Baksi and Jyrau, Duutar and Kobyz

Issue #2 • 4185

About traditional musical culture of the Karakalpaks

The Karakalpaks are one of the ancient, semi – nomadic in the past, ethnos of Central Asia having the rich musical culture. Its formation was running under the influence of historical varieties the Karakalpaks survived, their cultural and economic activity, geographic and religious factors. Traditional musical culture of the Karakalpaks bases on the richest mythological, myth – poetic and epic traditions both of the Khorezm oasis and Central Asian and Middle Eastern regions taken in its entirety. In its most ancient stratum is revealed the affinity with general Turkic, including shamanistic, elements re – interpreted within national art practice. At some stage of historical development, probably in the 16th century, the art consciousness of the Karakalpaks survived a significant impact of Islam and Muslim cultural values. But in case of the Karakalpak musical culture Islam doesn’t take such basic positions as it has in the culture of the Uzbeks and Tadjiks. It is presented by the pantheon of traditional Muslim persons and personages, local Khorezm saints, characters and themes, general concepts and principles of faith, Sufi motives and emotions as well as some musical genres related to Islam festivals.

In the musical culture of the Karakalpaks significant importance belongs to oral vocal and epic tradition. In the 19th century the Kazakh scholar Chokan Valikhanov wrote about that in a form of a poetic legend: “Once the Song, traveling around the world, stayed for the night at the Karakalpak camps across the Syr River. The news about arrival of the imaginary guest spread like wildfire. The Karakalpaks out of number gathered in the lucky aul and listened to wondrous guest from the evening to the dawn, until the Song had got tired and slept. Thousands stories, novels and songs of this guest were preserved in memory of the numerous Karakalpaks” (1, p.235).

The Karakalpak epos and oral poetry are a main source for the study of musical and aesthetic minding of the people. This contains numerous mentions on musical instruments, musical styles and genres and opinions on the character of music. Sharpened feeling of historical realty is typical of carriers of art – musical consciousness of the Karakalpaks – jyrau, baksi and shairi. They interpreted all significant events of the history and its dramatic pages in a musical and poetic form.

Complicated ethnogenesis of the Karakalpaks including Turkic and partly Iranian components influenced a character of their musical culture. Developing within a permanent contact with traditions of the other Central Asian peoples, the musical culture of the Karakalpaks creatively adapted the achievements, which corresponds to specificity of their art mentality. Melodies of the Karakalpak music tune in to the Uzbek (in particular, Khorezm), Turkmen, Kazakh, Azerbaijan and the other ones. This equally concerns the instruments (duutar, kobyz, shinkobyz), logic of composition, repertoire (list of variants) and etc. The Karakalpak epos was developing within a course of the general Turkic tradition.

The terminology of the traditional Karakalpak music has both ancient Turkic and pan- Muslim (Persian and Arab – saz, sazende, duutar, asbab) origin. They knew the term “makam” (sounding “mukam”), which was used chiefly in written sources for musical tone and melody. In the 20th century the lexical structure of musical culture was enriched with Russian and European words.

Noteworthy is an issue concerning a junction of musical traditions in the Khorezm oasis. It fell out that the Karakalpaks studied at famous musicians of neighboring peoples, which were popular with the Karakalpaks. This continues to be in practice in the present. In the suburbs of Nukus (Respo village) lives the famous Kazakh jyrau Allaberghen Taskenbaev (born in 1926 in Muinak). In his repertoire there are epos (dastans, jyr, terme – tolgau), folk songs of various genres and instrumental plays. (Allaberghen jyrau, like a Kazakh jyrau, plays dombra). Usually, A. Taskenbaev creates his compositions in a process of this – moment communication with listeners in a way of creative improvisation.

In the Karakalpak musical culture as in the culture of the other Central Asian peoples there are two basic strata with own complicated inner structure each:
traditional music connected with historical development of the ethnos as a treasurer of this culture in its oral transmission;
modern musical professional (written) art basing on synthesis of traditional music of poly – vocal harmonic system of Russian – European tradition.

The Karakalpak traditional music basically is mono. It exists within conditions of unwritten transmission (for centuries, from a teacher to pupil) and dimorphism. It has two basic hypostases – as organic component of folk unwritten poetry and as independent art. Song component prevails. National musical instruments’ playing is well developed: kobyz, duutar, gyrzhek, shinkobyz (popular with the women), nai, balaman and others, but didn’t become a dominant as in the case of the musical culture of the Uzbeks and Tadjiks. Often, an instrumental version regenerates a repertoire of vocal music and melodies of big epic compositions.

