Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Kyrgyz music

Kyrgyz musicIn Kyrgyz art, pride of place is given to instrumental music. All inhabitants of a nomad group - from children to the elderly gather together to listen the master instrumentalists play. The most fascinating festivals are those in which music competitions are held. An instrumental ensemble was also an essential element of military campaigns.

The main feature of the distinctive style of Kyrgyz music is its ability to conjure up images in the mind. These range widely from the heroic with dramatic (epic) effects, to the beauty of natural scenery (mountains, trees and streams) and domestic themes.

The Komuz

Kyrgyz musicAmong the numerous national instruments the most widespread and popular is the komuz, which has a rich repertoire. It is a stringed instrument, made from a single piece of wood (apricot or juniper are the favoured timbers), and plucked like a guitar. While playing it, the three strings are clasped by the left hand to the fingerboard and the right hand is used to pluck the strings in a variety of ways to draw out the sounds. It is a very old instrument. In 1962, near the village of Shamsy in the Chui valley, archaeologists made a number of amazing discoveries - including the famous "Golden Mask" along with a komuz dating from the 4th and 5th centuries (it remains in the custody of the Historical Museum along with a number of other artefacts found at the same time but they are not on open display due to the lack of a suitable exhibition hall.) There are a number of legends about the origin of the komuz. One tells of a Kyrgyz hunter, Kambarkan, who spoke the 'language' of many birds and wild animals, and could recognise each of them by their voice. Once, when he was in the forest, he heard a new and wonderful sound. He was so taken by this incredible new sound that he could not leave the forest until he had discovered its source, and so he looked around to see if he could find where it was coming from. He climbed a tree to get a better vantage point, and there he saw two branches of a neighbouring tree connected by the dried intestine of a squirrel. The sound seemed to emanate from that 'string'. Perhaps, he thought to himself, she had tried jumping from one branch of the tree to another, but cut herself open. Anyway, he took the string and a piece of wood from the tree and fashioned for himself a musical instrument - and became known as the Father of Melody. Another legend tells how an old komuz player befriended a nightingale that was so entranced by his playing that she asked him to teach her to sing like the komuz - giving rise to a saying that the instrument taught even the nightingale how to sing.

Temir Komuz

Kyrgyz musicThe temir komuz has become as much a musical symbol of Kyrgyz as the komuz. This instrument can be extremely small and is probably better known in the west as the "jew's harp" and variations are found in Yakutia and Tuva, Britain, Norway, American, France and even in Australia.

Made of iron, (the name means 'iron komuz'), it is shaped in the form of a broken, stretched circle with two prongs, and attached to the centre is a steel plate. The sound is made by placing the prongs between the lips and striking the steel plate - and adjusting the shape of the hollow of the mouth. Tradition has it that if a temir komuz is played near the cradle of a new born infant, then the baby will grow up clever, gifted and eloquent.

In 2004 the International Association of Jew's Harp Music published in Iowa an article written by the Director of a Music School Ensemble (similar to the Jetigen ensemble featured elsewhere) that called upon Kyrgyz businessmen to display patriotism, and provide aid to temir-komuz players.


This is one of the most popular wind instruments. It is usually made out of clay (but sometimes wood), and sits comfortably in the palm of your hand like a putty-shaped ball with holes.

Percussion instruments

To much of the music there is a religious significance, closely connected with Kyrgyz shamanism. Percussion instruments, such as the dobulbas and asa-tayak are used. A dobulbas is a one-sided framed drum with wed tied around one end. The sound is made by striking it with the hands. The asa-tayak is made out of wood in the shape of baton. Bells and other iron objects are attached to this framework as additional sources of sounds that are generated by rocking or striking the sharp end of instrument on the ground.

Some of these instruments can be seen on the reverse of the 1-som note.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #4

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