Bardic Divas: Women's voices in Central Asia
Such music is exemplified by the lively, humorous songs from the repertoire of traditional female entertainers (khalfas) in the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan, performed on Bardic Divas by a young Khorezmi trio devoted to revitalizing the art of the khalfa (tracks 2 and 8). Other music on the CD represents genres or idioms once overwhelmingly the province of men. Examples include Kazakh oral poetry whose performers, called zhyrau, sing in a raspy, guttural vocal style that evokes the legendary and magical world of epic heroes (tracks 3, 9, 15), or Kazakh lyrical songs performed in the style of 19th-century Kazakh troubadours known as sal or seri (tracks 10, 13).
The appropriation of maledominated musical traditions by female musicians was spurred by the social policies of the Soviet era, which, throughout the vast territory of the USSR, strove to integrate women not only into the work force but into areas of the performing arts from which they had been excluded by local tradition. The effects of Soviet gender politics reverberated strongly in Central Asia, particularly in cities and towns, where, among indigenous populations, men and women typically occupied separate social space. Yet even before the establishment of Soviet power, maverick women challenged gender taboos in musical performance. Kazakh folklore has preserved the details of a famous singing contest (aitys) that took place around 1870 between Birzhan-sal, a renowned male bard (see track 13), and a talented young female bard named Sara Tastanbekova. Birzhan-sal won the contest, but in taking on the famous singer and composer, Sara gained her own honored place in Kazakh music history. Her courageous example encouraged younger generations of Kazakh women to perform lyrical songs, and among these musical descendants is Ardak Issataeva, whose warm and willowy alto voice is featured on Bardic Divas (tracks 10, 13).
Broadly speaking, the music on the CD represents three different kinds of bardic expression within contemporary Central Asia, each related to different social groups.
These include historically nomadic peoples (Kalmyks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz), sedentarized nomads (Qaraqalpaks), and historically sedentary groups (Azeris, Tajiks, Khorezmis-inhabitants of Khorezm, an administrative region in northwest Uzbekistan that was once a large territory identified with distinctive traditions of language, oral literature, and music).
Social history and tradition have shaped the particular musical languages, genres, and performance styles of each of these groups, but in all cases, the art of bards is rooted in oral poetry, storytelling, lyrical song, and instrumental music with a strong narrative dimension. Nowadays bardic traditions might be called “performance art”-a combination of entertainment, social commentary, and personal philosophy delivered in an affecting and accessible musical language.
Among nomadic or historically nomadic groups in Central Asia, bards almost always perform as soloists. Some are singer-reciters who typically accompany themselves on two-stringed, long-necked lutes with silk or gut strings, such as the dombra and dutar (certain epic tales are traditionally performed a cappella, for example, Manas, a monumental history of the Kyrgyz people). One of the most spectacular bardic voices in Central Asia belongs to Kenjegul Kubatova (tracks 4, 14, 18), whose performance of Kyrgyz songs from the early decades of the Soviet era reflects nostalgia for the official spirit of optimism of those times among many Kyrgyz. Other bards specialize in instrumental pieces (Kazakh kui, Kyrgyz küü) performed on long-necked lutes, fiddles, flutes, zithers, or jaw harps.
Such performers are represented on Bardic Divas by Aigul Ulkenbaeva, a virtuoso dombra player who teaches her instrument to conservatory students in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Still other bards mix vocal and instrumental music to provide a diverse program of entertainment. These traditional entertainers, known among Kazakhs and Kyrgyz as aqyn, have typically been men, but female aqyns, while uncommon, are not unknown. The physical challenges of nomadic life, communal herding chores, and the necessity of sharing living space in the circular felt-covered tents that provide nomads with sturdy yet portable housing enforced social contact between men and women and assured mixed audiences for social events. This tradition of shared work and social space has perhaps contributed to the significant present-day role of female musicians in historically nomadic cultures. Nonetheless, women in these cultures remain barely evident in the most enduringly male-dominated performance arts, for example, that of the manaschi, or reciter of the Kyrgyz epic Manas.
In contrast to the diverse solo performance genres that characterize bardic music among nomadic or historically nomadic peoples, bardic traditions among sedentarydwellers are frequently the domain of small ensembles. For example in Khorezm, reciters of epic tales such as “Harman-Dali” (track 8) are typically accompanied by an ensemble consisting of a tar (plucked long-necked lute), ghijak (spike fiddle), bulaman (oboe), and dayra (frame drum) in a “multimedia” style that alternates between narrative verse, song, and instrumental episodes. Such ensembles are traditionally allmale, but the trio of young Khorezmi women that appears on Bardic Divas includes “Harman-Dali” in their repertory as a pointed reminder that gender boundaries in music are not impermeable, and that crossing them can lead to ebullient artistic results.
Khalfa music has a close analogue in Azeri ashiq (ash-UG) songs like those sung by Latife Cheshmeli (track 16) and Fargana Qasimova (track 17). Both singers live in Baku, Azerbaijan, and their refined vocal style reveals an urban sensibility. Azeri ashiqs-typically men-sing to the accompaniment of a saz (long-necked lute with metal strings), and in some regions in an ensemble with a balaban (oboe) and a percussion instrument. Fargana Qasimova’s performance of “Noleydi” expands the accompanying ensemble to include kamancha (spike fiddle) and tar (plucked long-necked lute), creating a dark, burnished sound that evokes the classical Azeri mugham (see Music of Central Asia, vol.6:Alim and Fargana Qasimov: Spiritual Music from Azerbaijan). Likewise, the urban Tajik lyrical song “Shunidam,” performed by Ozoda Ashurova, is accompanied in a classical style by a trio consisting of lutes (tanbur and dutar) and frame drum.
While pastoralists and sedentarydwellers in Central Asia have been characterized by distinct patterns of culture, particular groups have long transitioned between these two ways of life. In some cases, sedentary societies have adopted nomadic pastoralism, and in others, pastoralists have become sedentarized. Among the latter are the Qaraqalpaks, most of whom live in riverine settlements that line the Amu Darya, one of Central Asia’s major rivers, as it flows toward the desiccated Aral Sea. Qaraqalpak music is a mixture of nomadic elements, such as the solo performance of oral epic in a guttural, raspy voice, and influences that derive from sedentary cultures. These include strummed lutes with metal strings, and spike fiddles, called ghirjek in Qaraqalpak (a Turkic language similar to Kazakh) that may have evolved from bowed rebabs played in Persian and Arab lands. The combination of dutar (two-stringed long-necked lute) and ghirjek (a.k.a. ghijak) is also common among the neighboring Turkmen, who have long intermingled with sedentarized Iranian populations. Among Qaraqalpaks, the ghirjek is traditionally played by men, but Injegul Saburova, who accompanies vocalist Ziyada Sheripova on the CD (tracks 1 and 12), persuaded her ghirjek-playing uncle to teach her the instrument because he had no male heirs.
For Kalmyks, as for Qaraqalpaks, nomadism is more a cultural memory than a contemporary way of life, and the galloping rhythms that Ervena Orgaeva strums on her dombra are a vestige of centuries past, when Kalmyk horsemen migrated across the Eurasian steppe from their ancestral lands in western Mongolia to the present-day Kalmyk homeland in the Lower Volga (tracks 6 and 11). Yet even if the horse inspired rhythms of Ervena’s songs are vestigial, the conviction and brio that characterize the performances on the CD render her music utterly contemporary. Indeed, the ability to make music and poetry, history and social critique, and humor and pathos come alive through performance is the essence of the bardic gift.
Sen Yar Gedeli (Since you left)
Text: excerpt from the epic tale “Ashiq Gharib”
Music: traditional Injegul Saburova, ghirjek; Ziyada Sheripova, dutar and vocal
In this romantic epic, Ashiq Gharib, a bard from a poor family, falls in love with a princess, the daughter of the Khorezm Shah, and joins a crowd of better-heeled pretenders vying for the princess’s favor. Gharib, who can offer only his poetry, expresses his passion in song:
My soul is in pain, your face is in my thoughts,
I haven’t been happy even for a moment,
my beloved, since you left,
My body is trembling, my soul is in sadness,
I haven’t had any joy since you left.
Since you left, my mother has been dazed,
her belongings all ruined,
The beautiful one’s bosom weeps;
I haven’t had any pleasure since you left.
With her refined, richly ornamented delivery, singer and dutar player Ziyada Sheripova has created a personal and distinctive style-now emulated by younger women in Qaraqalpakstan- within a performance genre that was traditionally the purview of men.
Injegul Saburova is one of the few Qaraqalpak women who play the ghirjek (spike fiddle). She learned the instrument from an uncle who, having no sons, broke with tradition and took her as his pupil.
Galmadi, Galmadi (He didn’t come)
Text and music: unattributed Dilbar Bekturdieva, garmon, dayra, qayraq, vocal; Komila Mattieva, tar and vocal; Gozal Muminova, dayra
The three young performers of the popular romantic song “Galmadi, Galmadi,” all from the culturally distinct region of Khorezm, exemplify the art of the khalfa. Khalfas are women literate in Arabic who perform a variety of religious, ceremonial, and musical functions for other women. Khalfa-entertainers usually perform in groups of 3–4 under the direction of a head khalfa. In older song and dance traditions, khalfas performed only to the accompaniment of percussion instruments: a small frame drum (daf), a bracelet of small bells worn around the wrist of a dancer (zang), flat stone or metal clackers (qayraq), and plates held in each hand on which the khalfa tapped out a rhythm with thimbles worn on the fingers. During the 20th century, khalfa ensembles began adding a small button accordion (garmon), and nowadays, it has become an essential element of the khalfa sound.
Composer: Zhienbai-zhyrau (1864–1929)
Ulzhan Baibussynova, vocal and dombra
“Bastau” is from the repertory of Kazakh bards, called zhyrau, who use a raspy, guttural vocal timbre to perform various genres of oral poetry, accompanying themselves on the dombra, a two-stringed, long-necked lute. Each zhyrau had a bastau that he sang before the performance of longer poems (dastan or zhyr) to summon inspiration and build a rapport with listeners. Ulzhan Baibussynova learned this bastau from Bidas Rustembekov, a well-known zhyrau who lives in the vicinity of Qyzylorda, in central Kazakhstan. Bidas Rustembekov learned it from his father, Rustembek-zhyrau who learned it from his own father, Zhienbai-zhyrau, the composer of the bastau.
Zhyraus have traditionally been men, and Ulzhan Baibussynova is one of a small number of Kazakh women to publicly perform the zhyrau’s repertory of both short and long epic poems. Her inspiration was an older female zhyrau named Shamshat-opa. “We listened to Shamshat-opa on the radio, and watched her sing at weddings, and on holidays,” Ulzhan recounted. “Girls my age all wanted to be like Shamshat-opa. She came to our house several times, and I went to her myself when I was older. She was born in 1929, and died just a few years ago. We learned from her not only how to sing, but how a female zhyrau should behave: what kind of emotions and character she should have. She was very wise, but also strict and austere. She didn’t allow herself anything extra-even to smile. Nowadays zhyraulik-the art of the zhyrau-is becoming popular among a younger generation of girls, and I’m the one they look to for guidance.”
Speak, my tongue, speak
When your soul is whole.
Until I warm up,
My voice won’t sound like a bell.
Even a true racehorse won’t jump
If it isn’t ready for the races.
Now there are a lot of singers
And many beautiful songs and words,
Like a great herd of grazing sheep.
So speak, my tongue,
Like a real racehorse
With its mouth wide open.
Be joyful, my tongue, be joyful
While my sweet soul is whole.
