Five Easy Clips Presents: The Music of Kazakhstan (Қазақстанның музыкасы)

Screw Borat, Kazakhstan rocks. (Citation follows):

Ulytau – Two Warriors

Kazakhstan is one of the five Central Asian republics that split off from the Soviet Union in the early Nineties. Little-heard from, at over 2 700 000 km2, it’s larger than Western Europe. After the break-up, they even had the third largest amount of nuclear weapons on Earth, but handed them over to Russia as they frankly weren’t interested.

Like most Central Asians, Kazakhs are Turkic. Central Asia is in fact the ancestral home of the Turks, who moved to Anatolia relatively recently. They’ve only ceased being nomads in the past hundred years. Their ancient culture has been somewhat superseded by the influx of many invaders, most importantly the Mongols, Muslims, and Russians. However, they’re a proud people and many traditions remain. Today we’ll get a sampling of that through the music.

The first instrument we’ll look at is the kobyz. This instrument is very little-known outside Kazakhstan, which is a shame as you’ll see in the video. It has two horsehair strings, and a cavity made of goat leather. Carved out of wood. It was traditionally used by Shamans, and due to its religious connections wasn’t looked kindly upon by the Soviets. One of the most famous players is Raushan Orazbaeva, and it is she who we have the pleasure to listen to.

The second instrument is the dombra, a kind of lute. Most Kazakhs live in Kazakhstan, but they are spread far and wide, and there are apparently over 100 000 in western Mongolia, where this next video was taken. The dombra is popular across Central Asia, but the Kazakh one is different from the rest as it has frets. Strings were originally made from animal gut, but in modern times are typically nylon.

So here’s a Mongolian Kazakh boy struttin’ his stuff at a local music festival.

The Soviets had a tendency to take traditional music and “sanitize” it into classical forms, to the chagrin of ethnomusicologists as much was lost as a result. But a lot of what was created really isn’t that bad at all, and to overlook it would be unfair to some fantastic composers and artists. So here’s an example of that style, played by the Folk Ensemble of the Presidential Orchestra, with a great home video of Kazakhstan’s new capital, Astana, to show what oil money can build (and how outside perceptions of the country may be out-of-touch with what’s happening now).

And just to set you off, here once again is Ulytau, playing Mozart’s Turkish March. You already know what traditional instrument that guy is playing… the one that sounds like a lute.

See you soon with another “Five Easy Clips”!

Got any clips to recommend? Please write ’em in the comments!


You can read Adam’s other posts on PP [here]