Posts Tagged Komuz

Day 35 – as words fail Diana dies on the Kazak Steppe

In 1961 there was no such medium as the World Wide Web. Had it existed it would probably have failed to announce the birth of Diana Spencer. Last night we stood in a Kazak field a thousand miles from anywhere and logged on with our daily episode. As the news of Diana’s tragic death was announced we stood in disbelief and horror. The national anthem rang out across the Kazak steppe and we fell to silence.

35jyurt.gif

The morning light revealed a lone horseman tying up his horse near his yurt. I approached with a smile and shook hands. His wife and young son joined us with more smiles. I pointed to my video camera asking permission. A gesture and a nod and he mounted his horse, parading with some pride. His young son then took the reins. Eager to share something I offered him a playback of the video. One by one the family watched themselves and amongst the Kazak speech the word ‘Television’ emerged. For the second time in a few hours communications technology found a strange role.

The horseman then gave me his horse whip as a gift, no doubt to him a valuable asset. I gave him a wooden flute in return. Sometimes human understanding has it’s own language even as words fail.

35horse.gifMy encounter with Bulat, his wife Gulja and son Almas, had to be curtailed because of our voyage of discovery to a local village. It was only a 15 minute drive from our campsite and it took us further up a scenic tributary valley of the Charyn River. As we neared the village distant snow covered peaks appeared above the wooden rooftops. Alongside each of the valley walls pine forests increased and an occasional shepherd on horseback darted in and out of the rocky outcrops. We passed a hillside graveyard and someone whistled the theme from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, this really is the town with no name. At this time of the day most villagers are on the hillside working the land or herding sheep.

35stday.gifWe had made the decision that this part of the journey was to be an adventure. No ‘fixed up’ professional musicians. We are in the Kazakstan wilderness and we intend to discover local musicians the hard way. We stopped and spoke to a passing ‘horse man’. Did he know of any local musicians? The driver communicated by making guitar poses and saying the words dombra and komuz. To our amazement the horseman repeated the word komuz and beckoned us to follow him. Our first conversation with one of the villagers and he seems to be a komuz player! We go to his wooden house fifty metres further down the road. He holds up his hands and says ten tenge (Kazak currency) whilst pointing towards a bucket full of milk. Moldira suddenly tells us the word for milk here is kumyz. Ah well, we thought things were going too smoothly.

A bit further down the road we decided that we need a different approach. How do you find about the cultural life of a small Kazak Village?

35kids.gifAt that moment we passed a building that looked like a school. Children were assembled in a courtyard singing a song which turned out to be the Kazak national anthem. In every school I’ve known the head teachers have always been a mine of information regarding the parents of the children. Perhaps this would be the ideal place to find out who the musicians are in the village. Being the first of September this was the first day back at school but the headmaster had time to talk to us. He was very friendly and welcomed us. The school is housed in a new building which seems well designed. The classrooms are cool and light and everything looks well organised. The word ‘welcome’ is displayed in English above the main entrance. This is possibly because the village is called Kurmetui which means ‘welcome’.

35stday2.gifIn the spirit of exchange we offered the school a short presentation during which we would play to them and tell them a little about our project. In return the headmaster offered to allow us to observe a music lesson. He also gave us the names of some musicians two of whom are teachers in the school. It will be fascinating to see how the children respond to our music and also to some of our technology. We will meet them tomorrow at twelve. Who knows what will happen?

Within a few minutes one of the teachers came strolling down the road with his dombra. Kuan, the sports teacher, is also a musician. On the verandah of the school Kuan stood proudly in front of a small group of school children and the Nomad crew. He warmed up by roughly strumming his instrument. This gave an impression of quiet confidence. Suddenly he began to sing and everyone stopped talking and listened. He had a powerful, resonant voice.

35kuan.gif After a short time he performed in front of our two video cameras, his headmaster and the school children. Occasionally he faltered, perhaps not used to this kind of pressure. As in electron microscopy the act of investigation changes the thing you are studying. We are now in a sensitive environment and our presence is possibly an intrusion. It has been my experience that in Central Asia and the much of the world music is often born out of intimacy and trust. Malika and Rakhimahon were good examples. Asking musicians to perform in a ‘professional’ way sometimes causes imbalance. The musicians become ‘the watched’ we are the ‘the watchers ‘. Even the school children, not familiar with cameras, began to freeze.


Tomorrow we will attempt to share.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments