Статья 'The specificity of existence of the Adyghe vocal tradition: the past and the present<br>' - журнал 'PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal' - NotaBene.ru
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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal

The specificity of existence of the Adyghe vocal tradition: the past and the present

Vishnevskaya Liliya Alekseevna

Doctor of Art History

Professor, Department of Music Theory and Composition, Federal State Budgetary Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education "Saratov State Conservatoire named after L.V. Sobinov"

410003, Russia, Saratovskaya oblast', g. Saratov, ul. Sokolovaya, 155/163, of. 112

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Abstract: The research subject is the professional specificity of existence of the Adyghe vocal tradition in the past and the present. Life after life - that’s how the current condition of the Adyghe vocal tradition can be characterized. The published songs of the Adyghe ethnos and subethnoses (the Circassians, the Kabardians, the Shapsughs) are at the present moment not more than a relict, a monument, a musical chronicle of the history of the people and an object of scientific scrutiny. The new conditions of life of the peoples of North Caucasus of the late 20th - the early 21st century begot the secondary folklore practice - reviving and developing the lost tradition on a new level. A vivid example of the rebirth of the tradition of vocal and instrumental performance is the work of the Adyghe folklore ensemble of authentic singing and instrumental music “Dzyu” (the Adyghe Republic, Maikop). The author uses the method of comparative study of folklore (vocal and instrumental) canon of the Adyghes in the past and the present. This method reveals the strong adaptation reserves of the singing tradition of the Adyghes in the current conditions of its existence. The scientific novelty of the study consists in the fact that the practice and the system of education in the traditional Adyghe music-making is studied for the first time using the example of the work of the modern ensemble “Dzyu”. The aspiration for integral revival of the music tradition explains the popularity of this band among different audiences caters to the needs of modern Adyghes for the revival of traditional forms of life and culture.   


adyghe, folklor, folk song, history, modernity, institution of dzeguako, singing, instrumental music, authentic, tradition ensemble

Vocal tradition of the Caucasus peoples is usually linked to the Georgian folk song which can be called the ‘cake’ of the Caucasus musical culture. The ancient and austere North Caucasus vocal tradition –– ‘bread’ of the Caucasus musical culture –– is less known. The current situation is predetermined by many reasons, among them insufficient (and often non-existent) promotion of singing art of the North Caucasus peoples, a huge layer of singing samples stored in radio archives and research institutes of North Caucasus Republics being unstudied, and a number of political concerns pertaining to the content of the historic singing genres.

From the 18th century, authentic North Caucasus culture has been reflected in the records of the West-European and Russian travelers, and in the last third of the 19th century it attracted the attention of many Russian composers, who heard in the North Caucasus a totally different, not ‘Persian’, Orient. First of all, these are Miliy Alekseevich Balakirev and Sergey Ivanovich Taneev. Their multiple trips to the North Caucasus in the 90s of the 19th century resulted in a piano Fantasy “Islamey” by Balakirev, and the recordings of folk melodies, performed by the Balkar prince Izmail Urusbiev –– formerly one of the most famous connoisseurs of the North Caucasus folk song. There are 11 Balkar, Kabardian, and Chechen melodies recorded by Balakirev, and 20 Balkar tunes recorded by Taneev. The material collected by Taneev is distinguished by the songs’ content and genre description, by the characteristic of the folk musical instruments of the Balkars. Therefore, Taneev’s recordings are considered the first scientific publication and notation of the North Caucasus music, the particular features of which are summarized in the article “On the music of highland Tartars” [1]. This material was first published in 1947 in a collection of articles “In memory of S. I. Taneev”, and is now kept at the Memorial house of P. I. Tchaikovsky in Klin [2; 3].