Taalailuu Eldin Bir Kyzy (The girl of happy people)
Lyrics and music: Mysqal Omüqanova (1915–1976) Kenjegul Kubatova, vocal and komuz
Kenjegul Kubatova grew up among herders in the mountainous north of Kyrgyzstan, and later moved to the capital city of Bishkek, where she studied vocal music at the National Conservatory. Her vocal style and repertoire reflect the strong influence of Mysqal Ömüqanova, a popular female singer of the Soviet era. Kenjegul is a member of the Kyrgyz ensemble Tengir-Too, whose neotraditional performances of Kyrgyz vocal and instrumental music comprise volume 1 of Music of Central Asia.
The dark-necked one with the white forehead,
The dreamy beauty,
Attracts a person
Through her devotion to her work.
Zuuraqan, the beet-digger,
The beauty of the Kyrgyz people.
She dug up the Ala-Too Mountains,
She ploughed up the black earth,
She has a giant heart,
And a shovel of white steel.
The “duck” of today’s people
Is famous all around the world.
Aqsholpan (Lovely Sholpan)
Aigul Ulkenbaeva, dombra
Aigul Ulkenbaeva is a virtuoso performer on the Kazakh dombra, a twostringed, long-necked lute. Originally from Atyrau, in the west of Kazakhstan, an area with a strong tradition of instrumental music, Aigul began learning the dombra at the age of five and gave her first concerts when she was seven. She now teaches at the Conservatory in Almaty. This short composition exemplifies a musical genre known as kui (or, among the Kyrgyz, as küü), whose distinguishing feature is that it tells a story, describes an event, or portrays a particular person purely through instrumental music. “Aqsholpan” tells the story of a young dombra player named Mamen. One day Mamen came to a small settlement (aul) where a wedding was taking place. Sholpan, the only daughter of the local nobleman, was being given in marriage. She was known as an outstanding dombra player, and many people admired her mastery. Sitting on the shymyldyk (special place for the bride, surrounded on all sides by expensive silks), Sholpan turned to her fellow aul-dwellers. “My dear friends, now the day of my wedding has come. Play me a new kui and let it become a farewell piece before our separation.” Trying to outdo one another, a stream of dombra players performed their kuis, but not a single one touched the young bride’s heart. Frustrated, Sholpan exclaimed, “What a pity that no one can convey my emotions upon parting!” At that moment, Mamen, until then unnoticed by the crowd, stood up and spoke to Sholpan: “Give me your dombra and I’ll perform a kui for you.” The crowd laughed at the audacity of the unknown guest. “Listen, you impostor. What are you trying to do, make a fool of yourself so that we kick you out of the aul?” Sholpan interrupted, “Let him show his art. But if you don’t like the kui, then do with him what you will,” and with that, she gave Mamen her dombra. Mamen took the dombra and played an unknown kui. Amazed at his mastery and with great admiration for the kui, people asked, “Who are you, dear man?” “I am Mamen.” “So before us is the great kuishi
Mamen from Kamys-Samara,” exclaimed Sholpan, inviting him to come to the place of honor (tor). The kui that Mamen dedicated to Sholpan has become known as “Aqsholpan” (lovely [literally “white”] Sholpan).
Text and music: unattributed
Ervena Orgaeva, vocal and dombra
In the 17th century, clans from the west of Mongolia migrated across Central Eurasia to the region of the Lower Volga, north of the Caspian Sea, and voluntarily became part of the Russian Empire. This ethnic community became known as the Kalmyks. In modern-day Kalmykia, the older generation still remembers and preserves traditional musical genres of Central Asian origin: long songs (ut dun) and the heroic epic Jangar. The most popular songs, however, are those performed for festivity and dancing to the accompaniment of the dombra. The melodies of Kalmyk dance songs are energetic, and the instrumental refrains between sung couplets can be quite long. Song lyrics often speak of actual events and were dedicated to relatives, friends, and fellow villagers.
The heroines of the songs performed by Ervena Orgaeva are young girls of marriageable age. “Kotush” (the name of a girl) tells about a young beauty with an independent character. Ervena Orgaeva grew up in Kalmykia, where her paternal grandfather was a well-known jangarchi, or reciter of the Jangar epic, and her maternal grandfather, a fine singer and songwriter. Ervena says that her ability and desire to sing her native songs is a natural and inseparable part of her life, memory, and heritage.
