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The Uyghur Music Art of Kazakhstan and XUAR Compared and Contrasted

28.11.2014 5727
It is a common fact that Uyghur music originated thousands of years ago, deep in history.

It is a common fact that Uyghur music originated thousands of years ago, deep in history. Therefore, it is safe to say that the art has been developing within its authentic framework and has its distinct artistic profile as well as a school of musicians.

The data available indicate that the basis for Uyghur music was founded in the 7th century, during the rule of the Sui dynasty, in the so-called Suishu.

The Uyghur music culture of Kazakhstan as well as that of Xingyang Region shows a diversity of instruments and complex patterns. Even today no traditional event, no poetry readings of this ethnic group is unaccompanied by music.  In fact, whatever happens against a musical background. Even amateur musicians are invited to participate in such parties along with professional players. Melody and singing are inseparable in this community’s traditions.

Major Soviet scientists, V.M.Belyayev, who studied the music of Central Asia and foreign Oriental countries, called Uyghur music “one of the basic elements of the Central Asian euphony” in his book titled “Turkmenian Music” [1, 32]. There is a difference between folk and professional folk Uyghur music, as it is in the Uzbek, Tajik, and Azerbaijani cultures. Both schools achieved their greatest a long time ago. While folk music, which is amateur, has been primarily developing in the country (its trivial name is dekhan), the cultural aspect and content of professional folk music have been influenced by urban cultures dating back to the Middle Age. In general, professional folk traditions have influenced the national art in general but still remain unchanged. It is an evidence of a robust memory and sterling principles in the preservation of ethnic customs and traditions.

Generally speaking, Uyghur songs present a topical issue as one which has not been an object of specifically designed research so far. Its scarce scientific presentation may be the reason why most ethnic music books are severely flawed. They only represent the exterior of the songs. The analysis of lyrical songs is often skin-deep and negligent, and the only grouping factor is that of genre, while certain aspects of sound are disregarded. Anyway, let our rising generation deal with it…

The interrelation of professional folk and folk music remains a pressing issue of music studies. This type of folk culture has shaped its own social genres as well as a song and dance system. The folk imagery has been passed from generation to generation by word of mouth [2, 17]. A small article cannot possibly deal with a subject like this. However, we found it reasonable to shed some light on certain aspects of the music culture, in particular the instruments.

Uyghur music culture has formed artistic traditions as well as methods of teaching instrumental performance. According to Tamara Alibakiyeva, music scholar,   one of the complex and beautiful genres, the so-called mukamy, should be treated as a well-developed and elaborate form of art, meaningful and rich in context. Uyghur songs demonstrate a unique manner of depicting the national character and customs. The fact that people have used dance to express emotions that cannot be expressed in melody is an evidence of the existing connection between people and music.  

Local songs accompanied by musical instruments are especially noteworthy. Both in XUAR and in Kazakhstan, the tambir is one of the most popular accompanying instruments. It is greatly respected by folk musicians, who call it the basic instrument.  The ravap, the gidzhak, and the dutar are used to accompany Uyghur songs as well. The dutar is widely used.

Professional folk improvising singers are the highlight of Kazakhstani Uyghur music. Even unsophisticated folk melodies are often changed to a profound complexity when performed by professionals during large-scale cultural events. Improvisation showing talent and expert performers possessing deep knowledge on folk music can present even widely known folk songs at a professional levels [3, 3]. It is done through repeating various short patterns, introducing more sophisticated rhythm, and adding more complex lines. As a result, the theme often falls into several elements, or parts.

Collective performance is an old Uyghur tradition, which is directly related to the genre of the piece performed. Apart from the typical instruments, ensembles often have the chang as well as the kalun, which is rarely used.  The satar is known to be a professional instrument, since it requires refined skill to open up to the audience.

There are practically no scientific works presenting a theoretical analysis of Uyghur music; those existing are mostly in Chinese, Arabic, English, German, and Turkish. Many music scholars were interested in traditional Uyghur culture. The methods introduced by V.Belayev, T.Vyzgo, K.Kozhamiyarov, R.Khasimov, T.Alibakiyeva, A.Burkhanov, S.Kibirova, and R.Khasanov  are widely used in todays’ ethnic music studies, providing broader possibilities for analyzing and comparing Uyghur musical instruments.  Thus, the best way to analyze musical instruments is to classify them into groups by material using the Chinese system (metal, wood, stone, leather, silk, etc.).

The Uyghur scientist Abdukshur Muhammat Imin, the author of “The Singing and Dance Art of Xinyang of the Tang Dynasty”, tells the story of a Kuchean musician, singer, and plucked instrument player named Sudzup, who lived in the 2nd half of the 6th century and developed the five-taran heptatonic system, which grew extremely popular in China[1].

The maturity of music culture in Early Middle Age caused the basis of music theory to form in Central Asia. Sudzup’s theoretic system underlay the Uyghur musical progress.  

Avicenna, a 9th century scientist, classified musical instruments into chords, winds, and percussion instruments. Music scholars believe the classification by V.Maiyon to be the general classification. The musical instrument researcher V.Maiyon considered the sound produced by instruments to be the chief classification parameter. However, it proved to be insufficient for a universal classification. As a result, the Hornbostel-Sachs system emerged. It includes idiophones, in which the sound produced depends on the design of the instrument, membraphones, which produce the sound with s tightly stretched membrane, chordophones,  in which the sound produced depends on a primary string, and aerophones employing air [4, 13].

The abovementioned musical instruments are used for solo performance, accompanying, and collective performance.

The majority of national Uyghur instruments are chordophones. Their types, shapes, and design (simple and combined) as well as their speech are strikingly authentic and diverse.

It is not only in XUAR and Central Asian Uyghur communities but also in other East countries that chordophones are widely used. Still, a comparison reveals a number of clear similarities and differences between certain instruments. They are mostly attributable to ethnic traditions or geography. Sometimes instruments with similar names and a similar number of strings are to be as different as chalk and cheese. It is our conviction that the nature of an instrument is determined not only by its exterior and design but also by performance, including its repertoire and the thinking behind it.  

The abovementioned characteristic features present a musical way of expressing the very nature of the Uyghur people. The instruments, which possess an authentic speech, should be presented as a potential for musical progress in Kazakhstani Uyghur communities as well as those of XUAR, Middle East, and Central Asia. The art of music and musical instrument is a sphere that contributes to the Uyghur glory as part of ethnic cultural progress.


Domullayeva, Kh.I., Master of Arts,

M.O.Auezov Institute for Literature and Arts





  1. S.Kibirova. Abstract. Uyghur Musical Instruments in Traditional Culture. – Leningrad, 1989. – 24 p.
  2. Music Studies. / A compilation of Articles by Postgraduate and PhD Students. Issue 5. – Almaty: Principal Printing Office of the State Committee of the KazSSR Council of Ministers for Printed Literature, 1971. – 223 p.
  3. Uyghur Folk Songs Recorded by G.Zaynavdinov / Complied by Raziva, N.T., Shklovskaya, A.S., Autova, G.– Almaty: Gylym, 1993. – 60 p. (5 p.).
  4. Domullayeva, Kh. Thesis (Master): Stringed Musical Instruments (Chordophones) in the Contemporary XUAR. Almaty: 2010. – 81 p.

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