Kyui is a Kazakh word that refers to traditional music compositions normally performed by soloists using traditional instruments. In ancient times, musical instruments were widely used in various ways during the nomadic life, such as during magical rites, hunting sessions, military maneuvers, and for kids and youth’s leisure activities. The design and features of each instrument are linked to its functions. Here is a list of nine traditional instruments from Kazakhstan.
The most popular Kazakh musical instrument is dombra, with its gentle and melodious sound created by only two strings. Since there are many local varieties of dombra, musicians are allowed to reproduce a great variety of sounds. All dombra’s varieties are different in shape, frets and fingerboard length. There are numerous techniques of playing the dombra, which allows performers – also called dombrists – to recreate many different styles in any musical piece. Kyui played with dombra can be considered the acme of Kazakh music evolution and the most genuine reflection of the Kazakh spirit. Today, some dombra kyui are performed in rock, modern, and pop style music, and sometimes even in classical music.
Sybyzgy is an instrument consisting of a hollow reed tube with three holes. It is characterized by a trembling sound. Besides reed, sybyzgy can also be made of wood. In the past, it was very popular among Kazakh musicians thanks to its simple form and the availability of the material it is made of. Although it was easy and fast to make, it was very difficult to play. Performances with the sybyzgy normally include two-voice melodies: the first voice comes from the instrument, while the second one comes from the guttural sound of the performer. Because of the simultaneous performance of both voices, the playing technique is very difficult. This instrument is widely used during weddings, newborns celebrations, and to welcome important guests.
Daulpaz is a percussion instrument that produces a very strong and loud sound. In the past, it was used to give military signals (e.g. an attack signal), to invite people hunting, or to perform religious rites.
Along with dombra, kobyz was one of the most popular musical instruments of early nomads. Kobyz is a bow instrument that consists of two strings made of horsehair. It is believed to be the most ancient bow instrument of the world. It includes three parts (head, middle, and lower part) and it is hollowed out of one single piece of wood. Kobyz was mostly used during religious and magical rituals by shamans and folk singers. During these rituals, it served as a means of communication with the spirits. This particular instrument has a colorful timbre, perfect to imitate nature sounds, such as howling of wolves, cry of swans, and running horses.
Shankobyz is a tongue folk instrument usually made of wood or metal. To play it, the musician has to press the instrument against his teeth or his lips as the oral cavity serves as a resonator. By changing the articulation of the mouth and breathing, it is possible to change the tone quality of the shankobyz. Moreover, it is possible to make new tones by changing the diaphragm, tongue and lips position.
Asatayak is an ancient percussion instrument that produces a sharp acute sound. Its shape resembles a stick with a flat head, heavily decorated with various ornaments such as metal rings and pendants. Sometimes, bells are fixed to the instrument’s head to produce additional metallic ringing sound. In the past, asatayak were used during shaman rituals.
Sherter is a stringed plucking instrument characterized by a short neck with no frets. It is played in a similar way as the dombra, but it produces a stronger sound and has much smaller dimensions. Sherter somehow resembles the kobyz as it is also hollowed out of a single wooden piece, and has strings made of horsehair. The sherter has only one pin; thus, both strings were put through the head, but one of them was attached to the pin and the other one was attached to the head. This instrument was very popular among shepherds and was mainly used to accompany songs, tales and legends.
Zhetygen is a stringed musical instrument which reminds of a lying harp. It has a mild, melodious sound. The classic version of the zhetygen has 7 strings, while the modern one has 15 strings. The most ancient type of zhetygen looked like an oblong box, hollowed out of a piece of wood. The strings were stretched by hand from the outside of the instrument. Later, zhetygen’s upper part started to be covered with a wooden board. Under each string there were assyks (bones) which were used to tune the string. If the assyks were moved closer to each other, the tune raised, while if they were moved apart the tune fell.
Dangyra is a percussion instrument which consists of a rim covered with leather on one side. Inside it, there are small metal rings and plates that sound when the leather is stricken and when the musician moves. Even dangyra is associated to shaman rituals.