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June 12, 2018

June 12, 2018

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The Story of Kazakh Songs

May 5, 2018

Kazakh folk songs are very melodious and extremely beautiful. I'm talking about real Kazakh folk songs, which our fathers and ancestors sang. Not about modern songs, which have very little that is left of the Kazakh culture. Kazakhs say a song is the beauty of the soul. Our ancestors knew that a song improves and purifies human’s soul. And they knew that people who love the songs can’t be bad people. Many people are underestimating the importance of a Kazakh song.

But the song is the code, the key to a magical world of sounds, which is unreachable to us in our everyday busy lifes. Kazakh songs connect us by invisible threads with our departed ancestors. With the help of a song we can talk to our ancestors and learn from them how to explore the world. With the help of a song we are still able to talk to our future descendants and tell them how we are living.


Old legend on Song

A song among Kazakhs has always occupied an important place in their lives. We sang songs when a child was born and when we accompanied person on his last journey. In the difficult times a song inspired us to fight and in the moments of joy she spread our wings. Kazakhs have an old legend about how the Song appeared among us. The Song flew over the earth, flying over different countries and lands. Where there were high mountains the Song stayed, but only for a short time. Where there was a sea the Song did not stay on and flew past. And just flying over the endless and wide steppes the Song flew freely lower to the ground and nothing stopped her.

And the Song liked this and she stopped in the steppe. She stayed in the steppe, where Kazakhs always lived. And since then the Kazakhs and the Song became inseparable friends. Because the Song stayed with them. And therefore the Kazakhs love the songs and love to sing. And therefore Kazakh songs are so broad and boundless as the steppes where they lived.


The Real Kazakh Song

Today it is very difficult to hear a real Kazakh song. Let me explain why. Kazakh folk song was created only for the performance of live voice and was designed for a small group of listeners. At the times when Kazakh songs were created there was no western culture of singing in large concert halls with large number of musical instruments.

I'm talking about ancient times when Kazakhs lived in the steppe and used only natural, not electric musical instruments. We sang the songs at those times only live and more in open space, where human voice and sound of instrument did not have any limits. We sang our songs outdoor. The song had its own natural rhythm, tone and energy. And the most important fact in Kazakh songs was that the words and the voice of the singer. The sound of musical instruments never drowned out them, but only emphasized the beauty of a song. Every Kazakh family sang songs and every second person in the steppe was playing Dombyra.

Almost everybody sang the songs. Almost every nomad was developed in terms of songs and understood what music and song were. Real Kazakh men understood music and this was one of his obligatory dignities. In the moments of inspiration Kazakhs could quickly play on Dombyra a tune. Find verses to a melody and play a song to his close relatives. If the song was successful it was memorized quickly by ear and quickly passed from house to house, from village to village, and the song spread across the steppe in such a way.

In the old days people did not use musical notes and did not know musical writing. Melodies and words were memorized instantly, just after one performance. People in the steppe had phenomenal memory capabilities. People were listeners, judges of art and song critics. And even now adherents of old school of Dombyra do not teach to play Dombyra with the notes only by listening. And this way of training is very good for children's development.


When the song changed

Later, when people started listening the songs indoors and accompanied by several musical instruments, Kazakh song began to lose its naturalness and authenticity. It felt cramped and uncomfortable. It looked like a nomad, who lost his horse and who had to sit for a long time without moving. And when people began to sing song into microphone and accompanied by electric musical instruments, then song just hid, closed and took offense on people, who have forgotten how to sing it. Modern arrangement, singing it into microphone and with musical instruments just kills the song. It is not opened up to listener. It lost its musical structure, its meaning, its energy. And that's another song. Not that song that was originally created by human. Many nations probably had the same problem with the song. Simply, we Kazakhs even in the 21st century still are feeling it, weeping, but, probably, can no longer do something. 


Dombyra and Song

The Kazakh song really should be performed with a live voice and always accompanied by Kazakh Dombyra. Song and Kazakh Dombyra really have found each other. And sound together very organically, we can even say, they complement each other.

Of course, Kazakh songs are performed with other folk instruments, such as Kobyz, accordion, Syrnay. Really folk song opens up and shows its best qualities only when performed with a live Dombyra. Dombyra is a simple musical instrument. But what a rich palette of sounds Dombyra may issue. There is no other musical instrument in the world that would be so pleasant to hear for a Kazakh.

In the sounds of Dombyra we hear clatter of our forgotten war horses, we hear our battle generic cries and sounds of swords gnashing. And if you carefully listen to the voice of Dombyra you can also hear wind in the ears and smell the steppe sagebrush. There is our whole steppe life and great history in the sounds of Dombyra. Generally, the Dombyra for Kazakhs is a sacred instrument. Kobyz was such sacred instrument for our ancestors in the times before Dombyra. With the help of Kobyz and later Dombyra our ancestors talked to God. The brightest compositions of the great steppe musicians performed with Dombyra our ancestors called as "whisper of Tengry". The issue of Dombyra is unlimited as unlimited in terms of space and time Kazakh melodies - Kui. And this is a separate story.


