Posts Tagged storyteller/musician

Day 30 – we try and make sense of our world Pt II

Whats new – Nomad Mixer

This afternoon we were visited by Saparbek Kasmambetov, one of Kyrgyztan’s few manas epic singers. Besides being an esteemed musician Saparbek is also a well known journalist. The parallels between journalistic ‘storytelling’ and the role of the storyteller/musician had already struck us when we met Shoberdy the bakshy singer.

Saparbek sang us some excerpts from the stories. The first is about two heroes. One Kyrgyz, Almanbet Chubak and a Chinese giant named Makeldur . They fight an epic battle in the mountains until Almanbet eventually traps the giant between two mountains and hits him on the head. The head is then displayed in a large bag next to a large pile of stones to demonstrate it’s size. Even without knowing much about Kyrgyz-Chinese relations the symbolism seems clear. We also heard a song about Saparbek’s travels to London. A trip which he recalls with affection. This he described as an improvisation – an elaboration on an existing structure but using contemporary events. Even without understanding the meaning of the words this is a very expressive medium for story-telling. Saparbek uses dramatic hand gestures and a kind of rhythmic chanting which draws the listener into the story. Even out of context it is possible to imagine the effect of this style of performance stretching over twelve or more hours – a kind of hypnotic state could be induced, or at least a heightened receptivity.

The manas epic is a story cycle which takes up to thirteen days to perform. Understandably this is a rare occurrence these days. Consisting of a series of legendary stories it often contains philosophical themes and historical references. It has been passed on orally from father to son for generations. Saparbek, an exception to this rule, ‘learnt it naturally’ and described how it is necessary to have a talent for manas – given by God. It is a huge task to learn all the stories and Saparbek is one of only two ‘manaschi’ who can improvise upon the themes of all the stories. Supposedly the first epics were composed in the 4th century but written references to them (in Arabic) only appear from the 8th century.

The contexts in which manas may be performed include: weddings, funerals and public occasions. It has come to represent a link to the past. A contemporary cultural icon which connects Kyrgyz people to an older way of life. The nomadic culture was non-literate it is therefore only through oral traditions that children learn about the past.

Day 0 raised many issues. ‘Through the telling of stories we try and make sense of our world’. The stories and songs of the three countries we have visited have a purpose. They tell of suffering, joy and of a long, rich past. The songs have a reason for existence and they are alive here. We have met performers who have developed in an oral tradition. A tradition where songs are passed down naturally to each subsequent generation. Like seeds, they grow and flourish if the environment supports them. Music survives through those willing to nurture and spread those seeds – Musical Nomads?

Kyrgyzstan has changed rapidly – according to Gulnaz, the Russians did not arrive until the 19th century. In this short space of time the majority of the population has become settled. Gulnaz works with Information Technology and is thoroughly at home on the internet. This is a hugely accelerated pace of change.

Gulnaz epitomizes what it means to be a citizen of Central Asia. Her family are Kyrgyz, but raised in Russian part of town she attended a Russian school. Her first language is Russian but she understands both Kazak and Uzbek. Her husbands language is also Russian but he speaks no Kyrygz. As they live in Kyrgyzstan she regularly interprets for him.

Gulnaz is a modern woman. She loves pop music especially ‘A-Studio’, Kyrgyzstan’s most popular band. Though she dances until dawn at local discotheques, Gulnaz became fascinated with our project and listened with rapt attention to our unaccompanied folk singers and virtuoso komuz players. A new career beckoned as Gulnaz became an enthusiastic clapper loader – putting the synchronization slates on the front of our recordings (take one etc.). Today Gulnaz leaves us and we shall remember her affectionately as ‘giggling

Tomorrow we return to Kazakstan, older perhaps wiser and certainly overwhelmed by the richness of culture that remains in Central Asia.
The journey has come full circle.
In the mountains near Almaty will we find a resolution?
Have there been any lessons learned?
Did the music and way of life of the people hold any answers?
Perhaps we will meet more musicians in the mountains who are not as settled and who have other perspectives to offer. It’s a long way from over yet, stick around for surprises to come.

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