Chants Kazakh et Tradition épique de L’Ouest (Various artists) : Ocora C580051 (recorded October 1984 & August 1990)

Mainly devoted to the fine Kazakh music of Western Mongolia this CD recorded by the French Mongol expert Alain Desjacques features only two tracks with Khöömii. Some good translations of the Kazakh songs and also a translation of a section of Altai Magtaal are contained in the liner notes.


1  Man‑man ker (My Bayhorse with the  Peaceful Gait)  A love‑song performed by R. Nurdqaan  (vocals and dombra)

A young knight is going to meet his fiancee. On the way, he compares the majestic beauty of his horse's pace to the love he feels for the young girl.


2 Ala‑taw (The Varicoloured Mountain) A bucolic song, performed by Aqman (vocals and dombra)

    The name of a mountain in Kazakhistan, to the Northwest of Alma Ata.

Your peak is covered with eternal snow

On your flanks, blooming red and green flowers,

You are the flower and song of life.

At the sight of you, my heart is overjoyed,

My beloved mountain.

Your imposing silhouette reaching up to the sky,

            Makes Youth courageous,

            But, no‑one knows your secret.


3. Aq Kŭy (The White Tune) Dombra solo performed by S. Toqtal.

    A well‑known dance‑tune from the kŭy repertoire. The regular gait and poise of the ambling

    horse is recreated through two alternating parts, which constitute the melody.


4  Aq bulaq (The White Spring) A song of filial love performed by R. Nurdqaan (vocals and dombra)

In the mountain, there's a spring...

 I grew up on its water,

Cradled in my parents love.

Such a pleasant scene,

the lapping of the water, such pretty music.

My mother goes there to fetch water,

my father, bringing the horses to drink...

5 . Bi‑bi (Dance)  Dombra solo performed by Aqman

     A piece from the kŭy repertoire, dance accompaniment inspired rhythmically by the horse's gallop.


6 Asilim (My Truth) A plaintive love‑song performed by Aqman (vocals and dombra)

When in summer the mountain decks its green and flowery coat,

When the birds are singing, deep in the woods,

I think of you, my truth, who is away.

Flowers wilt and winter returns,

The mountain dons a white coat,

I think of You, My truth, who are still away.

The steppe is finally shrouded in snow,

Know, My truth, that there is no secret between lovers.


7  Irqŭzian (Irqŭzan's song) Song of celebration, a duo performed of by 0. Sayzada and R. Nureqaan (vocals and dombra)

How wonderful life is when our nearest and dearest

Are all joined to celebrate together.

When the time comes to suffer,

That will be the time to remember

These happy days, the beauty of life

And the closeness of loved ones.


8. Erkem‑ay (My Little Darling) Song of celebration performed by Aqman (vocals and dombra)

When they ask me to sing

I do it like a bird skimming over the lake.

Wherever I am, it's, without having to look, on the side of Good.

I sing, accompanying myself on the dombra.

May today's celebration be tomorrow's too.

You have to play the dombra like a virtuoso

To call your little darling to sing.


9  Sar biday (Grain of Wheat) A nostalgic song performed by Aqman (vocals and dombra)

I have settled in this part of the Bulboskin countryside,

On this piece of paper I'm writing.

I'm home‑sick. Here they don’t sing with intelligence.

Visualising my respected elders, grain of wheat, grain of wheat,

I blossom when I am with my own people.

When, I think of my family, I sing, grain of wheat, grain of wheat.


10  Balburauyn (Dance in Twirling Movement) Dombra solo performed by S. Toqtal

      A piece from the kŭy repertoire whose rapid rhythm is inspired by turbulent gusts of wind. A brilliant performance calling for a polyphonic playing technique.


11  Dedim ayaw (My Sweet Protected one)  A plaintive love‑song performed by Aqman (vocals and dombra)

As soon as I saw your shining face, I melted inside,

My sweet darling, priceless as white gold.

An armful of gold kept for oneself loses its value,

But is sadly missed when it is no longer there.

My sweet protected one, we have no idea how quickly life passes by..


12  Balzin ker (My Chestnut Bayhorse) Dombra solo performed by S. Toqtal

     A piece from the kŭy repertoire inspired, yet again, by a horse's gallop. A complex piece where the performer has to maintain a constant bass‑note on the low       

     string while playing the melodic line on the other string.


13  Dep saldim ay (This is how I say it) Nostalgic song performed by 0. Sayzada (vocals and dombra)

A caravan comes from the mountain

But 1 say that it carries nothing:

It's the inheritance of the Moslems, nomads in foreign lands.

This is what I said to my elderly parents.

I sang them this old song, telling it like this.


14  Gulder ayim (The Flower Season)  Nostalgic song performed by Aqlman  (vocals and dombra)

My brother, still an innocent lad,

I keep watch on your agitated youth.

Might I hear your voice in the flower season,

Like the moon at the height of day.

I have no wings. What can I do without wings?