Subsequently, starting from the first decades of the 20th century, the attempts to notate and study the music of Adyghes, Balkars, and Karachays were made by the Russian ethnographers and specialists in Caucasian studies G. Chursin, Dm. Rogal-Levitskiy, A. Avraamov, A. Grebnev, a Ukrainian folklore specialist M. Gaiday, who in 1924 recorded and transferred into notes 107 samples of Balkar folk music. M. Gaidai’s materials are kept at the Rylsky Institute of folklore and ethnography of the Ukrainian Academy of science (Kiev) and currently are prepared for publication in collaboration with the Gorky Institute of the Russian Academy of science (Moscow) [2, s. 25]. A Hungarian linguist Wilhelm Pröhle studied the poetic texts and grammar of the Karachay and Balkar language; he published “Karachay studies” (1909) and “Balkar studies” (1915) in Hungarian and German languages. Soviet composers evacuated to Nalchik in 1941, for whom special performances and concerts of the most famous folk musicians were arranged, highlight freshness and originality of the North Caucasus music. In the wake of their aural impressions, based on the Balkar and Kabardian melodies such musical pieces were created as S. Prokofiev’s Second string quartet, N. Myaskovsky’s Seventh string quartet and 23rd symphony-suite, A. Aleksandrov’s opera “Bela”, A. Krein’s Symphonic suite and vocal cycle “Mountainous Balkaria”, S. Feinberg’s Piano Raphsody, A. Goldenweiser’s 6 songs. A folk North Caucasus song was most actively studied and published in the 50-60s of the 20th century. Adyghe, Balkar and Karachay traditions were leading here, they were captured in six volumes of the collection of “Folk songs and instrumental folk-tunes of Adyghes” and three volumes of the collection “Anthology of the folk music of Balkaria and Karachay” (at the moment, only the first volume has been published). All these works were created under the supervision of a prominent Russian folklore scientist E. Gippius. Nowadays A. I. Rakhaev, B. G. Ashkhotov, A. N. Sokolova are acknowledged as the most reputed researchers of the Adyghes’, Balkars’ and Karachays’ folk music.

The specific nature of Adyghe folk song’s existence lies in the consistent oral and professional type of art peculiar to the Orient cultures and preserved in the first third of the 20th century. First of all, this is the system of teaching the art of singing in folk schools of dzheguako khase –– a council (institution) of singers and musicians. Such councils were socially structured (for example, they were national or in service with prince’s court musicians) and were distinguished by the musicians’ professional area of expertise. One of the leading researchers of the Adyghe (Circassian) dzheguako khase –– Z. Naloev –– writes that the universal character of dzheguakofavorably compares to the European medieval jugglers, minstrels, wandering musicians, with the Russian saltimbancoes, Turkic akyns [4, s. 50].

Professional multifunctional character of the Adyghe performer generated the differentiation of dzheguakointo creators and performers, poets, singers, instrumentalists, dancers, story-tellers, and masters of ceremonies [4]. Each of the above-mentioned ‘professions’ had a circle of duties. For example, an instrumentalist was in high demand in the space of khachesch (room for guests or friends) as a place for celebrations, house parties and banquets. Khatiyako –– a facilitator and master of ceremonies at musical performances –– gained a great prominence. In dzheguako khase special requirements were applied to the solo singer who had to know the Adyghes’ history, plots of events and song heroes, had to have a good ear, voice, memory and acting skills in performing the corypheus role in a singing ensemble. As a result, not only did the soloist fulfill the function of keeping the singing tradition, but he was also the creator and master of performance, since (according to Adyghes) he “who sings badly … is like a man who, instead of hugging a woman, beats her” [4, s. 60]. Therefore, Z. Naloev notes that “one dzheguako could not combine two or three specializations, life demanded development and enrichment of art. This lead to dzheguako groups being created with a dzhegoako-tkhamada as the leader, i.e. corypheus” [4, s. 65].

A folk educational model was formed in the depth of dzheguako khase which provided the connection between generations of folk singers and musicians, and it existed until the 20th century. In the center of this model’s structure there is the all-round musician: not only does he sing, play and dance, but he also acts and is skilled with words on the art of rhetoric level. It is a personality capable of arranging performance, prompting group art due to his qualities of a leader, the central figure and master of ceremonies. This is a person fulfilling the function of atalyk–a traditional child minder, tutor, music teacher.

