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Sample Track 1:
"Kyiylyp Turam (I'm Sad to Say Goodbye)" from Tengir-Too, Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan (Music and Voices of Central Asia)
Sample Track 2:
"Excerpt from 'Manas' Epic" from Tengir-Too, Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan (Music and Voices of Central Asia)
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Tengir-Too, Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan (Music and Voices of Central Asia)
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Selected Notes from the Field

Rysbek Jumabaev

Rysbek Jumabaev, the manaschi, once gave a performance to a group of western journalists at the base of a sacred hill in Kyrgyzstan that features in the Manas epic. Seated, with one leg tucked under him, Rysbek made what appeared to be martial art movements for about a minute. His eyes rolled back and his eyelids flittered and then he began to recite the story of the 40 horsemen of the Manas, the warriors who saved the Kyrgyz people from the incursions of the Kalmyks (Mongols) and the Manzars. Almost immediately, ominous gunpowder-grey clouds boiled up out of the black mountains behind Rysbek. Jagged lightning slashed at the mountains and thunder that sounded like galloping horsemen rumbled through the valley. Rysbek’s performance continued for almost half an hour. He ended abruptly, looking up at the audience as if awakening. The rain swept in, driving his audience to shelter.

What is interesting about his live performances, especially the more intimate ones, is that few people clap after them. While everyone claps for the other performers, people are always a bit stunned and befuddled by Rysbek's performance. Most understand intuitively that they have experienced the public invocation of the transcendent and, in the process, are quieted.

In early 2005, Rysbek was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall (together with the Silk Road ensemble). When Ted Levin told him about the upcoming performance, Rysbek said that it was out of the question; he had a more important commitment on that day. When we gently enquired what that commitment was, Rysbek proudly said that he is participating in the Kyrgyz-wide manaschi contest in the neighboring village. And, true, performing in front of his “colleagues” was much, much more important to him than being on a stage unknown to him.

Rysbek was convinced to do the Carnegie Hall performance. (He said that the spirits talked to him there). He went on to a residency at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The pride of the museum is an authentic Chinese house that was brought over from a remote Chinese village. Museum programmers planned for Rysbek to perform in the house, but he refused to enter the house, saying that the spirits of the former inhabitants were so greatly disturbed by the move from China to USA, that the atmosphere inside the house was unbearable. Instead, he performed in a light and spacious gallery.

Zainidin Imanaliev

Ten world music critics, many of them brought up on what is now called “Classic Rock”, were traveling around by bus in Central Asia, visiting some of the musicians featured on the March 2006 Tour. The Kyrgyz musicians had an immediate appeal. The critics were often struck by the universality, and familiarity, of some of the riffs they heard (not just rock)—everything from "Flight of the Bumblebee" to "Stairway to Heaven". On a visit to Zainidin Imanaliev’s home and conservatory, some thought they heard riffs from Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Freebird”), Hendrix (“Little Wing”) and the Allman Brothers (“Jessica”). As the tour continued, several of the other European rock journalists would lean over after a performance and whisper to another critic, "I think I heard ________ in that one.”

Baktybek Chytyrbaev

When Baktybek, or “Bakyt” (pronounced “bucket”) began studying the kyl kayak, there was only one musician playing the instrument in the country. Like other traditional music of the region, it was almost extinct. Now his students are keeping the tradition alive. On a recent visit, a guest was shown how the instruments are made, a process imbued with mystery. The strings had to be “magic” strings. “They’re made from a live horse’s tail,” Bakyt explained. “If the hair is taken from a dead horse, it won’t sound right.” After explaining the various intricacies of kyl kayak performance and instrument construction, one American visitor admiring the mountain view was surprised when Bakyt asked, “I really like Carlos Castaneda. Do you?”

Notes Compiled by:

Sam Pickens, Information Officer, Aga Khan Development Network
Fairouz R. Nishanova, Director, Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia
Theodore Levin, Senior Project Consultant, Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia

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Selected Notes from the Field

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