Live tunes. Sounds of nature

In our crazy electronic times, it is less possible to hear song performed by simple live voice. People are singing catastrophically little with live voice. We have to hear and listen less to the live sounds of nature. We hear less and less live voices of birds, animals and wild animals. We are increasingly surrounded by artificial sounds of inanimate objects. The roar of cars has become a permanent background sound for urban residents; electrical items sounds, lifeless words issued by various kinds of song "boxes". And all these sounds are increasingly surrounding human and pressing on him from all sides. All these dead sounds are killing live in human, changing its natural essence. Even silence it is difficult to listen to. Human body is designed in such a way, that only live sounds with certain frequency characteristics are useful for his health.

I guess the most useful sounds for human are high-frequency sounds. And the sounds of low frequencies down human. Live sounds, human voices, voices of animals, natural sounds they all exalt human. They are all the sounds of hight. When humans are immersed into light sounds, his body, his essence harmonizes with these sounds. And humans feel well; he generates positive energy of sounds. Then this positive energy allows him to live in the Universe and fulfill his destiny.


First was the Word

Kazakhs are children of nature. Their songs are coming from nature. For thousands of years they have lived in nature, they are its integral part. And, of course, they have realized the purpose of sound and energy. And they were singing songs about what they saw around them. Kazakh songs, in general, are quite simple. Their meaning is clear to anyone, but on the other hand they have a deep meaning. Especially in the folk songs. People, when they sing, do not pay attention. Kazakhs and their ancestors have always given importance to the words. They understood that words were energy and they needed to use it skillfully. Kazakhs have always known that words were a  much stronger tool than even a warrior's sword.

Apt and true words in the steppe have always had value. And words were a real weapon. Kazakhs have said: "A wit with a tongue, from which is dripping honey, put off the horse, a warrior with a sword, from which is dripping blood". Kazakhs had really very strong culture for words. School of Bii (“judges, rulers”) and Sheshen (wits) were strongly developed in the steppe.

Even nowadays Kazakhs have kept an ancient art such as "Aitys" (from the word "aytu" - "to speak", "to answer"). This is a contest of two wits im


provisers. The goal of this art is contest of two opponents, who must defeat each other in a verbal duel in front of numerous spectators and judges. Subject of verbal battle is not known in advance and only determined by judges just during the competition. Participants should improvise on the fly while composing his song in the form of rhymed verses playing Dombyra . This verbal battle requires a sharp mind, quick reaction and great poetic and musical abilities. Therefore Aytys is a Major League of folk art. 


Song schools and types of the songs

Kazakhs like many other people have their own different song schools. Our schools formed on geographical or regional basis. For example, there is the school of Arka (Arch), area of Central and Northern Kazakhstan. These songs are more melodic, even poetic, with very smooth melodies. Probably these songs reflect the beauty of the steppe and forest oases of Northern Kazakhstan.

There is also a Southern school “Syr Eli”, which is the school of people of Syr Darya River and Aral Sea. Songs of this region are different from others with their continuity to ancient Zhyr songs, which were performed by bard narrators. These songs resemble old songs of edifications, which nowadays is no longer performed.

There is another motive, another and very deep meaning. Such songs, special performers can perform for many hours without a break sinking into a trance. Today no one can sing such songs; this is the history of antiquity.

There is also school of Western Kazakhstan. The songs of this school, as well as their Dombyra melodies are distinguished by strong energy. These songs are energetic and life-affirming. You can hear in these songs single fights of steppe heroes or an avalanche of riders coming in the vast steppes of Western Kazakhstan. 

Kazakhs have different kinds of songs. For example, Terme song. This is a song of edification, which is teaching experience life lessons of people in short form. Songs Zhyr are great epic works devoted to the well-known historical events and great men. They pass on wisdom of centuries to those who are willing to accept this wisdom. And for those who know the wisdom, time does not exist. People created it artificially. We, our ancestors and future descendants live in one stream of the Universe only separated by boundaries of human lives. Kazakhs are saying: "Life is misleading; it all the time slips away from you." They like no other, felt and understood it and sang about it in their songs. 


We can talk about songs a lot, just not retell everything. It is better to come to the Kazakh steppe, listen and sing a Kazakh folk songs with us and you'll know yourself. Songs are a little what we have from our ancestors and what we must pass on to our descendants. Kazakh songs are the soul of Kazakhs.


Travel in Kazakhstan with English speaking guide - Dildabek Bekman 

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