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Kazakh Musicians Turn to Old Instruments to Make New Music

The dombra, the kyu, the kobyz, the zhetigen…. The list of traditional instruments in Kazakh music goes on. These aren’t dust-coated relics. The instruments are increasingly at the forefront of a lot of popular music in Kazakhstan today. They even get makeovers. The dombra is a long-necked, stringed instrument symbolizing Turkic culture. Now there is the electric dombra. Merey Otan, also known as Mercury Cachalot, knows about all of this. She is a musician and graduate student at Nazarbayev University in Astana and co-author of a book about the transformation of traditional instruments in Kazakhstan. In written responses to questions from The Times of Central Asia, Otan talked about contemporary Kazakh music and the role of the old instruments. After some replies, TCA includes brief explanations of her musical references. Researcher Merey Otan speaks last year at a launch for a book she co-authored about traditional instruments and contemporary music in Kazakhstan. Otan is a postgraduate student in the Eurasian Studies program at Nazarbayev University in Astana. Photo: Merey Otan   Merey, tell us how you first encountered Kazakh music and what attracted you to Kazakh instruments?   I have always been surrounded by Kazakh music. As long as I can remember we used to sing Kazakh folk songs at family gatherings, and various celebrations. My sister used to play dombra, a Kazakh traditional plucked two-stringed instrument, and when I started going to school I also started learning to play it. Unfortunately, I stopped taking lessons after a couple of years but I still remember how to play some compositions, kuys, and play it once in a while.   TCA: Kuys is a traditional instrumental piece of Kazakh, Nogai, Tatar and Kyrgyz musical cultures. It is performed on various folk instruments.   Which Kazakh instruments are considered the most popular among contemporary musicians, and why do they attract attention?   Dombra is probably the most popular traditional instrument among local musicians, including contemporary ones. It also has a sacred meaning for the people in terms of national identity. This is evident in the quote of a famous Kazakh poet Kadyr Myrza Ali "A true Kazakh is not a Kazakh but a dombra." This shows that Kazakh people associate their identity with the instrument and incorporating its sound in contemporary songs allows them to situate their music in the local context. Apart from that, musicians also use instuments like qobyz, shanqobyz, zhetigen. Authenticity was always important for musicians and including traditional instruments is one of the popular strategies to demonstrate authenticity for Kazakhstan's musicians. Among the most popular examples are songs by Yerbolat Kudaibergen, Irina Kairatovna, Aldaspan, The Buhars. A dombra and a kobyz, traditional instruments used in Kazakhstan, are shown in a book that was co-authored by researcher Merey Otan. Photo: TCA   TCA: The kobyz is an ancient bowed instrument preserved among the peoples of Siberia, Central Asia, the Volga region, Transcaucasia and other regions.  The shankobyz is an ancient Kazakh reed musical instrument, formerly used by shaman-worshipers to...

Preserving Heritage: How the Manas Epic Inspires Kyrgyzstan’s Youth

A nation steeped in cultural heritage, Kyrgyzstan continues to be proud of its unique attractions, and among them, the epic work "Manas" occupies a special place. The Manas epic is of special importance because it contains rich information on history, ethnography, philosophy, language, diplomacy, military affairs, folk pedagogy, and other aspects of life of the Kyrgyz people. Another distinctive feature of Manas is its huge volume - more than half a million lines of verse - which makes it the longest epic in the world. The relevance of Manas continues, today. Theatrical productions based on the work and competitions to display knowledge of it underscore the continuing interest in this great literary heritage. An observer of these contests, Zhanara believes that Manas still has a profound impact on the people of the regions, especially on schoolchildren who participate in these competitions. "Such events are conducted with a very careful selection process, which implies the serious preparation of the participants. At the end of the day, their efforts yield results and well-deserved prizes," she told TCA. However, journalist Aigerim from Bishkek believes the Manas epic still has a profound effect even on urban youth. "I think the epic plays a significant role for the whole country. Although not everyone knows it in full, key plot points are known to almost everyone and are often reflected in everyday life. For example, 'Kokotay's wake,' which lasted for several weeks and was very lavish. Also, the main characters can be called role models to a certain extent: brave and fair Manas, wise Bakai and weak, vain Bokmurun, whose name literally translates as ‘snotty nose’,” she told TCA. The epic also contributes to the development of young people's creative abilities. "In almost every classroom, scenes from the epic are staged and students study its lines. Manaschi (bards), who continue to be the performers and custodians of this epic, still enjoy respect and popularity. I recently became aware of a case where a young boy was given a stallion in recognition for his outstanding performance. Mairam, a blogger from Osh, sees Manas as an integral part of Kyrgyz culture and traditions. She notes the epic serves as a key cultural code for the Kyrgyz people. "'Manas is a kind of portrait of the Kyrgyz nation as heroic and brave,” she told TCA. “It also reflects Kyrgyz culture in detail, and I, along with many of my friends, turn to it as a cultural touchstone so that we don't forget who we are."

