For an overview of Kyrgyz traditional music watch this beautiful documentary about Kyrgyz ensemble Tengir-Too. The first spoken line of the documentary is, “I think that through music you can understand the soul of a nation….” (for those who are watching the complete documentary and are skiddish about monkey innards, beware a reference about 10 minutes in.)

Much of today’s Kyrgyz music is still traditional folk, a proud expression of ancient nomadic Kyrgyz life. Kyrgyz songs are often heroic epics, with traveling musicians known as manaschi telling tales of warriors and their adventures. The most popular story is the epic of Manas— at 500,000 lines, it’s considered the longest epic poem ever written, and one of the most extraordinary. As a well-known manaschi in the above-linked Tengir-Too documentary puts it, “Manas is a whole world and the whole world is Manas….” We’re going to do our best to act out parts of the epic in class.

The komuz, a three-stringed fretless lute, is the most prominent Kyrgyz traditional instrument. The kyl kiak (described in the linked page below the kobyz) is a two-stringed instrument meant to be played with a bow and, conceivably, on horseback. There are other Kyrgyz instruments and they’re pretty darned cool.

In class sing “Sad to Say Goodbye,” found on Music of Central Asia Vol. 1: Tengir-Too: Mountain Music from Kyrgyzstan. The original translates as “Those days of mine grow more distant and distant. I’m sad to say goodbye to my dear childhood. Life tries to steal from me my insatiable youth.”

In class we listen to:
— Tengir-Too: “Jol Jurush (On the Road),” found on (on the Smithsonian Folkways “ Music of Central Asia Vol. 1“). Tengir-Too, the realization of a musical vision by Kyrgyz multi-instrumentalist Nurlanbek Nyshanov (scroll down for information about Nyshanov), to bring traditional Kyrgyz nomadic music together with European compositional forms and then bring that music to an international audience. Check out Tengir-Too on YouTube, as well as this awe-inspiring komuz performance.

— Salamat Sadikova: “Makhabat irii.” Sadikova, ” the voice of Kyrgyzstan“, is a beloved classical Kyrgyz singer who is best known for her strong vocal abilities, which allow her to sustain long notes in accordance with Kyrgyz tradition.

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