The new calico dress with the wide fluttering hem
Ensnares the legs.
Mother’s daughter Kotush, barely grown up,
Takes delight in her new clothes and hairbob.
With a neck made from pine, the dombra,
so it is said,
Rings out from the doors of the wooden barn.
Mother’s dark-faced daughter Kotush
Is hiding behind the doors of the wooden barn.
With seven frets, the dombra, so they say,
Rings out from the very center of Khoton.
Playful and fidgety, mother’s daughter Kotush,
Saying that she liked him, followed after him.
Shunidam (I heard)
Text: Aminjon Shukuhi (1923–1979)
Music: Zioydullo Shahidi (1914–1985)
Ozoda Ashurova, vocal; Kamaliddin Hamdamov, tanbur; Murad Jumaev, dayra; Sirojiddin Juraev, dutar
“Shunidam” was composed by one of Tajikistan’s best-known composers and made popular by the great female vocalist, Barno Is’hakova (1927–2001). Ozoda Ashurova, who performs the song on this CD, is a young singer known for her interpretations of Tajik- Uzbek classical art song. As a member of the Dushanbe, Tajikistan-based Academy of Maqâm, she is featured on volume 2 of Music of Central Asia: Invisible Face of the Beloved.
I heard that you were angry with me,
That’s strange, but let me know now,
What did I do to turn your heart away from me,
Making you disregard your promise?
Don’t be angry at me if I did something wrong,
Listen to me even just a little bit,
I will never, never
Text and music: traditional
Komila Mattieva, vocal and tar; Gozal Muminova, dutar; Dilbar Bekturdieva, dayra
“Harman-Dali” is one tale from the vast epic cycle Göroghli (“The Blind Man’s Son”), known throughout western Central Asia and the Caucasus. Performers of Göroghli have overwhelmingly been men, but Komila Mattieva, who lives in Urgench, in the northwest of Uzbekistan, represents the cutting edge of a new generation of young women who are appropriating traditionally male performance genres. In the tale, Harman-Dali, a beautiful but cruel princess, seeks a husband who is a better singer than she. She challenges Göroghli, a fine singer as well as a fierce soldier, to a singing contest. Göroghli impresses her, but loses. With the aim of vindicating himself, Göroghli takes singing lessons from a master ashiq. The ashiq has a dream in which he sees Harman-Dali, falls in love with her, and vows to marry her himself. After beating her in a singing contest, however, the ashiq decides to betroth her to another pupil. Göroghli visits Harman-Dali after her marriage, and spends a promised night with her. The brief segment of the epic sung here tells of how Harman-Dali gives gold to an old woman to deliver a letter to Göroghli inviting him to come to her.
To the young Göroghli from Chandibil
Go, grandmother, and bring the news.
He’s from the clan of the begs [noble
Go, grandmother, bring the news.
Let my wish come true,
Because I believe in God.
Give him 100 more gold coins,
Go, grandmother, bring the news.
Oren Zhyirik (The best racehorse)
Ulzhan Baibussynova, vocal and dombra
This is an example of didactic verse by a famous Kazakh zhyrau (epic singer).
Performer Ulzhan Baibussynova said of this poem, “In traditional culture, people liked to listen to didactic verse because it helped them deal with their own inner questions. Only after hearing a zhyrau sing such a poem would they ask for a dastan, which was more entertaining. These didactic songs show once again the strong connection of music to moral philosophy and popular religion in Central Asia.”
If you release a racehorse from a high place,
it won’t go backward even the length of a finger,
If you make a lad happy, he’ll never run away.
A real man will understand my words,
Because each of my words is like a golden heritage.
The distance between good and evil is as great as
The distance between heaven and earth.
Envy always accompanies good people,
Bad people never know the happiness that was
given to them by God.
If a person is given wealth and happiness, he can
use it however he wishes.
