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Music has been an integral part of Kazakhstan's culture for centuries.
Kazakh traditional music can essentially be divided into two genres - instrumental music and vocal music. Instrumental music is called Kuy and is performed by soloists using Kazakh traditional musical instruments, such as a dombra and a kobyz. The Kazakh traditional art of 'Dombra Kuy' was inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014.
Nineteen-year-old dombra player Alexey Lodochnikov, one of Kazakhstan's '100 New Faces'
The dombra is perhaps the most famous Kazakh traditional music instrument. It is a 2-string long-necked lute-type instrument with 7 to 9 frets. The music is often accompanied by narrated stories and legends, and is traditionally performed at social gatherings and festive celebrations amid a rich variety of food and musical entertainment. One of the greatest dombra players was the folk musician and composer Kurmangazy, who had a great influence on the development of Kazakh musical culture, including music for the dombra. His musical compositions 'Adai', and 'Saryarka' are popular in Kazakhstan and abroad.
Other great traditional musicians include Dina Nurpeisova, Dauletkerei Shigaev, and Amre Kashaubayev.
Preserving traditional music
As part of the 'Madeni Mura' cultural heritage programme, an anthology of authentically-performed Kazakh traditional music and folk songs was compiled by the Government.
Furthermore, the Kazakhstan Museum of Folk Musical Instruments was opened in Almaty. Located in Panfilov Park, the museum displays more than 1,000 items of instruments, dating back to the 17th century.
Classical performers at the Central Asian Spring Festival at the University College London in 2019
In order to preserve and promote Kazakh traditional musical art, festivals and competitions are regularly held to provide a platform to traditional performers.
Kazakh artists have regularly received recognition in prestigious international competitions, including the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition, the New Wave international Contest of Young Performers of Popular Music, the Grand Prix of Slavic Bazaar, and the Moscow Conservatory's International Competition of Wind & Percussion Performers.
In 2018, a duet of dombra players from Kazakhstan won the grand prize at the International Festival of World Music held in Israel, featuring entries by over 80 musicians from across the world.
Classical music today
Traditional musical instruments undoubtedly continue to play an important role in the musical heritage of modern Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan also mastered the polyphony and the whole genre repertoire of classical European music, such as opera, symphony, orchestral and choral performance, and has created a new school of professional composers.
Kazakhstan has been the home of a great number of talented and internationally- renowned classical musicians, including Kulyash Baiseitova, Bibigul Tulegenova, Yermek Serkebayev, Roza Baglanova, Alibek Dnishev, Aiman Musakhodzhayeva, Marat Bisengaliev, Mayra Muhammad-kyzy, and Alan Buribayev.
Internationally renowned Kazakh violin vistuoso Marat Bisengaliev
Based on the combination of national and European music, a number of classics of Kazakh opera were created, including 'Kyz Zhibek' by Yevgeny Brusilovsky, 'Abai' by Ahmet Zhubanov, and 'Birzhan and Sara' by Mukan Tulebaev.
Nowadays Kazakhstan is home to the following classical music institutions:
It is the ongoing preservation of Kazakh traditional music, coupled with the thriving Western classical music, which makes Kazakhstan so unique.
Tahir Ibragimov is the founding father of the Kazakh jazz. In 1969, he formed his first jazz band “Boomerang" that included his friends, pianist Georgy Metax and counter-bassist Farhat Ibrahimov. By that time, jazz has already gained tremendous popularity in the Soviet Union, but was prohibited as a Western cultural influence. “Boomerang," the first Kazakh jazz band ever, started from underground concerts in Almaty and grew into one of the most popular jazz bands in the entire Soviet Union.
"Boomerang" jazz ban
By the early 1980s, jazz was fully rehabilitated in the Soviet Union, and jazz festivals appeared here and there throughout the country. The group "Boomerang" began to form a unique style, which was later called Oriental Jazz. From 1983 to 1986, the band released three albums in the company "Melody" ("Boomerang", "Ornament" and “Mirage").
The jazz scene of Almaty was gradually developing and growing into an avant-garde cultural movement. The main venues included the hotel "Alma-Ata" with the restaurant "Issyk", the hotel "Otrar", the cafe "Akku" and, of course, the music school named after P. I. Tchaikovsky.
The Jazz Rock Café played an important role in Kazakhstan's jazz culture in the late 1990-s. It was the place that brought together Victor Khomenkov, Zhanna and Gaukhar Sattarovas, Irene Aravina.
Zhanna Sattarova became the key figure, who played a major role in the formation of the genre in the country. She had classical music education and a passion for jazz. Zhanna Sattarova was instrumental in the popularization of jazz. She devoted almost 25 years of life to music. During her career she released only two albums. The first, “2012," was dedicated to her favorite director Takeshi Kitano. The second one, “Sketches for the Mood," was released with the support of French colleagues in 2015.
Since “Boomerang," the Kazakh jazz scene has developed significantly. Jazz festivals take place all over the country, including the famous Jazzystan that brought together musicians from the UK, Israel, Europe and more.
Kazakh pop music
Besides folk and classical music, Kazakhstan has become a music centre due to its location. Artists that are superstars in Russia, China, Japan, and even Europe play concerts in Kazakhstan and have fan bases. Kazakhstan even has its own versions of popular music TV shows “The X-Factor" and “American Idol" (called Superstar KZ).
However, Kazakhstan has its own superstars as well that pull their influences from popular music. Artists like Dimash Kudaibergen, Mika, Rin'Go, Luina, NG, Amir Franc, and others are big artists in Central Asia and beyond.
Dimash Kudaibergen performing at The World's Best TV show on CBS channel