The Art of Yalla in the Life of Women from the Ferghana Valley

Issue #3 • 764

Customs, rituals and traditions that have evolved over many centuries constitute priceless spiritual heritage of the nation, reflecting key milestones in its social and cultural development.  The custom to sing yalla and dance, accompanying oneself on a doira [tambourine] was very popular in the Ferghana Valley among women who have taken the yalla genre to the level of an art.  Since long ago, in Ferghana, Kokand, Marghilan and Kuva, as well as in Namangan and Andijan Provinces, women gathered in ichkari, the women’s quarters, to sing about their lot, accompanying themselves on doira or dutar. Yalla music is performed among women and girls during different celebrations, festivals, and weddings.

The art of yalla was passed from master to student (the usto – shoghird method). The company has always been exclusively female, performing only in chambers specifically designated for them.
Russian Ambassador M. Alibekov claimed that in the ÕVII–ÕIÕ centuries in Kokand in the palace of Khudoyarkhan a female company staged performances for the khan’s wives and concubines. Russian ethnographers V. Nalivkin and M. Nalivkina note that in 1883 in Namangan a female company produced several performances (1). On this, M. Rakhmonov comments: “They [Nalivkin and Nalivkina] say that the performance was attended by many women. Pity there is no information about the repertoire or the performers’ names. Still, the mere fact that the performance was staged in the city caravanserai and attended by more than a thousand of spectators suggests that female performing companies in Namangan had strength and import” (2, p. 59-60).
Lapar and yalla improved with every performance, acquiring new intonations, and today they play an important role in the life of the Uzbeks. According to Rakhmonov, formerly, houses in Namangan were built with a small window, daricha, in the upper part of the wall under the ceiling. Women, before they started singing and dancing to the sound of doira and dutar, put water in a porcelain vessel on the windowsill to block the sound. According to long-livers, yallachi women performing for wealthy people dressed in men’s costumes, covering their hair under a hat, and putting on boots and caftans girdled with a sash belt. Yakutkhan Isakova, the granddaughter of Gavharkhon Uzakova, claims that this was how her grandmother performed during religious ceremonies, festivals, holidays and weddings.
During the reign of Umarshaikh Mirso, literature and art flourished in Andijan. Zakhiriddin Muhammad Babur was keen to see them develop, bringing people of art to the palace. There are no surviving texts telling about women engaged in arts during his reign: only pictures of female singers in miniatures.
In Kokand, the development of women’s arts was given a lot of attention by Khan Amir Umarkhan. His wife Nadirabegim brought to the palace poetesses and women-singers who performed popular songs; she also arranged mushoira poetic contests and discourses.
The Mehrobdan Chayon (Scorpio from the Altar) novel by Abdullah Kadiri has episodes describing lifestyle of the court women in the Kokand Khanate. One of the episodes tells about forty girls, who, after the hufton (1.5-2 hours time after sunset), sat on a large topchan (earthen or wooden platform built in a garden or in a courtyard for reposing), sang yalla and danced. Performers were brought to the palace from different cities of the country as a gift to the khan.
Formerly, yallachi women of Namangan took part not only in weddings, but also in religious ceremonies, such as funerals, reciting the Koran and Hadith, as well as ghazal verses by Ahmad Yassavi, Nisori and Koshifi. They were also joined by relatives and formed a circle with a woman in the centre, mourning the deceased and telling about his virtues. Her singing was accompanied by the words “Yo hu, yo Olloh”.
Festive celebrations, such as weddings or birthdays, took place in beautifully ornamented chambers. Yallachi from Chust and Kasansai of the Namangan Province, and from Kaptarkhana and Sukh of the Ferghana Province performed their songs in Uzbek and Tajik languages. The art of yalla still holds an important place in the Ferghana Valley provinces, and even though they are contiguous, yalla music is performed differently in all three of them. Thus, in Ferghana, Lutfihanum Sarymsakova founded her own school of yalla; in Kokand it was Rahima Mazohidova; in Namangan – Gavharkhon Uzakova, Tursunoi Mamedova and Kunduzkhan Egamberdieva. Costumes, doira rhythms and performance techniques of the yallachi are fundamentally different. Women in Ferghana, Kokand and Marghilan perform lapar and yalla under a dutar accompaniment. In Namangan and Andijan Provinces women rarely use dutar, singing and dancing primarily to the sound of doira. The songs performed were both traditional folk and written by classical poets. Melodies were often improvised.
In the Ferghana school of yalla, two trends can be distinguished: folk art and professional music, with traditions kept to this day. Professional yallachi find support in the usto – shoghird traditions, their skill is more refined, and rhythms much more complex and richer than those of the amateur folk ensembles. Although self-taught yallachi may copy the songs of professional singers, their voice range is not that big (third, fourth, fifth), and the performance is simple and straightforward. Professional yallachi though, besides simple tunes, can also perform larger pieces with intoning departures and wide vocal spans.
Sometimes a group of two-three yallachi takes part in celebrations and weddings. A wedding ceremony attended by a large number of people is usually set outdoors in a courtyard. Separate smaller scale celebrations are held indoors. At the beginning, larger forms are performed: major yalla pieces with a measured pace at the beginning, which gradually gets faster; these are dancing yalla, such as Uynasin, Uzi bilsa bilsun, Omon-yor, Gouzallar, Ailanai, Duqi, duqi, duq, and Adolatkhon, the sound of which gets everyone dancing, sometimes for three-four hours.
The yallachi women of Ferghana, Andijan, and Namangan Provinces have played a strong role in the conservation of the most precious specimens of musical heritage: songs, yalla, ulan, lapar… Performers such as Lutfihanum Sarymsakova, Rahima Mazohidova, Gavharkhon Uzakova, Mahsuda Toshmatova, Bustankhon Poshshaeva and Kunduzkhan Egamberdieva have made a significant contribution to perfecting the art of yalla.

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