Folk music in Kyrgyzstan shares many similarities with its neighboring countries, such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. After the country fell under Russian rule, their music also pulled elements of Russian music as well. Much of their traditional music is based on their long-standing history of epic poetry. The Manas epic is one of the world’s longest poems, coming in at nearly a half million lines. Reciting sections of the Manas epic has also been a popular pastime as well. Many people have made a name for themselves just for being able to recite large portions of this poem. One type of musical style that is popular is called kui. This is a style of instrumental music centered around the rural musical traditions of the Kipchak people in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The topics range from philosophic ideas to the love of nature.
Kyrgyz music is known for its ensemble music. The Kambarkan Emsemble and Tengir-Too are two of the most well-known Kyrgyz ensemble groups—not only in the country, but across the world as well. They’ve almost become a representative of Kyrgyz music in general. They feature traditional instruments and perform music by a number of Kyrgyz composers. The Jetigen Children’s Ensemble is made up of children from a music school in Bishkek. They have also been the recipients of numerous awards and recognitions.
There are several instruments that are used in Kyrgyz music. First of all, the komuz is probably the most important instrument in Kyrgyz music. The komuz is a fretless stringed instrument that is often viewed as a national symbol. Other instruments heard in their music include the kyl kiak (a two-stringed instrument played upright, which is also considered an important instrument in Kyrgyz culture), the chopo-choor (like an ocarina) and temir ooz komuz (type of jaw harp, which always remind me of Appalachian mountain music), and the sybyzgy (a type of flute played to the side). The dobulba (a type of frame drum) and the asa-tayak (a wooden instrument with bells affixed to it) make up some of their percussion instruments and have its roots in shamanism.
Dancing is an old tradition, but at one time it looked like it might die out, especially during the communist years under Russian rule. However, in recent times, there has been a regeneration of traditional dancing among Kyrgyzstan’s youth. Dancing has traditionally been performed at weddings and other joyful celebrations. One dance called the Kara Jorgo (translating to “Black Stallion”) is particularly popular and is characterized by quick arm, elbow, and wrist movements with brief pauses between the moves. High steps and bent knees are countered with a move that looks like they’re trying to do a lunge on their ankles. The whole dance has its roots in their ancient nomadic, horse-loving culture that is also seen in neighboring countries as well. Today, some of the moves have been updated and sped up (in comparison to the styles of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan), and there are actually flash mobs (made of both men and women) who perform this dance in malls and other public places. I find it interesting how they succeeded at making a centuries-old dance popular again. To me, it’s like instead of people flash mobbing the Thriller dance, they’re doing square dances instead.
There weren’t too many Kyrgyz artists I found out there. I did manage to find a few albums on Spotify, though. Amazingly, they do have a metal band following. I have no idea if it’s underground or not, but I’m going to venture that it might be. I sampled parts of three different albums by the band Darkestrah (who are now based in Germany). It’s pretty dark and scream-y in places (of course), but from what I can tell, they tend to be more of a folk metal band (Wikipedia classifies them as black metal though, but they definitely have folk metal tendencies. I suppose it’s whatever they identify with, and I respect that.). There are songs that also mix a classical music feel with metal (like on the album Manas) that I really liked. And surprisingly, they actually sang through part of a song instead of strictly producing primordial vocal node-induced screams. And that made the song 1000% better.
And now for something completely different: I came across the music of Salamat Sadikova. On the album I listened to (The Voice of Kyrgyzstan), she primarily sings accompanied by an acoustic banjo-sounding instrument (I’m guessing this may be the komuz). The melodic styles seem pretty consonant with a noted lowered note here and there, which may be an influence left over from Middle Eastern traditions. She’s known for being able to hold notes for a ridiculously long time.
Kyrgyzstan also has a very limited number of hip-hop artists. There is a lot of information about artists, but not so much available on Spotify. I did listen to a DJ/artist called Dr. Twist. I thought his music was pretty good, although it was mostly instrumental. Actually, I liked his stuff a lot; I’d like to have a copy of some of his stuff. I found another hip-hop artist on YouTube called Tata Ulan who has a sound and flow that reminds me of the early- to mid-1990s. I found a song by an artist by the name of Kyrgyz Djigit “Alai” that was a little better, although the vocals could’ve been tighter in places. But I give them all credit for trying to do their thing. I found several videos posted from the Kyrgyz-American Hip Hop Fest in Bishkek and in Osh, and it’s evidently a highly popular event.
Up next: the food