Music of Kazakhstan

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The modern state of Kazakhstan is home to the Kazakh State Kurmangazy Orchestra of Folk Instruments, the Kazakh State Philharmonic Orchestra, the Kazakh National Opera and the Kazakh State Chamber Orchestra. The folk instrument orchestra was named after Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly, a famous composer and dombra player from the 19th century.

Traditional music

When referring to traditional Kazakh music, authentic folklore must be separated from "folklorism". The latter denotes music executed by academically trained performers who aim at preserving the traditional music for coming generations. As far as can be reconstructed, the music of Kazakhstan from the period before a strong Russian influence consists of following genres:

  • Instrumental music, with the pieces ("Küy") being performed by soloists. Text is often seen in the background (or "program") for the music, as a lot of Küy titles refer to stories.
  • Vocal music, either as part of a ceremony such as a wedding (mainly performed by women), or as part of a feast. Here we might divide into subgenres: epic singing, containing not only historical facts, but as well the tribe's genealogy, love songs, didactic verses; and as a special form the composition of two or more singers in public (Aitys), of dialogue character and usually unexpectedly frankly in content.

Russian and Soviet-era music

Postage stamp depicting a dombra, the most popular traditional musical instrument of Kazakhstan

The Russian influence on the music life in Kazakhstan can be seen in two spheres: First, the introduction of musical academic institutions such as concert houses with opera stages, conservatories, where the European music was performed and taught, second, by trying to incorporate Kazakh traditional music into these academic structures. Controlled by the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan's folk and classical traditions became connected with ethnic Russian music and Western European music. Prior to the 20th century, Kazakh folk music was collected and studied by ethnographic research teams including composers, music critics and musicologists. In the first part of the 19th century, Kazakh music was transcribed in linear notation. Some composers of this era set Kazakh folk songs to Russian-style European classical music.

The Kazakhs themselves, however, did not write their own music in notation until 1931. Later, as part of the Soviet Union, Kazakh folk culture was encouraged in a sanitized manner designed to avoid political and social unrest. The result was a bland derivative of real Kazakh folk music. In 1920, Aleksandr Zatayevich, a Russian official, created major works of art music with melodies and other elements of Kazakh folk music. Beginning in 1928 and accelerating in the 1930s, he also adapted traditional Kazakh instruments for use in Russian-style ensembles, such as by increasing the number of frets and strings. Soon, these styles of modern orchestral playing became the only way for musicians to officially play; Kazakh folk was turned into patriotic, professional and socialist endeavors [1].

Musical institutions

The Musical-Dramatic Training College, founded in 1931, was the first institute of higher education for music. Two years later, the Orchestra of Kazakh Folk Musical Instruments was formed [2]. The Foundation Asyl Mura is archivating and publishing historical recordings of geat samples of Kazakh music both traditional and classical. The leading Conservatoire is in Almaty, the Qurmanghazy Conservatoire. It currently competes with the national conservatoire in Astana, Kazakhstans capital.

Musical traditional instruments

Traditional instruments of Kazakhstan

The most popular traditional instruments are string instruments. First of them is the dombra (домбыра), the most popular and the oldest Kazakh music instrument. Some argue that nomads have used similar two-string instruments more than two thousand years ago.[1] The dombra is a long-necked lute with two strings tuned in the interval of a fourth or sometimes a fifth. The strings are plucked or strummed by the right hand without a plectrum.

The other instrument playing an important role is the Qobyz, which is a bowed instrument held between the legs. It is made of carved wood for the body, animal skin for the resonator, and horse hair for the strings, and the bow. The Qobyz is said to have been invented by the legendary shaman Qorqyt, long before the medieval ages. The "Zhetigen" ("Seven strings") could be seen as a member of the cither family, finding equivalents in China, with the strings being divided each in two parts of different lengths, the bridge being movable and consisting of small bone. There is also a plucked lute called sherter (шертер).