If he knows how, he can enjoy all of it.
A mountain goat protects the mountain rocks,
What’s the good of wealth if he can’t extend his
hand to someone who needs it?
The most precious stones never disintegrate,
Don’t ever ask how many teeth a horse has or how
old a person is.
A good person will always be useful to his people,
Or one can live, thinking only of oneself.
Aq Qum (White sand)
Text and music: unattributed
Ardak Issataeva, vocal and dombra
This poignant melody, sung in a refined, bel canto style and accompanied by a dombra that is both strummed and plucked, exemplifies the tradition of Kazakh lyrical song (änshilik). Lyrical song is a professional vocal genre that reached its fullest development among the historically nomadic Kazakhs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its performers were itinerant bards-typically men- who were highly respected and honored guests in any Kazakh settlement. Female performers were not unknown, however, and during the Soviet era became increasingly common. These days it is more typical to hear lyrical songs performed by women than men. Ardak Issataeva (b. 1976) was born in Jambul Region, in southern Kazakhstan, and graduated from the Conservatory in Almaty, where she now teaches lyrical song.
In Aq Qum there’s a girl by the name of Ingkär,
Her words are sweeter than sugar and honey.
You should see [that beauty] with your own eyes,
I’ll tell you in my song about this real person.
You’re like the pupils of my eyes that bring me sunlight,
The joy of my soul in my life.
You don’t leave my thoughts for a second,
With what kind of sorcery do you torment me?
Music and text: unattributed
Ervena Orgaeva, vocal and dombra
Like “Kotush,” (track 6), “Bulgun” is a Kalmyk dance song about a beautiful young girl. The lyrics tell of how long and persistently a young man named Erentsen pursued Bulgun, how she resisted his entreaties, and in the end, how he won her over and the entire village gathered for a noisy wedding.
A polished table made from a sprawling tree is at a predetermined place. The beautiful girl Bulgun attracts everyone’s interest. On gold-covered paper with a good feather pen she wrote, With a good feather pen she wrote decisively. The girl Bulgun with the beautiful face Critically scrutinized the local suitors. Critically scrutinizing the local suitors, Only the boy Erentsen was left in the running. Erentsen, whom she refused, said persuasively, “What a clear night. Let’s go for a walk In the cool evening air.” In October, by agreement, The people gathered to celebrate. At the wedding of the splendid Bulgun, They feasted and whooped it up.
Text: Kalila Davlatnazarov (1952– )
Music: unattributed [traditional melody “Sarvinoz Kui”]
Injegul Saburova, ghirjek; Ziyada Sheripova, dutar and vocal
These lyrics by contemporary Qaraqalpak poet and bard Kalila Davlatnazarov are set to a traditional melody, “Cypress.” The tree’s tall and slender form serves as a common metaphor for beauty, both human and divine.
I lament about my sadness, I tell my story
in the pain of my sorrow,
This world is faithless, what can I sing?
Better not to show what I’m holding inside,
I have a wish in my heart to sing,
burning with passion.
Loneliness is bad, conversation is good,
Fruit is sweet, leaves are bitter.
Good qualities are beautiful ornaments of the world,
I am indebted to them.
Those who are rich hire a boat to cross to the other side,
The common people remain on the bank, crying.
Oh Creator, let the rulers and elders have a conscience,
The land of my people is like a poor beggar.
My happiness was broken, I told all my sadness,
My offended soul has expressed everything.
My eyes were in tears for the nation that gave birth to me,
I have a sorrow called soul inside of me.
Zhonyp Aldy (Carved, polished)
Composer: Birzhan-sal Qozhagululy (1834–1897)
Ardak Issataeva, vocal and dombra
The Kazakh lyrical song “Zhonyp Aldy” was composed by Birzhan-sal, one of the best-known figures of 19th-century Kazakh music. Sal is an honorific title bestowed on bardic singer-songwriters who were not only masters of their art but chivalrous and charismatic celebrities analogous, perhaps, to the troubadours of medieval Europe. Unlike folksongs, whose titles are conventional, and are typically taken from the first line of the text, lyrical songs were always named by their composers, and these titles remain a part of the performance tradition. An explanation of the title “Zhonyp Aldy” unfolds in the text, and conveys the idea that as unique, fully formed works of art, lyrical songs must be carefully carved, or polished.
