Kyrgyzstan is a Turkic nation bordering China and Russia. It’s the land of the “Great Game”, which was finally won by Russia, and remained Soviet until 1991 when it declared independence. The majority of the population is Kyrgyz, whose music we’ll be focusing on in this Five Easy Clips.
The country holds strongly to its nomadic past, and the flag, which looks like a sun at first, is actually the inside view of a yurt’s roof – it’s what herders look at every night while drifting to sleep. They are an undeveloped nation and one of the poorest nations in Asia, which is a shame for the people, but also means that much traditional music also remains largely intact.
Because Krgyzstan isn’t well known in the countries where most of our readers come from, I think it would be best to start with a great Smithsonian Folkways video on the band “Tengir Too”, which feels a bit like a documentary on the country as well.
“It’s already been 70 years since we were nomads”. But such a recent development in the grand scheme of things!
Let’s look at some traditional instruments in-depth.
The Kyrgyz flute is called the “sybyzgy” and is usually made from apricot wood. Here’s someone considered a maestro in the country, Jusup Aisaev, giving us fine example:
The spike-fiddle “komuz“ is considered a national symbol, and is by far the most popular instrument in the country. It’s certainly stood the test of time — the oldest-known komuz dates from over 1700 years ago. Made of apricot wood, the komuz doesn’t have frets, but three strings, with the middle being the highest pitch. The strings can have many different tunings, and the instrument can be played either solo or as accompaniment.
Let’s first look at a short clip of a guy playing solo in his home. I don’t know who he is, he’s probably not famous, but the serendipity of clips like this remind me what’s so great about world music.
Next up is another great example of a komuz player, this time as accompaniment to a singer: Salamat Sadikova, the “Voice of Kyrgyzstan.” If she were from almost any other country, I’m sure she’d be a global star by now. Instead, the foreigners reading this article can feel special that we’re some of the few who can enjoy this music with the Kyrgyz.
I warn you, this video may make your lungs hurt.
This is the fifth Five Easy Clips I’ve written. My plan up to now has been to end the guides with a “bang”… this one does the same, I suppose, but in a different way.
Although I’m just a guy at a computer, without millions of readers, I still feel some responsibility in how I convey these countries’ cultures to the world. As Pete Seeger said, we shouldn’t be focused on the big stars who want to come to the States and make a lot of money, but rather find ordinary local people, and show their music. YouTube is chock-full of little-viewed videos starring anonymous people caught on film playing for the first time what has been their ancestors’ music for thousands of years. My goal is to find these videos, compile them, and bring them to you. They might not all be maestros, but what they’re doing is pretty much the same as it’s been for millenia, the difference being a video camera.
So in the spirit of that, a boy with a komuz.
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]