Issue 4, July 2005 - Liesbet Nyssen, Traditional and modern Khakas conceptions of sound and music

5. The present musical soundscape

At present the soundscape is very different from the one just discussed, as it has been shaped by Soviet cultural policy and by the Khakas revitalization processes of the last ten years. Old and new classifications are far apart, the load of terminologies has changed, and the music appears in different forms and contexts.

Today's Khakas terminology and classification are borrowed from the Russians. What is called "music" (muzïka) today excludes the whole range of humanly organised sounds, which I called sound-producing practices (discussed in section 3). At the same time, it now incorporates musics that did not exist before. Thus, following the musicians, Khakas music encompasses three categories: 1) composer's music (kompoziterskaya muzïka); 2) estrada or popular stage music (estradnaya muzïka); and 3) "folk music" (narodnaya muzïka). All three categories of musics are found mostly on podiums in urban centres. The former songs and stories that I called "acknowledged performing arts" and that are rarely heard in a traditional context today (discussed in section 4), are placed in the category of "folk music", together with the newly created traditional music for the stage. Making music, including "folk music", has become largely a stage practice.

In the last few pages of this article, I present an overview of the current Khakas soundscape, following this modern classification of musics. I will present each main category of stage music as it may appear on the podium, together with its basic historical background and the key figures that shape today's Khakas musics. As a starting point, I take a stage concert I attended in the capital Abakan, in October 2001.

This concert was one of the most diverse ones I ever attended. While it lacked composed music, it presented an extraordinary overview of "folk" and estrada musics. Before the real concert started, a tape of khay in a modern arrangement was played, to warm up the audience. Estrada musicians performed different kinds of popular music, both acoustic and electronic, and three "folk music" ensembles performed a range of "folk musics". Estrada singers and "folk music" ensembles alternated, interspersed with dancers, conjurers, and short cabaret intermezzos. The concert ended with a well-known piece of "folk music" by the Aylanïs ensemble, during which all participating artists appeared on the stage, swaying hand in hand and joining in. A tape of estrada featuring khay and a mouth harp was played while the audience left the hall.

5.1 Composer's music

The first category, Khakas composer's music, has existed since the 1940s, when a Leningrad composer, Aleksandr Kenel' (1898-1970), was invited to Abakan. Kenel' immediately started to systematically collect and study Khakas music. He laid the foundation for a Khakas school of composition, as he was the first to compose music inspired by Khakas melodies and rhythms, written for Western instruments and using Western classical tone systems and composing techniques. This way of composing was characterised by a European art form, embellished with features of the local "intonation". It was adopted by Khakas composers from the 1960s onwards, and continues until today. For instance, the songs by Georgiy Chelborakov (born 1937), often with Khakas themes and in Khakas language and poetical form, are popular in all parts of the republic. The following audio example is the orchestral song Khanskaya doch (Daughter of the khan ruler). Although it is in Russian and the music lacks obvious Khakas traits, it is favoured by the Khakas.

Audio Example 2: (filetype: flac; 0.388 MB; duration 0:44)

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Georgiy Chelborakov, Khanskaya doch, performed by the chamber orchestra of the newly established Khakas Symphony Orchestra,
directed by Vyatcheslav Inkizhekov, with soloist Yekaterina Kïshtïmova, soprano.
Recorded by the author in Abakan, Dramteatr on 19 September 2001.

Especially since the 1990s, there has been a tendency to add more Khakas elements. Existing compositions based on Khakas melodies have been arranged for Khakas instruments. A few compositions were written for the Khakas chatkhan zither together with Western instruments, and since a few years, purely instrumental compositions are being written in which Khakas elements are fully incorporated. For instance, instead of arranging Khakas songs, piano soloist and composer Tat'yana Shalginova (born 1955) uses more basic Khakas musical idioms, like those of zither music and of the shamanic soundscape, together with Western avant-garde techniques. She also is the first to try to express Khakas cosmological notions in composed music. For instance, in the piano cycle Solyarniy znak (Sun symbol; composed 1998), she depicts beings like the spirit-owners of the fire, the water, and the wind, using modern composing techniques. The music imitates the sounds of the corresponding natural elements. In the following excerpt of a miniature featuring the spirit of the fire, one thus hears the capricious flames, obtained by musical means like inescapable irregular pulses and melodic outbursts of various ranges.

Audio Example 3: (filetype: flac; 0.453 MB; duration 0:53)

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Tat'yana Shalginova, excerpt from Dukh ognya (Fire spirit), from the cycle Solyarniy znak, performed by Tat'yana Shalginova, piano.
Recorded by the author in Abakan, Music College on 12 October 2001.