The name of my song is “Zhonyp Aldy,”
Like a beauty who cut out the most beautiful part
of a young tree,
From youth, I’ve sung this song with great love,
And that’s why this song remains in my memory
without any changes.
Who doesn’t love a beautiful song,
Brushing against the string of the soul of your
artistry and beauty?
Being a support for the spirit and food for the mind,
It excites the soul and opens it to bliss.
Chabandyn Yry (Shepherd’s song)
Text and music: Ashyraaly Aytaliev (1927– )
Kenjegul Kubatova, vocal and komuz
From Arpa’s high lake,
From Aqsay’s cool heights
I impatiently write a letter of greeting
Since I can’t forget my beloved.
I am the owner of countless sheep,
I follow them, grazing on the hills.
You are studying now
In the big city where people are educated.
Talim (Didactic song)
Text: Turmagambet (1882–1939) Music: Zhienbai-zhyrau
When the Kazakh epic singer Zhienbaizhyrau taught this piece to his son, Rustembek, from whom Ulzhan Baibussynova learned it, he called it naqpa-naq: to sing precisely and loudly, a performance style exemplified in Ulzhan’s rendition of Turmagambet’s lyrics.
Turmagambet was a well-known Kazakh poet who, at the turn of the 19th century, studied in the great medresehs (religious colleges) of Bukhara, the city known as “the cupola of Islam.” He is the author of many compositions in various genres of Kazakh oral poetry: terme, tolghau, qisaa, dastan. One of his major works is a translation of Firdausi’s Shahname (“The Book of Kings”) from Persian to Kazakh. “Talim” is an example of a didactic terme.
If a younger person calls you a brother,
You can say that he’s your soul.
If a woman takes care of her husband,
You can call her a princess.
Girls and boys who are like tulips,
You can call the most beautiful in the world.
The voices of animals born in the spring
Are like the most beautiful song on earth.
The water that you drink when you’re really thirsty
Becomes tasty like the sweetest honey.
A man who is born with deep thoughts,
You can call him a wise man.
He who is born to a bad relative,
You can call him an evil person.
The most interesting moment of infants
Is when they are just beginning to speak.
The most interesting moment for a sharpshooter
Is when he hits his target squarely.
The most interesting moment in your life
Is when your soul doesn’t leave you.
Tasty food is interesting
Before you eat it.
The best racehorse is most interesting
After a race when it’s drenched with sweat.
These didactic words I tell you
Like the great, wise Luqpan.
Dila Dushdü (Everybody is talking)
Text: Ashiq Mürat Niyazli (1936–2004)
Music: traditional saz melody “Kövrat dubeydi” Latife Cheshmeli, vocal and saz Latife Cheshmeli is a representative of the ashiq tradition of Azerbaijan.
Ashiq music arose in the 15th–16th centuries as Turkic epic singing merged with Islamic mystical poetry in the musical environment of the Caucasus. The philosophical impulse that catalyzed the tradition was Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam whose adherents seek union with God through the path of love (thus the title “ashiq,” which means “lover” or “in love”).
The art of the ashiq was first open only to men, but since the 18th century, maverick women have taken up the saz and competed in the improvised poetry contests (deyishme) that are the test of an ashiq’s worth. While female singers have always had an important place at weddings and other life-cycle ceremonies, the role of ashiq brought women out of all-female gatherings and into a performance genre that commanded great respect and a wide audience. Though some conservative families have objected to their daughters performing in public, female ashiqs have generally been well accepted in Azerbaijan, a country proud of its long history of women musicians and poets. Nowadays, women are among those at the forefront of efforts to preserve and continue the ashiq tradition. Latife Cheshmeli grew up with a great love for ashiq music. Although her father forbade her to learn the saz, after her marriage, Latife’s husband encouraged her to study with a master, and today she is a popular professional ashiq with constant engagements at weddings and festivals. Beloved especially for her rich, expressive voice, Latife colors her songs with a powerful vocal intensity that enters into dialogue with the graceful sound of the saz, which she plays herself.