Summer has come, a delight to all, it’s the flower season,

When I think of you, little brother, I break into this song

When I stop singing, I hear your high-pitched voice...


15 Zaraii boken (The Wounded Stag) Dombra solo performed by T. Baydalda

     A piece from the kŭy repertoire, the musical version of a tragic tale of fratricide: during a hunt, two brothers separate to increase their chances of catching game.

     One hunts and kills a stag and, the weather being bad, covers himself with the animals' skin to keep the rain off. Shortly after, the other arrives at the spot and,

     apparently shooting a stag, kills his own brother.


16  Adem aw (The Beauty)Love‑song performed by Aqman (vocals and dombra)

When you pass discreetly by,

Like a furtive flower,

I am like the nightingale

Swirling around the flowers of his native nest

If I don't come to pick you, who else will?

I am strong enough to bear your torment, Beauty, my Beauty,

Tell me if the songs I dedicate to you are pleasing to you,

Could it be that you love me?

You are the haven of my secret thoughts,

You, summer of my life, object of my love,

Wherever you are, my Beauty..


17, Quia ker (My Bayhorse) Dombra duo performed by 0. Sayzada and R. Nurclqaan

       Dance music from the kŭy repertoire performed together by two instrumentalists. The horse, again, symbolically reproduced through the galloping rhythm, gives

       energetic impulse to the melody.


18  Laylim siraq (My Inaccessible Love) Plaintive love‑song performed by R. Nurdqaan (vocals and dombra)

       She cannot marry the man of her heart for she has been promised to another. Her lover sings for her and, bewailing his own fate, declares his love for her.


19  Pay‑pay (Fie!)  Complaint performed by Aqman  (vocals and dombra)

When you think how fleeting life is,

Every day should be an occasion for celebration

Bringing together a whole crowd of people, Fie!

It doesn't last forever like the moon!

I am asked to sing whether I like it or not, Fie!

That's not like the respect the moon gets.


20. Aq Bope (Aq Bope's song) Plaintive love‑song, a duo performed by 0. Sayzada and R. Nundqaan (vocals and dombra)

      The song of Aq bope, lamenting her former love. Sun, sky and all living beings partake in her sorrow. She even beseeches those departed souls who never knew

      the beauty of love to join in her sadness.


21  Altay magtaal (in Praise of Altay) Performed in ayalaq style by T. Enkbalsan (vocals and tobsuur)

      Among the Uryanqai and Zaqchin Mongols, epic song is always preceded by a song of praise dedicated to the Master of Altay, a veritable natural reserve for

      wild animals and, therefore, game. The voice's natural timbre gives the singing a melodious style (aya: melody), with rhythmic interest coming from its syllabic

      form and instrumental accompaniment.


22 Altay magtaal (in Praise of Altay) Performed in qaylaq style by T. Enkbalsan (vocals and tobsuur)

     The singer performs here with a deliberately produced timbre. A real vocal transformation, qaylaq style (lilt: to melt, pass from a solid state to a liquid one)

     appears as tense, hoarse expression in the back of the throat, not far from the technique of diphonic singing that the performer uses at the end. The Altay eulogy,

     like epic song, has a great wealth of poetic imagery

Their silhouettes are veiled in the morning haze,

They ripple at midday in the heat of the air,

From time immemorial, majestic and strong,

They are my two venerables, Altay and Qangay.

Mountain snow melts away, drops of tiny pearls,

The cuckoo, happy, calling out his slender song,

Blue grass, on the banks of streams, playing in the wind,

Such forceful vigour in Altay and Qangay,my two venerables.

The reddish mountain chain touches the clouds,

A scrambling of hooves and red ibex leap from one summit to another,

 On the high, majestic rocky mountains,

Dapple‑brown ibex bounding onto crags,

What richness of energy, what astounding beauty they have,

Altay and Oangay, my venerables, so well endowed.


23 Altay magtaal (in Praise of Altay) Performed by a choir of four children: E. Gombosuren, E. Gombozav, Q. Andiav and D. Batmonk (vocals and tobsuur)

     Children (these are between ten and fifteen years old) learn to sing the Altay eulogy in both ayalaq and qaylaq styles, singing simultaneously in chorus, and

     whistling through the teeth in the finale.


24  Qar Kökö1 Baatar (The Hero with the Black‑tressed Hair) Performed by Q. Sesser (vocals and tobsuur)

       This Uryanqai tuul’č bard performs, in qaylaq style, the first part of the first chapter of this epic, well‑known to the Mongols of Altay.

In the beginning of the living world,

When the great Exterior Ocean was but a puddle of water

When the sandalwood‑tree of the World was but a bush

When the great Milky Ocean was yet  a tiny puddle 

When the summits of the mountains were but mounds of earth, 

He was born into the Sunlit World 

And through his shadow the Sunless Continent was born.

At the sole utterance of his name

All living beings, even far away, bowed down.

His majestic bearing held all his own kind[in awe.

He has a horse whose body is long

As an entire day and night's journeying,

With six silver bridles,

With beautiful, large ears

And beautiful round eyes.