Unwritten poetry of the Karakalpak is tightly connected with music. Real existence of any poetic piece in a course of time could be provided only by means of its musical reproduction. Outstanding Karakalpak poets of the past were simultaneously musicians – singers – jyrau or baksi and were skilled in playing various musical instruments: Jien Amanlik uly (the 18th century) – jyrau – storyteller, Kunkhodja Ibraim uly (1799 – 1880), Ajiniyaz Kosibai uly (1824 – 1878), Berdakh, Otesh and the other singers – baksi. The poet Berdakh (1827 – 1900), for a long time, had had to earn money performing duutar playing at weddings and so was known among the people as Berdakh – baksi.

Use of music was a living intention to activate influence of poetry on listeners. The famous poem of Azhiniayz “Bozotau” put on a folk melody is devoted to tragic pages of the history of the Karakalpaks (devastation in 1859). In the 20th century due to concert performance of the outstanding singer and actress Ajymkhan Shamuratova the poem became a symbol of the tragic history, expression of grief and something like “a hymn of the Karakalpaks” (2, p. 4, 91 – 93).

The traditional musical – poetic composition is kosyk (pl. kosyklar), the “song” based on a simple poem. The term has analogies in musical cultures of the other Turkic peoples. A melody of the song itself, instrumental melody or melisma from dastan correspond to the term “nama”.

Kosyk has a rich genre variety. Songs of the various contents are related to kosyk: love – lyrical (mukhabbat kosyklar), edifying – preceptive (nesiyat kosyklar), historical (tariykhiy kosyklar) and others. They correspond to ritual and not ritual songs. Songs jar – jar or yar – yar (jar – jar kosyklar, yar – yar kosyklar), oleng sequentially reflect the basic stages of a wedding ceremony: toi baslar (initial stage), khaujar (or yar – yar), synsu or kyz syngsiu (crying of a bride), korimlik (instructions to a bride) and bet ashar (opening of the bride’s face) and others. They are expressive and emotional, and, as a rule, have a simple melodic structure within a small diapason that corresponds to a couplet structure of the poetic text, usually heptasyllabic. They are performed by professional singers and participants of the wedding ceremony.

The important event is a rite connected with a birth and laying of the child in a cradle – Balani besikke salyu or Besik toiy. From a moment of the birth the Karakalpak child heard a cradle – song – besyk jyry. The group of ritual songs includes also songs-keen and mourning (jaklau, esittirau), deeply mournful and sad by their character. Usually the close relatives of the dead and specially invited keeners sing these songs. An example of religious – ritual songs of the Karakalpaks is yaramzan being in practice of all peoples of Central Asia under the similar title. It was timed for the sacred month of ramazan and performed by children and teenagers. The religious chant connected with the practical medicine – badyk and gulapsan (names of diseases, correspondent rituals and rites accompanied by chanting), were usually performed by old women in yurt where a patient was. Practical medical sessions were called porkhana (this term was in use of the Turkmens too).

Among the highest art and creative achievements the Karakalpaks is aitys (autyslyk) – a verbal poetic competition, in which the music itself presents as an organic component. Aitys has many variants. Wide spread are aitysi arranged by young lads and lasses (kyz – jighit). This kind of musical – poetic art has analogy in the Kazakh tradition where it is considered the supreme form of music playing.

In the epic poems one can see a situation when transition from prosaic to poetic text is connected with the beginning of musical instrument playing. At the traditional assemblies and parties the instrumental music alternated with vocal. “Bir pasyl kosyk ait, bir pasyl saz ur (“Sing one part and play another”), – a personage of aitys says (3, p. 78).

Jyrau and baksi. The epic tradition the Karakalpaks is connected with creative activity of two basic types of carriers within the traditional musical culture: jyrau and baksi (bakhsi). Jyrau are mainly keepers and distributors of poems and legends (dastans, destans) of the various contents – lyrical, heroic, fantastic – romantic, historical, religious – mythological and others. Their art is a syncretic art. It exists within dynamic interactions of the poetic word, story, musical accompaniment and body language as well as the other methods of influence on listeners. Comparison of the epic storyteller with “solo performance” is well known.

According to some information the repertoire of jyrau numbers more than fifty dastans. Some of them are exclusively Karakalpak, the other are Turkic in general. Some dastans are of pan – Oriental account. The important place, not only in the epos, but in the Karakalpak culture in general, belongs to the epic poem “Kyrk-kyz (“Forty girls”). Well known also are dastans “Koblan” “Sher’yar”, “Kyrbanbeg”, “Maspatsha”, “Er Ziuar” (“Er Zivar”), “Alpamys”, “Garyb Ashyk”, “Gor ogly”, “Sayatly Khamra” and many others. The Karakalpak jyrau, like the storytellers of the other Central Asian peoples, have own institute of the tradition – jyraushylyk including a system of master classes, professional and ethical standards and rules, art – aesthetic and philosophical concepts and musical tradition.