Oh beautiful one, your glances, your glances, Have become a legend that everybody is talking about. The pupils of your eyes sent out a path, They struck my eyes, my darling, they struck my eyes. It was a morning that turned into an evening, an evening, I understood something deep in my heart. I was a moth who knowingly fell into the candle In order to burn, my life, in order to burn. I am Niyazli the faithful, the faithful, I am the companion of pain, the salesman of sorrow. My wounds, which have been reopened, oh my darling, Now hurt as if they had been struck with a poker, my life, struck with a poker.
In ashiq, Latife credits her love for the saz. “The sound of the saz is like a mother’s lullaby,” she says. “I can’t understand people who do not love the saz.”
Noleydi (What if)
Text: unattributed folksong, and ghazal by Seyyid
Ezim Shirvani (1835–1888)
Fargana Qasimova, vocal; accompanied by Rafael Asgarov, balaban; Rauf Islamov, kamancha; Ali Asgar Mammadov, tar; Natiq Shirinov, percussion
This two-part piece begins with a folk bayatı, a graceful seven-syllable verse form characteristic of Azerbaijani oral tradition. The last line transitions to the melodic style and rhythm of classical mugham, where the singer’s improvised vocals lead the music in a new and emotionally more intense direction. The lyrics of the mugham are, as is traditional, a ghazal taken from classical written verse. Although the words of the two sections come from different sources, they are artfully combined: the folksong’s description of the beautiful gardens in the Miyina quarter of the city of Tabriz (Iran) foreshadows the paradisiacal rose garden (gülzar) of the ghazal.
What if... I am in love when she awakes, When she burns, I burn for her. I wait beside your pillow, Lady, I pray that she will awake. (Refrain) What if, my love, what if... I had jet black hair. Even if everyone found me ugly, I would be beautiful to my love. [A place called] Miyina is in Tabriz, The rose is still a bud. Sing, my nightingale, sing, Perhaps my love will awake. What do I need with that beautiful rose garden, when you are my rose garden, My rosebud, my cypress, my flower, my garden, my spring. Sometimes you take away my soul; sometimes you give my soul to me, So who are you, my God-given beloved? You are my tar [plucked lute]. Even if I die of love for you, do not come to me, Let the others not know that you are my love. You know I am poor Seyyid-alone, miserable, abandoned. You are my treasure, my ruler, my refuge-you
Fargana Qasimova is a young Azerbaijani performer known for her interpretation of mugham, the Azerbaijani form of the transnational classical maqâm tradition. Trained by her father, renowned vocalist Alim Qasimov, she follows his tradition of daring, experimental vocals that challenge and transcend the conservative mugham genre. Fargana still considers herself to be her father’s shagird (apprentice), and father and daughter usually sing together, trading verses in a lyrical musical dialogue (Alim and Fargana Qasimov are featured in volume 6 of Music of Central Asia: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan). Their close artistic relationship is evident even in this solo piece, where Fargana’s father can be heard in the background, praising her singing. However, Fargana’s richly expressive voice and ability to combine intensely passionate vocals with precise and graceful musical timing are uniquely her own.*
Kyzyl Gul (Red flower)
Text: Osmonqul Bölöbalaev (1888–1967) Music: unattributed Kenjegul Kubatova, voice and komuz
You’re a beautiful red flower,
I’m a nightingale who sings for you,
If you’re a light burning at night,
I’m a moth circling around you,
I want to alight on your petals,
listen once in a while to what the
nightingale is singing,
Live with joy in your young years,
so that you won’t have any sadness.
If you were a boat on the ocean,
I’d be the helmsman who steered it,
But I fear that no sooner would I take the wheel
than a storm would carry us away.