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World Music CD Reviews Middle East & North Africa

VARIOUS ARTISTS

By Paul-Emile Comeau
Published June 27, 2006

Songs From The Steppes: Kazakh Today
Topic

Writer and BBC broadcaster Michael Church encountered local folk performers while in Astana (the Kazakh capital) to serve on the jury of a classical piano competition. He was so struck by how distinctive each performer sounded, in spite of the apparent limitations of their indigenous instruments, that he decided to record them. Though the album features various singers and virtuosi on such instruments as the dombra and the sherter (two different two-stringed lutes), the qyl-kobuz (a two-stringed horsehair fiddle), the symai (a button accordion), and the sybyzgy (a flute), the most unusual tracks feature Edil Huseinov, who throat sings while plucking a seven-stringed zither called a zetygen. On another solo track, Huseinov very effectively depicts the mythic flight of the winged horse on the shang-kobuz (jew’s harp), with added grunts, groans and throat singing. The jew’s harp also shows up on a few tracks by the Folk Ensemble of the Presidential Orchestra. Many of the artists are featured on several consecutive tracks, which makes for effective sequencing. Some tracks also feature traditional singing which reflects Kazakhstan’s bardic traditions new and old.