The singing canon did not only embrace the structural organization of dzheguako khase, but also the performance etiquette, maintaining the vocal tradition. For example, while performing a heroic song it was forbidden to sing about oneself and one’s heroic deeds, since self-conceit was incompatible with the modesty and self-command of the hero. Adyghes’ chivalric etiquette served as a defense mechanism in confessional songs, in ‘expurgatory’ songs, exculpating the hero or heroine of unfair charges. The etiquette also stipulated praising true events in historic, heroic, mourning and lyrical songs [5, s. 92].

The performance is focused on a stereotype, on a ‘role model’; this generated specific gender, timbre, and space features of how the songs of different genres sound. Epic songs (Nart pshinatli) are performed by an ensemble of men with instrumental accompaniment. Historic, heroic, mournful and lyric songs were fixed for men’s groups and solo singing. Women’s solo was in lullabies, children’s lyric and ritual songs.

The outline of only some performance components of the Adyghe vocal tradition already gives a clear understanding of its peculiar existence both in the past and present. From the middle of the 20th century the interest to collecting and studying traditional Adyghe songs and tunes gains momentum. However, the publication of the Adyghes’ huge musical heritage exists as a relic, a monument, a musical chronicle of the people’s history. On the one hand, it presents abundant material for studying different aspects of the Adyghes’ musical culture. On the other hand, though, notation and verbal texts of the past are unintelligible for the modern Adyghe, they are closed for ‘implementing’ them into the modern world of sound. Researchers note that the ethnic unity of the Adyghes is preserved primarily on the basis of the native language, which, even for the migrant Adyghes (for example, Kosovo Adyghes) became the “only stable linguistic fact, which, as a result, played the ethnic-saving role. Thus, the Adyghe language for the Kosovo Adyghes turned out a constant, pivotal category, around which the Adyghe ethnicity of this micro-community was built and regenerated” [6, s. 59]. This is not the case with the traditional music, which sinks into oblivion faster. There is a multitude of factors for this process, and neglect of the musical tradition is characteristic of the middle-aged and younger generations of the Russian and foreign Adyghes. The fact, that the Kosovo Adyghes maintained the native language and completely lost the musical folklore, is defined by A. N. Sokolova as a phenomenal occurrence [7, s. 11].

For a long time a modern listener has envisaged the musical tradition of the Adyghes (and other North Caucasus peoples) based on multiple dance and instrumental ensembles, successfully performing both at home and in different regions of the Soviet and former Soviet Union. A song showing a true attitude to reality was disagreeable for the ruling ideology of the Soviet era. Still, it was always subconsciously present in the folk memory: in the ‘disguise’ of the instrumental tunes, distinctly echoing in the supporting vocal part in instrumental dancing music of the western Adyghes, or in the phonic bass in the construction of the national harmonica. Only the growth of national self-awareness and addressing traditional forms of culture at the end of the 20th–the beginning of the 21st century made it possible to wake up from the state of dormancy, of neglecting the vocal tradition.

From this point of view it is remarkable how the Adyghe folk song was reborn and introduced into the modern repertoire of the folk ensemble of authentic singing and instrumental music “Zhyu”, which appeared at the beginning of the 21st century. It is difficult to talk about a credible recreation of all the traditional elements since many components of the primary folklore are missing, among them historic, social, ritual-rite context of the songs’ creation and performance. Ensemble “Zhyu” gives public performances and concerts in different regions of Russia and abroad, which breaks the law of the primary folklore, when the song was performed naturally on some occasion, it featured a live (here and now) creative process without the separation into performers and listeners, and it did not copy, but carried on the tradition. At the same time, a consistent recreation and keeping of the Adyghe singing tradition, its penetration of the modern everyday life, allows to talk about the “Zhyu” ensemble as an authentic folk group.

