Review of the CDs “Kazakhstan. Le Kobyz. L’ancienne viole des chamanes. Smagul Umbetbaev, Saian Aqmolda” and “Raushan Orazbaeva. Akku”. Asian Music 38(1): 155–161, 2007

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  Kazakhstan. Le Kobyz. L'ancienne viole des chamanes/Kazakhstan.The Kobyz. The Ancient Viol of the Shamans, and: Akku. Kazakhstan.Kyl-kobyz Daukeeva, Saida Diasovna. Asian Music, Volume 38, Number 1, Winter/Spring 2007, pp. 155-161 (Review) Published by University of Texas Press DOI: 10.1353/amu.2007.0026  For additional information about this article  Access Provided by School of Oriental and African Studies at 07/06/10 2:45PM GMT  Reviews  155Love You” dwarf the rest of the album in their sophistication, and it is a shame they have to share album space with such heroic failures. How to Name It?   might appeal to serious students of South Indian film music and is generally worth a listen, if only as a curiosity, but Nothing but Wind   is perhaps best left in that bargain basement record bin.Katherine Butler Brown Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge Kazakhstan. Le Kobyz. L’ancienne viole des chamanes / Kazakhstan. The Kobyz. The Ancient Viol of the Shamans.  Smagul Umbetbaev (kobyz and singing), Saian Aqmolda (kobyz).  One compact disc. INEDIT Maison des Cultures du Monde ( collaboration with L’Institut Français d’Etudes sur l’Asie Centrale and L’Association Degdar, France, W260115 (duration 54:46). Recorded at Studio Kazakhfilm, Almaty, 2003, by Alim K.Baïgarin and Aliaskar Dastenov, artistic coordination by Xavier and Saoulé Hallez, notes in French by Saida Elemanova, Frédéric Léotar, Xavier Hallez, English translation by Frank Kane, illustrations by Françoise Gründ, photos by Xavier Hallez, mastering and production by Pierre Bois. 2004. Raushan Orazbaeva. Akku. Kazakhstan. Kyl-kobyz.  One compact disc. Felmay (, Italy, Fy 8076. Dunya Records ISBN 21-750-8076-5 (duration 45:43). Includes 15-minute video with concert footage, photos. Recorded at Orange Room, Turin, 2003, by Fabio Barovero, mastering by Josh Sanfelici, filming and editing by Parizia Roussell and Franco Rivoira, design by Lucio Diana, production by Renzo Pognant, notes in English by Maxim Chapochnikov. 2004.These two recently released discs already have historic value as the first solo re-cordings introduced to the world market by Western companies of music for the kobyz,  the two-string fiddle, central to the sacred culture of the Kazakhs, Turkic people inhabiting a vast country at the heart of Eurasia. Their emergence reflects the growing interest in Kazakh music and of this ancient instrument outside its homeland, facilitated by the opening of political borders in the aftermath of the Soviet era and generated by processes of change in kobyz   performance itself as a response to its earlier history. Kobyz   or kyl-kobyz   (“ kyl  ” referring to its horse-hair strings), made from a sin-gle piece of wood in a ladle-like shape with a covered lower part and two strings tuned a fourth or fifth apart, has acquired a special status and dignity among  156 Asian Music:  Winter/Spring 2007 the Kazakhs as the instrument of mediation with ancestral spirits invented by a legendary hero, Korkyt, to overcome death. Originally used by Kazakh shamans ( baksy  ) and epic bards ( zhyrau  ) for healing and soothsaying purposes, it retained its sacred meaning and significance outside the ritual domain in the art music of the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. During the Soviet ideological and cultural campaigns, the kobyz,  as “a remnant of the dark past” (Zataevich 1925, 370), became an object of persecution and transformation resulting in an abrupt decline of former practices and a near discontinuity of performance traditions and repertoire, paralleled by the imposition of European-modeled music-mak-ing and training of kobyz   players ( kobyzshy  ). Recent years, however, have seen a revival of the instrument through study, restoration and promotion of its im-age, causing musicians to search after “tradition” and giving rise to questions of “authenticity” in kobyz   performance.The released discs feature three celebrated kobyzshy   on the contemporary Kazakhstani musical scene who, being actively engaged in this process, have to a great extent shaped the appearance and perception of “traditional” kobyz   per-formance today: a master, Smatai (Smagul) Umbetbaev, and two young though already recognized performers, Saian Aqmolda and Raushan Orazbaeva.Each of the three has a personal bond of attachment to the tradition through tribal and family lineage claiming the heritage of former musicians, kobyz   play-ers, and shamans. Together they embrace the core classical repertoire transmit-ted from the nineteenth to early twentieth century and linked to the ancient ritual or epic traditions: instrumental pieces ( küis;  singular— küi  )— folk, those attributed to Korkyt, composed by the great master Ykhlas Dukenov (1843– 1916) and other kobyzshy  —and songs ( än  ) to the kobyz,  each accompanied by oral narrative, a story or legend.Yet the two recordings not only demonstrate different interpretations of the küis  — an anticipated aspect of performance given their improvisatory nature and oral transmission— but also reveal distinctive understandings of “tradition,” influenced by training and, as in the past, consistent with the personality of the individual musician.Through the nature of his musicianship and performance style, Smatai Um-betbaev (b. 1949), featured as “the master” on the INEDIT CD, repre sents an earlier type of kobyzshy.  