5.2 Estrada

The second category of music, Khakas estrada, or stage entertainment (Slobin 1996: 111), arose in the 1970s, under the influence of Soviet-Russian popular song. Estrada, from the French estrade (stage), is "the peculiarly Russian form of hybrid folk-popular music - one might call it 'ethnographic vaudeville' - that persists in myriad 'national' varieties, e.g., Uzbek, Ukrainian, Chukchi, and so on all over the Soviet Union" (Levin 1996: 267).(16) Khakas estrada is composed by men. Most often, it is performed by a male or female singer, accompanied by a tape with synthesiser music. Also, instrumentalists - always men - may play life on standard Western pop-music instruments, like the electric guitar and bass. Usually a synthesiser or a tape with synthesiser music is added to keep time and play the other musical lines. As a rule, there is no live percussionist, since it is difficult to find a Khakas drummer with a steady beat. Estrada is often based on the waltz, a rhythm favoured by both the musicians and the audiences.

Khakas estrada is the most popular of the Khakas musics. It is most frequently listened to, and most often performed by amateur musicians. In 2001-2002 the most popular estrada song was German Tanbaev's Khakassia, a song that venerates the Khakas territory. After a few years it gained the unofficial status of a national hymn; when it was sung, people became emotional and often joined in.

Video Example 6:
Khakassia, by German Tanbaev.
Recorded by the author in Abakan, Pobeda Hall on 8 June 2001.

0.123 MB, filetype: wmv; duration 0:22

Many estrada songs are arrangements of Chelborakov's most popular songs of the last thirty years. Sometimes foreign pop songs (preferably from Turkic speaking regions) are translated into Khakas. This happened in 2001 with the popular Shalunya by Turkish singer Tarkan. In most Khakas estrada, apart from the language used, the "national-ness" (as Levin suggests) is difficult to define. Neither the melodies nor the instruments are Khakas. In the last years, "folk" musicians, who often are involved in estrada as well, started to Khakassify it. The musical element they use most frequently is the khay vocal technique, as is done, for instance, by Ulugbashev from Ülger (see section 5.3). Other ways have been combining Khakas instruments with recorded tape (e.g. Charkov), and building a whole estrada piece on one long prayer, twelve minutes long, slowly and monotonously recited with khay (Tanbaev and Kuchenov).

German Tanbaev, the estrada singer mentioned above, is a highly productive musician and at the moment the most promising one. At first working within a Russian musical idiom, he now increasingly creates Khakas estrada. Apart from the common use of khay and the Khakas language, he experiments with epic forms and with imitations of the chatkhan zither on his acoustic guitar. The texts of this "shamanist" - as he calls himself - are often based on Khakas religious notions, which he embodies in the performance. For instance, he plays a guitar to which a ritual ribbon is tied and includes ritual gestures in his performance, like the sprinkling gesture for feeding spirits and touching the earth in veneration of the "owner" the land. The following musical excerpt is the last stanza from Tösterîm (My helping spirits), a song about a young man's vocation to become a shaman. After the narrating stanza, one can clearly hear the singer imitate communication with spirits. The imitation of a cuckoo locates the event in the taiga. With deep khay, Tanbaev brings the words of the ancestor shaman into being. He shouts and whispers exclamations that belong to both common religious and specialist practices, like "sek sek" for the feeding of nature spirits, "alas!" to chase away malevolent spirits, and "khuray!" to strengthen one's life force. The vocation is accepted in a final incantation.

Audio Example 4: (filetype: flac; 0.529 MB; duration 1:03)

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Tösterîm, by German Tanbaev. From his CD Tigîr Cholï. Copyright German Tanbaev 2002.

Estrada is also used for Khakas dance, which is based on classical ballet, with movements derived from Khakas daily life, like riding horses, playing the lute, braiding hair, courting, and offering.(17) Sometimes, Khakas musical instruments are the theme of the choreography, as in the mentioned concert, where dancer-choreographer Igor Kokov danced with a chatkhan, to music consisting of khay and chatkhan. In it, the dancer represented a storyteller who enters "the world of the hero". In the fragment, he plucks the chatkhan, enters into the world of the hero with hunting and triumphant movements, after which he again takes up the chatkhan to continue the telling of the story.

Video Example 7:
A dance by Igor Kokov, music by Yevgeniy Ulugbashev, khay and chatkhan.
Recorded by the author in Abakan on 21 October 2001.