Requirements to precise transfer of dastan texts and melodies were strict, what provided succession. Each outstanding jyrau created his own version of this or that famous dastan, and this version was preserved within his school. This was a process of jyrau schools forming, a history of which often lists several centuries. Tens names of jyrau and the schools they formed are well known: Sappasly Sira – jyrau, Khalmurat – jyrau (died approx. in 1902), Erbai – jyrau, Kurbanbai Tadjibaev, Kulemet – jyrau, Daulet – jyrau Shamuratov(1882 – 1965), Kiyas Kairatdinov (Hairitfinov) and many others. The oldest is considered the school of legendary Djien – jyrau Tagai – uly (otherwise, Jien – jyrau; lived in the latter half of the 18th century), which, in opinion of some scholars, had close contacts with the Bulungur school of the Uzbek storytellers. Among dastans Djien – jyrau created there is a famous poem “The ruined people”, and the repertoire of his school includes epic poems “Alpamys”, “Kyrk – Kyz” and others.

Creative activity of jyrau Djumabai Bazarov (Djumabai – jyrau) is connected with the latter half of the 20th century who is still among us. His art activity is a good example of transformation processes in the art of jyrau. Like the other jyrau and bakhsi, Djumabai – jyrau quite often performed dastans on the Karakalpak TV, participated in concert programs of the international forums and traditional music festivals, what significantly extended the list of jyrau art admirers. One of his monumental works in the television version is dastan “Sher’yar”. The vocal style of Djumabai – jyrau, in the opinion of the American ethnomusicologist Theodore Levin, is close to the tradition of Kashkadarya bakhshi, to so – called “inner voice” (ichki ovoz).

For musical accompaniment the Karakalpak jyrau mainly use a string – bow kobyz. Unlike them the Kazakh jyrau living in Karakalpakstan accompany themselves on dombra or dutar. Each jyrau performing the epic works has in the repertoire a number of steady tunes, which alternate with the melodic recitation of the poetic and prosaic texts.

The tradition of jyrau and the art of baksi are very close. Their repertoire also bases on various epic works, and, first of all, dastans. Besides, baksi in their art widely represent different popular national genres and forms, including lyrical songs. Unlike jyrau, baksi, as a rule, use duutar – the dichord with smooth oblong corpus and a short fingerboard. Names of famous baksi are in memory of the people: Musa – baksi, Djuma – baksi, Shernazar – baksi, Kurbaniyaz – baksi, Khodjamberghen – baksi, Djalak – baksi Shamuratov and many others.

Kobyz and duutar. The instrument of an ancient origin, widely spread among the Turkic peoples is kobyz (4, p. 72-73). With good reason it can be considered a symbol of traditional Karakalpak musical culture. Features of this bow instrument are its structure, a way of playing and specific sounding. Two thick strings of kobyz made of many horsehair create numerous overtone back – sounds, which in the aggregate give unique “space” colour to the instrument sounding.

Pictures of kobyz in numerous painting and graphic variants are very popular in modern Karakalpakstan and are easily associated with national epic tradition. Its use is a prerogative of the Karakalpak jyrau – storytellers. If in the Kazakh tradition kobyz is mainly connected with a practice of shaman ritual action, for the Karakalpaks it is an instrument of epic legends. Jyrau and kobyz form an integral image of the storyteller. However, if jyrau plays instrumental melodies above the epic legend, in this case he can be named kobyzshi (kobyz – musician) (5, p. 161).

Kobyz lives in the numerous pathetic poetic lines that the jyrau and modern Karakalpak poets and writers devoted to it. One of the first who glorified kobyz was Jien – jyrau having devoted to the instrument the special composition, which variants are known in a genre of tolgau (Kobyz tolgau) (6, p. 101 – 102) as well as in the tradition of aitys.

Duutar occupies the wider field of use and, as a rule, is connected with various traditions and types of music playing: with epos performance and various folklore genres. It is known as the instrument of home music playing. It can be seen among obligatory attributes of a traditional life of the Karakalpaks, including its function as an element of traditional dwelling – yurt’s “interior”, and now – in an ordinary modern apartment where duutar hangs on a carpet. The design of this instrument differs from its Uzbek and Tadjik analogues by the shorter fingerboard and, accordingly, by another volume and parameters of sound line. Its strings are made of veins (now – kapron). Duutar has also received rich reflection in oral poetic art of the Karakalpaks.

In Karakalpakstan there are own old traditions of musical instruments manufacturing. Masters (usta) of this craft used thoroughly developed technology that was submitted from generation to generation. The famous duutar master – manufacturer in the 20th century was Seitniyaz Jarmagambetov. His duutars were very popular and were glorified thanks to their perfect quality (7, p. 170 – 172).

The tradition of jyrau and baksi continues to have its vital force in the conditions of the modern life. Interest to their art is reviving on the basis of general revival of national consciousness. The art of jyrau and baksi equally with the other styles and genres of traditional musical culture, again obtains the cultural value as expression of primordial national cultural values of the Karakalpak people.

Author: Djumaev Alexander

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