And he who owns this precious chestnut stallion,

Is the hero with the black‑tressed hair.


25  Qar Kökö1 Baatar (The Hero with the Black‑tressed Hair) Performed by D. Zanzancoy (vocals and morin quur horse‑hair fiddle)

      Here, the same part of the epic is performed by a quurč bard famous for his talent throughout Mongolia. Passages in verse alternate with prose

      passages. The instrumental accompaniment seems in perfect symbiosis with the voice.


Total Time: 63’33’’     

Recorded in October 1984 et August 1990 in Mongolia 

Alain Desjacques (July 1993)


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 Kazakh songs (Tracks 1 to 20)


The distinctive feature of the music of the Kazakhs is its use of a vast range of diatonic scales and a vigorous, varied rhythmic palette partly inspired by the different paces of the horse. The voices are strong, very timbred and yet nuanced. Singers accompany themselves on the dombra, a lute with a long, braided neck, belonging to the eastern tanbür family. An ancestor of the modern Russian balalaika, it has only two strings, originally in horsehair but now made out of nylon, which are tuned here to the fifth and plucked without a plectrum. Singers differentiate within their repertoire between the in category of songs with dombra accompaniment and the küy category which comprises all instrumental pieces, not only those destined for dance, but also those inspired by tales or legends. The recordings selected are representative of the art of these singers, all of whom, as it happens, are amateurs and from the province of Khovd.


Epic tradition of the West (Tracks 21 to 25)


Custodians of a millenary art passed on for generations in the heart of the Mongol steppes, epic singers, or bards, even though they have become scarce, are still called upon to accompany hunters or for important occasions of the Mongol calendar. But nowadays, epics live on only really in the form of long versified fragments, periodically including prose passages, whose performance can demand several nights. Mongols distinguish between different types of rhapsody, depending on the way the epic genre is to be recreated. A specialist in "recitation" of one or more epics is called tuul'č ("he who knows the epic" [tuul']), whereas someone else, who accompanies himself on the fiddle displaying his musical talent, will be called quurč ("he who knows how to play the fiddle" [quur]).

In the high Altay mountains, epic songs and songs of praise are performed by the tuul'č bards, in a tessitura restricted to a pentatonic scale. Vocal timbre can be natural (ayalaq style) or deliberately produced (qaylaq style). The rhythm is syllabic and reinforced by the instrumental accompaniment of a lute (tobšuur) with two nylon strings.


Mongolia Kazakh songs and Epic tradition of the West


The repeated waves of conquering Mongols commanded by Genghis Khan, the most famous of their leaders, which broke over Asia, the Middle East and mediaeval Europe were dreaded as a terrible scourge of God. The race was sadly notorious for sowing terror and disaster in its path. Less well known were their highly refined sense of organization and their severe discipline, qualities which, nonetheless, failed to prevent the disintegration of the immense empire at the "Great Khan's death. Collective historical memory of this ephemeral empire seems, justifiably, to remember only its ravaging violence, having forgotten the paradoxical religious tolerance, which reigned, scrupulous and exemplary, at the imperial court.

The Mongols live nowadays in three large geo‑political zones: in the ex‑Soviet Union are to be found the Bouriats, the Touvins and the Kalmuks; eastern and southern Mongols are centred in the autonomous region of Interior Mongolia in China, where the Autonomous Region of Xin‑jiang is also home to a few groups of western Mongols. And lastly, Mongolia, inhabited mainly by Qalq Mongols. A few other small groups of Mongols are scattered over the Asian continent, living vestiges of former conquests, mostly in Afghanistan and Tibet.

The Kazakhs have many different origins. They probably stem from the Persian speaking Sak tribes whom Herodotus called the Scythians of Asia, but since the 13th Century when Central Asia was dominated by the Golden Horde, they have also descended from Turks and Mongols. A Kazakh kingdom was even formed in the 15th Century, marking a decisive epoch in the formation of this people.

Thus, in this Central Asian zone, scene of so much cultural interaction, Kazakh music has deep affinities with that of the other Turkish peoples, both instrumentally and structurally.

The Kazakhs, singular in their language, tradition and customs, belong to the Qiptchaq branch of the great Turkish cultural and linguistic group. The Kazakh people is also geographically divided: a part lives in China, in Xin‑Jiang, another forms the quite recent, independent state of Kazakhistan, while another important Kazakh group inhabits the West of Mongolia, in the Bayan Olghi and Khovd region, since the second half of the 19th Century. Preserved by the Mongol milieu, the Kazakhs have been able to keep alive much of their authentic culture: they have their own schools, their own Kazakh local press and publishing house, a business manufacturing musical instruments, and their own mosque. Kazakhs have in fact been converted to Islam, while Mongols are of the Buddhist faith.

Traditionally nomadic, Mongols and Kazakhs, breeders of horses, camels, bovines like the yak, sheep and goats, have an almost identical life‑style, tied to the economic activities of pastoral nomads and moving according to the rhythm of the seasons.


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