From the same tribal lineage of Central Kazakhstan as Ykhas, he has family shamanic roots, has undergone initiation in a dream, and has received the guidance of a shaman. Without completing his formal conserva-tory training, he later studied with Daulet Myqtybaev, a renowned kobyz   master and successor of Ykhlas, and developed his own distinctive performance style. Standing apart from mainstream performance practice and transmission of rep-ertoire, Smatai is markedly versatile in his activities— as an erstwhile practicing  Reviews  157fortune-teller, an eloquent narrator, and a renowned craftsman, appearing on the CD with a kobyz   he created himself.The INEDIT album, providing a rare portrayal of Smatai’s art, recaptures the spirit and artifice of early kobyz   players and bards through his reflection on life and death in the mourning and meditative küis   related to the shamanic complex (track 1 “Erden,” Track 9 “Zholdy qonyr”) and his re-creation of the real and imaginary past in legendary and epic scenes (Track 2 “Aqqu,” Track 4 “Qambar batyr,” Track 7 “Qazan”), as if fulfilling the srcinal purpose of kobyz   performance— to connect ancestral and pre sent times and the spirits and the human, and so influence the immediate surrounding world. As Smatai explores the diverse timbre and sound resources of the instrument, the kobyz   in his hands conveys an array of emotional states revealing a richness of soundscape and heterogeneity of intonation— from the restrained, speech-like lament in “Erden” and heartrending elegy in “Zholdy qonyr” to vivid onomatopoeic and illustrative narrations in “Aqqu,” “Qambar batyr,” “Kertolgau” (Track 6), and “Qazan,” and to glorious celebration in “Zhalgyz aiaq” (Track 10).Among the peculiar effects of his playing reminiscent of the past is a charac-teristic interplay of harmonics arising from the acoustic qualities of horsehair strings and specific techniques of sound production on the kobyz,  creating an impression of vertically stratifying sound, as in the küi   “Erden,” where the har-monic breaking of the main melodic line into upper overtones in the principal theme expresses lamentation in a high-pitched, agitated, and faltering voice while also suggesting a symbolic crossing into another realm. This harmonic quality and the characteristic timbre of the kobyz,  described in early accounts as rasping and buzzing, has been associated with the idea of a multi-layered universe in Kazakh cosmology (Mukhambetova 2002, 187– 216). In Smatai’s playing, this effect is reinforced by his penchant for strained and grating sound production brought about by a tense, strong bow pressure. Although a point of criticism on the part of some adherents of conservatory kobyz   training, this feature of his performance may draw him closer to former shamans who, accord-ing to contemporary accounts, would make the kobyz   produce “sharp cutting sounds” (Chekaninskii 1929, 80).What distinguishes Smatai as kobyzshy   is his mastery of singing to the accom-paniment of the kobyz,  a notable ancient tradition now virtually discontinued in mainstream performance practice. His singing style srcinates from the school of Arqa, a region in Central and Eastern Kazakhstan, characterized by brightness, “soaring” quality of voice, and virtuosity. Epic and traditional songs pre sented on the CD (Track 3 “Imanzhusuptyn ani,” Track 5 “Syrgaqty,” Track 8 “Kekilik”), each marked by a high-pitched, sustained opening note, convey a feeling of ad-dressing wide-open spaces and large audiences, thus evoking the steppe setting  158 Asian Music:  Winter/Spring 2007 and atmosphere of epic and art performances. In the interaction between the kobyz   and voice, human-like sounding of the accompaniment echoes singing intonations. Smatai’s free expression within both instrumental and vocal styles stems from his involvement with “tradition” as a living reality, part of his own creativity and musical language.Saian Aqmolda (b. 1974), on the disc with Smatai Umbetbaev and referred to as “the disciple,” also has kobyz   affiliations in his genealogy. Coming from Qaratau region in Central Kazakhstan, he belongs to the lineage of the twenti-eth-century-celebrated kobyz   master Zhappas Qalambaev and, as the CD book-let notes, studied the kobyz   after receiving a calling “in a series of dreams” (23). While acquisition of traditional knowledge and skills has often been a matter of individual pursuit, Saian, as a musician of the younger generation for whom conservatory training has become a prerequisite of professionalism, sought and received instruction from Smatai, whom he proudly considers his master, and further advanced his knowledge of the “tradition” through his fieldwork and archival research. Now an established performer, teacher, and researcher also known for his media promotions of Kazakh music, he adheres to a tra-ditionalist stance, supporting the restoration and preservation of the former performance techniques as exemplified in the playing of Daulet Myqtybaev and Zhappas Qalambaev.The CD, bringing to the fore his apprenticeship with Smatai, emphasizes this aspect of his artistic personality through select examples from the classical repertoire: küis   of a meditative nature relating back to the music of shamanic rituals— “Abyz tolghauy” (Track 11), “Airauqtyn ashy küi” (Track 12), “Qonyr” (Track 15) and “Zholaushynyn qonyr küi” (Track 16) by Ykhlas, as well as Ykhlas’ epic küi   “Munlyq-Zarlyq” (Track 14)— and depictions of narratives— “Shynyrau” (Track 13) and “Zhez-kiik” (Track 17). Saian’s renditions, demon-strating a thorough and knowledgeable “reading” of the tradition, appear pol-ished and impeccable in detail, sophisticated in technical accomplishment, and intricate in following the narrative line through the aural imagery of the küis.  His version of Ykhlas’s küi   “Zhez-kiik” (“The Golden Saiga,” Track 17), depict-ing a steppe antelope caring for her young, brings alive the legendary image associated with ancient animistic cults by means of challenging improvisational composition and versatile use of harmonics.As a whole, Saian’s versions of the traditional küis   can be seen as aspiring to re-create musical language of the past and preserve the characteristic traits of the former kobyz   performance. Whereas for Smatai traditional kobyz   repertoire is, in a way, an ongoing pre sent, for Saian it is a revived past— a musical heritage reconstructed through a congenial performance style in the imagination of the contemporary listener.
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