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5.3 "Folk music"

The last category of today's Khakas musics is "folk music". This term is sometimes painstakingly translated back from the Russian into the rarely used Khakas chonïnïng koglerî (tunes or melodies from the Khakas people), as Kenel' introduced it in 1955. Khakas "folk music" is less popular than estrada, but highly esteemed, particularly by the educated.

"Folk music" today is most often performed on stage. Apart from the older music traditions, especially song and storytelling, it was shaped by Soviet cultural policy, by glasnost, and by recent revitalisation processes. The staged "folk music" tradition started in 1955 with a songbook for voice and piano by Kenel' (1955b), on whose music-ethnographic research the modern Khakas "folk music" repertoire primarily rests. Tunes transcribed by him were harmonised and arranged for vocal and vocal-instrumental ensembles, much like Russian "folk music" (Charkov, personal communication, 2004). These arranged "folk songs," together with newly composed songs came to form the official Khakas "folk song" repertoire. Apart from the national Zharki ensemble, for which the repertoire had initially been developed, the music was performed by multi-part a capella choirs and, to a lesser degree, by vocal-instrumental ensembles with Russian instruments. The large national Khakas ensemble Zharki (Russian name for the orange trollius flower, the national emblem of Khakassia) was established in 1961. The ensemble consisted of a choir, an instrumental ensemble with a mixture of Russian and modernised Khakas instruments, and a dance group. Classical-trained singers, dancers, and instrumentalists playing the Russian accordion, and lutes, bowed lutes, and flutes in different sizes, together performed "Khakas folk music and dance" (for dance, see section 2.3 and note 17). On rare occasions an old chatkhan player was invited, who would add de-contextualised instrumental motives in a kind of potpourri.

Until 1989, this ensemble was the sole "folk ensemble" officially representing Khakassia. In 1989, with glasnost, Zharki prudently started to search for more "Khakas" music. However, it could not prevent its instrumentalists from leaving to establish new, smaller ensembles that were more to their taste. That year the instrumentalists first established the vocal-instrumental Ülger ensemble in the capital's House of Culture. While the Zharki ensemble and the choirs kept to composed Khakas "folk songs", the Ülger musicians started to arrange their own "folk songs", first by adapting the composed songs, but soon including ones that were still being sung in the villages. They began to call on the few still living older musicians, to learn the old ways of performing and to include new tunes in their repertoire.

The revitalisation of Khakas music intensified after the Soviet Union fell apart in the beginning of the 1990s. Other ensembles arose, like Aylanïs and Sabjïlar,(18) which worked much in the same way, but more radically so. These ensembles turned to one-line music, played and sung in alternation by the different instruments and voices. The instruments were reduced to their former size, and a more "traditional" way of singing was favoured: a more throaty sound without vibrato and within the range used by non-trained voices. Today musicians also create the music themselves. Apart from adopting and creating new repertoires, they experiment with sound, rhythm, intonation, and the limitations of instruments built after the older models.

In the modern "folk music" stage repertoire thus shaped, some older forms have been incorporated to serve as its basis. From the former soundscape, mainly the acknowledged performing arts, songs and musically performed epics are taken over, either in their original form or transformed. The sound-producing practices, both vocal and instrumental, are an addition giving variation in sound colour. In the concert mentioned above, for instance, the performers sang takhpakh, kög, ïr, and sarïn, and performed fragments from heroic stories (alïptïgh nïmakh). The instruments (zither, lute, bowed lute, flutes, and drum) and the khay vocal technique were also used, again both in their older and transformed forms. Thus, although the terms and notions my informants used for the various musics within the contemporary set of "folk music" remain mainly the same (takhpakh, ïr, kög, etc.), their forms and practices differ from past ones.

"Folk music" ensembles today mostly exist of three to six musicians who both sing and play several instruments. Sometimes, "folk dance"-like choreographies are added. In every ensemble the whole set of Khakas musical instruments, modernised or reconstructed, is played: the chatkhan zither, the khomïs lute, the bowed ïïkh lute, the timîr khomïs mouth harp, the khobrakh flute, the sucked pïrghï trumpet, the tüür drum, and a range of newly developed percussion instruments. Only the sïïlas flute rarely appears on stage. Female musicians, about half of the number of the members of the ensembles, take up most of the vocal parts and play the khobrakh flute, the khomïs lute, the percussion, and sometimes the bowed ïïkh lute. Male musicians take part in the singing and play all the melodic instruments, but rarely engage in percussion. Playing sïïlas, pïrghï, and chatkhan, and performing khay are men's activities. Women most often only play the chatkhan when no male player is available. Some musicians, in the first place the male leaders of the group, but also some other members, perform solo, accompanying their voice with an instrument. The only musician to perform purely instrumentally is Charkov. For this he is often criticised by both the audience and his colleagues, as in Khakas music the word is of primary importance. The repertoire of these groups consists primarily of four to six minute arrangements of songs with or without khay, and with string accompaniment. An ensemble's repertoire is built up of arranged old tunes, newly created songs, and a few re-arranged composers' "folk songs".