For more information on individual instruments, see

  • Dombra (Kazakh: домбыра) is a stringed instrument of the Turkic, which is widely spread among the Turks. Dombra is made of hollow wood, wooden parts and two strings. 19 (sometimes 22) keys are attached to the neck. Has variation as three-stringed dombra, double-sided, wide-body, hollow-necked and etc.
  • Kobyz(khylkobyz (Kazkah: кобыз)) is a stringed-bowed instrument. Kobyz has a bucket-shaped body, an arcuate curved neck and a large flat head. The half of surface is covered with skin. Strings and bow are made of horse hair. It is made of solid wooden block. Often done with two strings, but also there are three-stringed, four-stringed kobyz and has variations like "nar kobyz", "jez kobyz".
  • Jew's harp (shankobyz (Kazakh: шаңқобыз)) is an ancient musical instrumen of kazakh people that is made of silver or iron. It is not so big, has body and arcuate tongue. The way you play on this instrument is directly related to the interaction with the oral cavity. When playing the instrument, use the right hand to pull the instrument by the tongue. In ancient times, the shankobyz was a child's and a woman's instrument. shankobyz has many names in defferent nations: vargan, temir komyz, komys, aure, komus, vaniar, tumra, kousian and etc.
  • Sherter (Kazakh: шертер) is a stringed instrument. It is played like dombyra, but the bone is less than dombyra and it looks like a kobyz. It is made of wood, but the exterior is covered with skin. More played by shepherds.
  • Jetigen (Kazakh: жетіген) is a polychord instrument. The form of instrument is oblong, it has shape of a box. 13 (or it can be 7) strings are attached to both ends of the box and has special wooden parts on each string. All of the Turkic has jetigen, but has different names of it: tatars - "etigan", tyvalks - "shatkan" and etc.
  • Dauylpaz (Kazakh: дауылпаз) is a percussion instrument which was a military instrument. In ancient times, he lifted the spirit of warriors and hunters. In structure resembles an ordinary drum. The manufacturing process is very complicated: you need to make groove in wood, cover the topwith skin, make a belt to carry it everywhere and stick to beat it.
  • Konyrau (Kazakh: қоңырау ) is a musical instrument that is made of gold or silver. The structure is close to the bell. Bells of different sizes are distributed on a wooden base and, when stressed, produces a enjoyable ringing. Some artists attach the konyrau to the top of their instrument while playing.
  • Zhelbuaz (Kazakh: желбуаз)
  • Asatayak (Kazakh: асатаяқ)

Current status

Nowadays, traditional Kazakh instruments are in use and play a big role in Kazakh music. Traditional orchestras include "Otryrar Sazy", "Kurmangazy Orchestra", "Al-Faraby sazy", and a number of others. In addition, there are groups of virtuosos such as "Ulytau" and "iFly" that mix modern genres of music with traditional music of the Kazakh people, mix traditional Kazakh musical instruments with contemporary ways of recording music. Often you can meet performers who play not only on traditional, but also on foreign musical instruments. Kazakh instruments are used not only by artists, but also is an integral part of the life of almost every Kazakh. A lot of people from the youngest to the oldest people all over Kazakhstan play on various traditional instruments.

The contemporary situation: Revival and Q-POP

The current situation could be described as the effort to rediscover the traditional music as it had been practised before the heavy influence of European musical styles. Although the quality of the performances and the striving for authenticity cannot be ignored, it is for methodological reasons important to remember that the contemporary musicians performing among traditional folk music are all well trained professionals (Rauchan Orazbaeva, Ramazan Stamgazi).

Another very challenging aspect arises from the young composers generation, and the rock and jazz musicians, as they aim to incorporate their traditional heritage into the music they learned from the western cultures, thus forming a new stage of "ethnic contemporary classics", respectively ethnic rock or jazz music that sounds distinctly Kazakh. For the classical sector outstanding: Aqtoty Raimkulova, Turan ensemble; for jazz: "Magic of Nomads"; for Rock: Roksonaki, Urker, Ulytau, Alda span.


  1. ^ "Музыкальное наследие Казахстана | Musical Heritage of Kazakhstan". Archived from the original on 2009-08-14. Retrieved 2015-11-29. 

External links

  • From Folklore to Soviet National Culture - The Process of Formation of "Kazak National Music" (1920-1942) (Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University.)
  • National Geographic World Music: Kazakhstan
  • Introduction to the Music of Kazakhstan
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