Zamudin Guchev, a distinguished artist of Adyghea, an expert in Adyghe history and musical tradition, a performer and craftsman of manufacturing Adyghe folk instruments, has become the founder, corypheus, atalyk (teacher) and professional tutor of this group. Under his auspices students of different specialties and universities, without musical education, but with a musical ear and verbally talented, became the ensemble participants. An authoritative scholar and performer of the Adyghe folk song –– Zaremuk Kardangushev –– remarked that people with a special musical education are lost for the Adyghe culture. They are not capable of mastering the specific Adyghe recitative and hear the peculiarities of the mode temperation, they would not take to heart another meaning of major or minor, because in the academic music the major invigorates, and the minor gives sorrow, while in the Adyghe traditional music the major is weeping, and weeping invigorates and uplifts [8, s. 9]. In this respect the ensemble oeuvre confirms the theory of E. E. Alekseev about the folklore in the context of the modern culture [9]. Having studied the modern life of different folklore traditions, the scientist arrives at several basic conclusions, among them: co-existence of oral and written types of folklore conscience (musical bilingualism), open borders of professional and amateur activity, reproducing the authenticity via the spoken form of teaching and alternate, improvisational practice of performing the patterns learned. All these conclusions reflect the modern state of the Adyghe singing tradition and the oeuvre of the “Zhyu” ensemble in particular.

It should be noted that the performance practice of the ensemble does not so much target the mechanical recovery of the forgotten tunes and plots as the reconstruction of the historic memory and the authentic expression of the national identity. Authenticity is manifested in the very name of the ensemble. The Adyghe folk term ‘zhyu’ has many meanings. It is an old, long-standing, stable melody [10, s. 185], a knightly battle-cry, an appeal for a “collaborative creative work of like-minded people for the benefit of preserving the best traditions of the Adyghe folk art” [8, s. 15].

The head of the ensemble Z. Guchev –– a well-informed and competent specialist in the sphere of ethnic music studies – has combined traditions of the folk dzheguako school and the realities of the Adyges’ modern university education. One of its specific features is gradual accumulation of knowledge and skills. Mastering the tradition gradually is an important feature of the Adyghe singing school, since, before singing in khachesch (room for guests and friends), “a Circassian had to listen to songs, legends and moral tales. This predetermined the age requirements and the character of performance: as a rule, the seniors sang in public; performance implied involvement in the content context and a corresponding mimic mould” [8, s. 9-10]. Therefore, observation and auditory memorizing comprise the first stage of acquiring the singing tradition, which is inextricably linked with the native language acquisition. Language tutorship is the cornerstone principle of Z. Guchev’s school, because the Adyghes remain in the Russian-speaking environment for a long time and are educated in Russian. Authentic performance of the songs implies linguistic proficiency in multiple dialects of the Adyghe language, which were used in songs recorded in the past. These are, in particular, language dialects of such sub-ethnicities as Kabardians, Circassians, Shapsugs, Bzhedugs, Besleneevs, Temirgoevs and others.

Musicians of the “Zhyu” ensemble do not have academic vocal education, they are young people of different professions (historians, philologists, journalists, lawyers, managers), who, as a result of hard work, have acquired enough experience and skills of folk performance. The advisor of the ensemble, Madina Pashtova observes that some soloists have achieved that degree of improvisational freedom, of ventral-glottal play, which allowed a Circassian to sing in public [8, s. 21]. Ensemble participants are convinced that an ancient song is not a throwback of the old style, neither is it a dead relic. Their performance meets a warm response from the listeners of different ages. Authentic signs of the musicians’ oeuvre are not only revealed in brilliant performance, in recreating the national identity, but also in mastering the technique of manufacturing folk instruments, in studying their sound qualities and ways of playing them.

It is hard to overestimate the role of “Zhyu” ensemble in modern society and the modern Adyghe culture, since their performance revives the oldest forms of traditional music-making, such as solo and group, vocal and instrumental performance, the practice of playing shichapschin (chordophone resembling a little cello) and kamyl (aerophone like a reed-pipe). The ensemble musicians do not simply revive, but develop the tradition on a new level, understanding that the past is singing while we hear it.

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