Kozy Korpesh – Bayan Sulu: Kazakhstan’s Valentine’s Day

February 14th may be the international Valentine's Day which is celebrated all over the world, but Kazakhstan has its own unique day dedicated to love and devotion, Kozy Kөrpesh - Bayan Sulu, which is celebrated on April 15th. The holiday is centered on a legend from an epic poem from the 13th-14th century, which conveys a story of love and strength of spirit. Sometimes likened to a Kazakh Romeo and Juliet, the story tells of two heroes - a young man named Kozy Korpesh and a girl called Bayan Sulu - who fight against prejudice and confront an unrighteous ruler to be together. Their story symbolizes the power of courage in the face of obstacles. In honor of the pair, who, according to a folk legend, were buried in a mausoleum near the village of Tansyk in the East Kazakhstan region, a memorial structure was erected which has been included in the list of historical and cultural monuments and under state protection since 1982. Another monument was erected in the city of Ayagoz in 2013. Each Kazakhstani has his or her own approach to this day. Some, like Valeria from Astana celebrate it with friends. For them, it's not only a day of love, but an opportunity to remember their culture and traditions. "I learned about this legend back in high school. Now, even though I study abroad, I try to get together with friends to celebrate it. For me, it’s a reminder of my homeland." Others, like Sarzhanbek from Almaty, came to appreciate the story later. "The first time I learned about it I was still in school, but I didn't pay much attention to it,” he told TCA. “However, one day, I went to the theater for a production based on this legend. It was very interesting; it's amazing how rich the history of Kazakhstan is." Alua, a student of the Faculty of Pedagogy from Taraz, told TCA that she thinks events dedicated to Kazakhstan's Valentine's Day should be introduced in schools. She believes it is important to preserve and pass on this holiday to younger generations so they can know and respect the traditions of their country. "We should celebrate it, because it’s our traditional holiday,” she told TCA. “Traditions should be remembered and honored.”

Kazakhstan Prepares to Host Fifth World Nomad Games

On January 8th, the Minister of Tourism and Sports of Kazakhstan, Yermek Marzhikpayev chaired a meeting on the progress of preparations for the fifth World Nomad Games, which are to be held in Kazakhstan later this year. The meeting was attended by the leadership of the Association of Traditional Sports, the directorate for the World Nomad Games, and the presidents of federations of traditional sports. Marzhikpayev referred to President Tokayev, who in an interview with the Egemen Kazakhstan newspaper earlier this month stressed the importance for the nation of this major sporting event. “To fulfill instructions of the Head of State, it is necessary to host the World Nomad Games at an outstanding level,” Marzhikpayev stated. “Therefore, we must clearly define what measures have been taken to date and what tasks lie ahead. All remaining problems must be resolved as soon as possible. Preparations for the Games are going according to plan. However, the training of national sports teams must be first-rate. It is necessary to provide athletes with high-quality conditions and fully resolve all financial issues.”[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="13570" img_size="full" el_class="scond-image" parallax_scroll="no" woodmart_inline="no"][vc_column_text woodmart_inline="no" text_larger="no"]It is expected that delegations from more than a hundred countries will visit Kazakhstan for the games, which will include twenty competitive and ten demonstration events, with 110 sets of medals will being competed for. Equestrian sports, traditional wrestling, archery, bird hunting, and traditional intellectual games will all be included. The World Nomad Games were initiated by the government of Kyrgyzstan in 2012 for the revival and preservation of the culture of nomadic civilizations. The First World Nomad Games were held in September 2014 in the resort city of Cholpon-Ata on Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan.

“Walking the Silk Road” Chinese Cultural Exhibition Held in Bishkek

A recent exhibition in Bishkek, titled "Walking the Silk Road, Allowing Cultures to Integrate," centered on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and showcased Chinese culture. Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Edil Baisalov, Charge d'Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan Li Baojie, representatives from educational institutions of both Kyrgyzstan and China, and business delegates attended the event, as reported by Xinhua. Deputy Prime Minister Baisalov emphasized the transformative impact of the BRI on the region, including Kyrgyzstan, stating, "It has actually had a huge impact on the political and economic situation around the world." Charge d'Affaires Li highlighted over a decade of fruitful cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and China within the BRI framework. Li emphasized the importance of cultural interaction and exchange within the initiative, noting that exhibitions like this provide opportunities for the Kyrgyz people to gain a deeper insight into Chinese traditional culture and customs, fostering stronger mutual understanding. The exhibition, organized by the Kaifeng Management Committee of the Pilot Free Trade Zone of China (Henan) and the Kyrgyzstan-China Friendship Association, showcased stone carving reflecting the Spring and Autumn period, wood carving themed on "New Year's Pictures," and intricate paper-cutting artistry.

Tajikistan: Atlas and Adras Weaving Included in UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage

A nomination from Tajikistan for the art of atlas and adras weaving was included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan reported. This decision was made within the framework of the 18th session of the Interstate Committee on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO, which began on December 4th in the city of Kasane (Botswana), where representatives of the countries for the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage are taking part. Meetings will continue until December 9th. Tajikistan has a particularly proud history of national clothing culture, and the secrets of weavers are passed down from generation to generation. In the Sughd region, the Atlas Khujand enterprise operates and enjoys benefits and constant support from President Emomali Rahmon. The company's silks, satin and adras - which combines both silk and cotton - are in great demand globally. Their production, which comprises many stages, requires special skills and training. Traditionally, national costumes for performances and wedding dresses are made of satin. The republic annually celebrates the holiday, “Tajik Atlas and Adras.”

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