Further independent life gave a new artistic knowledge and experience through participation in young peoples games and entertainment, where music was indispensably involved - kaim-aitys, tartys, and dialogic singing of everyday songs called kara oleng. Repertoire of «young years» was added to by love lyrics and various songs and rituals of a colourful Kazak wedding with bride’s sorrowful parting lamentations and a cheerful youth song of zhar-zhar, a signal beat of percussion instruments - dabyl, dauylpaza, or shyndauyl during hunting of wild beasts or in the war time. In this respect «maturity», implying steadiness and experience, was required for achievement in great state and public affairs, defence of clan interests in an inter-clan song and poetic competition called aitys, performance of ritual holidays and ceremonies as zharshy -organiser and performer of a ritual. While «old age» and «wisdom» were accompanied by musical and poetic precepts to the younger generation, singing of philosophic songs-meditations about meaning of life, youth which had gone never to return, about that honeyed time when one was only twenty five and which passed so quickly. That was the way of the eternal musical and life circle round a Kazak nomad since the ancient times, invariably reproduced each and every year, from generation to generation, thus ensuring smooth functioning of various musical traditions of the people and prompting the great poet Abai to write his famous verse:
A man is launched into the world with songs, And there is singing when he’s laid at rest. Thus, all the glad and sad events in life Have songs to go with them. Why is it so? Until the early 20ieth century all cultural wealth of the nation developed in non-written form and was
inherited «by word of mouth» from father to son, from a teacher to an apprentice, from past to future. Nomadic and semi-nomadic type of economy predetermined the peculiarity of the national instruments and musical traditions, their integrity in the everyday life of each Kazak and life of the whole society, and their inseparability from other forms of artistic creation - oral and poetic. At an early stage of its development music exclusively served utilitarian needs of the ancient nomadic society and accompanied important religious and everyday life ceremonies. Having arisen in the period of formation of the Kazak ethnic identity as a nation, major epic legends called zhyr were performed by zhyrau (bearers of epic traditions) and were connected primarily with performance of military magic rites and forefathers’ cult. More than a hundred legends were preserved in people’s memory, each of the legends containing thousands of poetic lines. They were performed to the accompaniment of kylkobyz, a two-stringed bow musical instrument, or a stringed plucked instrument called dombra. Being one of the most favourite genres of folk art creation, the heroic, lyrical and epic legends such as «Koblandy», «Alpamys», «Yer-Targyn», «Kambar», «Kyz-Zhibek», «Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan-Sulu», «Yenglik-Kebek» and many-many others, brought the stories of real historic events of pre-Kazak history and the time of formation of the Kazak nation to the descendants in the myth-like form. Archaic examples of people’s instrumental music, which appeared later - the so-called kiuis - also performed magic functions at the time of their appearance. In people’s minds and in legends the origin of both traditions - epic and instrumental -was associated with the legendary saint by name Korkyt, the first zhyrau and shaman, «the father of kiuis» and the creator of a musical instrument called kylkobyz. Structure and names of parts of kobyz personified notions about three-level model of the Universe (the upper, average and the lower world), peculiar to shamanism. Alongside with kobyz, Korkyt left a great heritage to the descendants - kiuis for kobyz such as «Korkyt», «Zhelmaya» (name of a sacred camel), «Targyl Tana» (Skewbald Heifer), «Yelimai» (Oh, My Motherland), «Ushardyn Uluy» (Wail of Ushar), and others. Some of them had onomatopoeic character and reproduced voices of animate nature; others represent philosophical meditation about the meaning of existence, life and death. And in all musical compositions listeners can easily pick up certain musical tunes reproducing from one kiui to another over and over again, like words of an ancient prayer, precept or exorcism addressed to God, spirit and supernatural forces and revived in the sounds of kobyz.
The history of development of instrumental traditions of the dombra and sybyzgy is rooted deeply in centuries passed long ago. The ancient origin of the dombra music is testified to by archaeological discoveries: during excavation of an ancient city of Khorezm terracotta statuettes were found, which represented musicians playing two-stringed plucked instruments. Scientists note that the instruments of Khorezm, which existed at least two thousand years ago, have a typological similarity with the Kazak dombra and were among the most wide spread instruments of early nomads who lived on the territory of Kazakstan. The most archaic examples of the dombra and sybyzgy music are /c/tv/s-legends with the names of birds and animals, such as: «Akku» (Swan), «Kaz» (Goose), «Nar» (Camel), kiuis about lame creatures and unlucky hunting - «Aksak Kyz» (Lame Girl), «Aksak Kulan» (Lame Kulan), kiuis-lamentations about drowned children and animal’s young’s - «Zhorga Aiu» (Ambler Bear), «Zarlau» (Lamentation), «Zhetim kyz» (Orphan Girl), and others. All of them preserve the echo of ancient forms of religion, cults and totem notions of people and carry a living history of the silently passed millenniums.