The "folk music" ensembles now dominating the stage all actively take part in revitalising the music tradition. At the 2001 concert in Abakan, only two important groups were absent, the mixed Altaian-Khakas ensemble Üch Sümer (Three Summits, the Altaian name for Mount Belukha), with music from Altai and Khakassia, and the students' ensemble Chitî Khïs (Seven Girls, a common name for mountain ranges), an all-women's group that sometimes includes a male musician for the khay parts.

Ensemble Ülger (Pleiades), founded in 1989, is the oldest one. Today, it is the republic's official Khakas music and dance company. It consists of an estrada music and dance section and a "folk music" section. In the 2001 Abakan concert mentioned earlier, the "folk music" section performed, among other items, an arranged fragment of attïgh nïmakh ("on horse") storytelling, called Khakas chirî (Land of the Khakas). In this piece, the male group leader had a central place that recalled the former storyteller. He recited khay and played the chatkhan, while other group members accompanied him on ïïkh and khomïs.

Video Example 8:
Khakas chirî, by Ensemble Ülger, with solist Yevgeniy Ulugbashev, khay.
Recorded by the author in Abakan on 21 October 2001.

0.217 MB, filetype: wmv; duration: 0:40

Ensemble Aylanïs (Return, that is, to ancient traditions) was established in 1995 to provide a Khakas theatre with live music. One of the arranged songs it performed at the concert was Ek, chonnïng pay irîn (Hey, rich man of our people), an arrangement of an old ïr song, recorded and transcribed by Kenel' (1955a: 59-60)(19). Here, the female ensemble members sang the verses, played the ïïkh, the timîr khomïs, and the shaman's tüür. Some of them danced. The male members sang the refrain with khay and played the khomïs. In the following excerpt, the song comes to an end, showing all musical elements at once.

Video Example 9:
Ek chonnïng pay irîn, by Ensemble Aylanïs, arranged by the ensemble leader Aleksandr Samozhikov.
Recorded by the author in Abakan on 21 October 2001.

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The third and youngest "folk music" ensemble to perform at this concert was the Sabjïlar (Messengers) ensemble, established in 1998. It performed Oghïrlar ïrï (Horse-thieves' song), a long piece of music based on a short song that the group recorded on one of their fieldtrips. In the same way as the animal song, discussed in section 4.1, the text is attributed to the thieves themselves. In this composition, Vyatcheslav Kuchenov and his group suggested a nightly atmosphere of thievery, by having all instruments and voices sound in unusual ways. Thus, the lyrics are partly whispered, the khomïs and the ïïkh are played to produce various horse rhythms, the shaman's tüür drum is scratched instead of beaten, and nightly animal and spirit sounds are vocally imitated.

Video Example 10:
Oghïrlar ïrï, by Ensemble Sabjïlar.
Recorded by the author in Abakan on 21 October 2001.

0.283 MB, filetype: wmv; duration 0:53

16. For the meaning of the term "nation" see note 2. (back)
17. 'Khakas folk dance' has existed since the 1950s. Prior to the Soviet cultural interventions, dance "as an art form with a regulated system of body movements" did not exist (Asinovskaya 1997: 339). The Russian choreographer Sara Slovina, on whose concepts today's dance is still based, developed it from 1957 onward. In the last 10 years Khakas dance has also been re-imagined from the "folk music" angle: "folk" musicians started to create dances themselves. Thus Stepanida Samozhikova from Aylanïs developed more "traditional" Khakas choreographies, and more recently Vyatcheslav Kuchenov started to experiment with dance choreographies derived from the movements that accompany takhpakh singing (Kuchenov, 22 July 2004), thus approaching the former wedding circle song movements discussed in the section on dance. See also note 6 in section 2.3. (back)
18. Transcribed as Ailanys and Sabjilar in the world music scene. (back)
19. This song, discussed in the section on past singing practices (4.1), is a good example of how an ïr song can change between one performer and the next. (back)