It was only towards the 19th century that the Kazak music was freed from the yoke of religion and rituals and began to develop as an artistic creative activity in its own right. This period of time turned to be the real cultural renaissance of the nation, the golden age of the main musical traditions of the nation, such as instrumental music, songs and akyn traditions. On the vast territory of Kazakstan various local professional composers’ and performing schools were formed. Each region offered a kind of «specialisation» in the development of specific traditions of its own. Thus, the territory of West Kazakstan became the central zone in the development of dombra kiui tokpe, while the area of Saryarka (Central Kazakstan) was the focus of professional song, and south-western region (Karmakchi district) preserved and improved the richest traditions of epic narration, and the Zhetysu (Seven Rivers) subregion preserved traditions of aitys - competitive art of akyns -extempore poets, dombra performers and singers all in one person. The names of Kurmangazy, Dauletkerei, Tattimbet, Kazangap, Dina, Birzhan, Akhan, Zhayau Musa, Yestai, Ibrai, Nartai, Madi, Mukhit, Abai, Kenen Azerbayev entered not only the history of Kazak culture, but also the world musical culture. Their creative work, marked by a vivid individual style, typical structure of images and musical and expressive means, represent the pride and classics of the Kazak musical culture. Creating high art and involving ordinary people in the «divine mystery» - music, these musicians during their lifetime enjoyed great love and respect of people and were always the centre of public attention and attraction. On the very best of them people conferred honorary titles of sals and sere. Creative work of professional musicians of the 19th century was not, as a rule, confined only to performing or composing spheres, but, instead, it included all varieties of artistic forms, poetic improvisation, oratory art, refined vocal technique, high-skilled mastery of musical instruments, and elements of theatrical and circus performances, which in many ways made the Kazak steppe musicians similar to the medieval musicians of Western Europe -jugglers, troubadours, traverse, meister- and minnesingers.
In the 20ieth century the Kazak musical culture is enriched by new forms of musical activity and genres. For a relatively short period of time in its history the republic mastered polyvocalism and the whole genre arsenal of classical European music -opera, symphony, ballet, instrumental concert, cantata and oratorio as well as ensemble, orchestra and choir forms of musical performance. New professional composers’ school based on written type of creativity was founded in the republic. On the basis of harmonious synthesis of the national content and the European forms, 1930 and 1940ies saw the birth of classical works of the Kazak opera art - operas like «Kyz Zhibek» by Ye. Brusilovsky, «Abai» by A.Zhubanov and L.Khamidi and «Birzhan and Sara» by M.Tolebayev. The great wealth of the Kazak folklore and oral professional music formed the story line and musical basis of these operas. The stage of the opera theatre became an arena where the ancient wedding ceremony is deployed before the spectator, the aitys between 19th century akyns Birzhan and Sara, where the audience can hear a song of a hero of the 19th century uprising for the national liberation, a poet and kiuishi (kiui composer and performer) Makhambet, full of inner passion, and a sorrowful lamentation song zhoktau. In the 1960-70ies one of the most complicated genres of the European instrumental music -symphony - blooms flourishing in the republic. Both musical compositions close in form to classical works (symphonies by G.Zhubanova, K.Kuzhamiarov) and a new genre synthesis -symphonic kiui are created within this genre.
Interpretations of the Kazak monodic music for orchestra and choir won immense popularity with the national audience. Especially popular was the folklore-ethnographic ensemble called «Otrar Sazy». It consisted of ancient Kazak musical instruments which had long ago fallen out of everyday practical use and were restored to life by folklore scientist B.Sarybayev. In orchestral performance kiuis capture the audiences by the gigantic power of heroic images being depicted, swift dash of a horse race called baiga, enchanting sound pictures of vast steppe and exultation of mass folk holidays. An inimitable touch of excellence was lent to the «Otrar Sazy» ensemble by its director, conductor, composer and dombra performer N.Tlendiyev.
By the present time a diverse and versatile musical culture has been formed in Kazakstan. Here everybody can find something to please his soul. Traditional forms of musical creation continue to develop in the republic along with composition and
performance in European genres; the world’s mass music (rock, variety art and jazz) and religious music of different church concessions function side by side with folklore and oral professional traditions of the peoples inhabiting Kazakstan - Uigurs, Koreans, Germans, Dungans, Russians, Tatars and others. Musical performing collectives of different artistic styles and trends, such as the State Symphony Orchestra, orchestra of Kazak folk instruments named after Kurmangazy, choir capella, folk dance ensemble, the State Quartet, variety ensembles, brass band and jazz orchestra are all working in the republic. Kazakstan is the homeland of outstanding performers of classical music of the world calibre - Ye.Serkebayev, B.Tulegenova, G.Yesimov, A.Dnishev, G.Kydyrbekova, A.Musakhojayeva, Zh.Aubakirova, and the cradle of stars of the Kazak musical diaspora abroad -M.Bisengaliyev, E.Kurmangaliyev, Nakipbekova sisters. At present specialised musical schools for children (schools named after K.Baiseitova and after A.Zhubanov), Almaty State Conservatoire named after Kurmangazy, the National Academy of Music in Astana, the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre named after Abai, the Kazak State Philharmonic Society named after Jambul, KazakConcert, Institute of Literature and Art named after M.Auezov and other musical and music educational, scientific and cultural institutions are actively functioning in the republic.
Each year the republic brings together talented young people for festivals «Days of New Music», «Zhiger», «Altyn Alma» and international competition «Aziya Dauysy» - «Voice of Asia», while folk musicians are gathered at the international festival of traditional music. Day to day, every year music sounds all over and continues, as before, to unite different epochs and generations, connecting the past, present and the future.