Welcome to Min-On’s Music Journey! Today, the Min-On Concert Association and Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in Japan welcome you to Kyrgyz Republic, a country in the sky located in Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country about half the size of Japan, and 90% of its land area is over 1,500 meters in elevation. The country is blessed with wonders of nature including the Tian Shan Mountains, with peaks ranging from 6,000 to 7,439 (Victory Peak) meters tall, green plateaus extending in every direction and pristine white glaciers. At night, the clean air provides a gorgeous view of the starry sky.
Night view of the capital city, Bishkek, surrounded by majestic mountains
The capital of Bishkek, a metropolis filled with lively bazaars
The densely populated capital of Bishkek in the north is the political, economic and cultural heart of Kyrgyzstan. It is surrounded by the Ala-Too Mountain Range, part of the perpetually snow-covered Tian Shan Mountains. Bishkek is a modern city that features incredible views of the mountains throughout its landscape.
There are many markets of different sizes called bazaars throughout Bishkek. Even in the modern age where supermarkets and shopping centers are common, bazaars are still an essential part of the lives of the Kyrgyz people. They offer a great variety of goods, including hearty cuts of beef and mutton, many different dairy products, brightly colored vegetables, daily necessities, clothes and more. The crowds, the smells, and the noises can feel a bit overwhelming but it’s an experience you won’t easily forget.
Issyk Kul Lake, a gem of Central Asia
Located 180 kilometers east of Bishkek, Issyk Kul Lake is known as a gem of Central Asia for its crystal-clear blue water. This area reaches extreme temperatures lower than -20°C in the winter, but Lake Issyk Kul is so saline that it’s famous for never freezing over, no matter what time of year.
Once summer arrives however, the northern and southern side of the lake is bustling with travelers enjoying a swim in the lake. In the landlocked country of Kyrgyzstan, this lake has the atmosphere of a beach, and swimming here while gazing out at the glaciers in the distance is a magical experience.
Nomadic culture and Manas, the longest poem in the world
There is a Kyrgyz saying that “a horse is a man’s wings.” The Kyrgyz people once roamed the continent on horseback, and this saying expresses their free, nomadic way of life.
Falconry has been used as a traditional method of hunting
As a result of being forced to make permanent settlements during the Soviet era, the Kyrgyz nomadic way of life has mostly disappeared, but nomadic culture and wisdom about life remains common in the present day.
One example is the boz-ui, a mobile home with excellent ventilation and heat retention. The highly practical boz-ui was a critical base for nomadic people who lived a lifestyle in harmony with harsh natural environments, including relocating often while raising livestock including horses, sheep, cattle and camels.
Boz-ui are rarely used as homes in modern times, but they are popular for camping in summer, cultural ceremonies and tourism initiatives, so they still remain a prevalent piece of traditional culture. The highest point of the mobile home’s ceiling is called a tunduk, which the Kyrgyz people regard as a place where ancestral spirits dwell, and also as a symbol of peace and unity. The pattern of this special opening at the top of the boz-ui is also featured on the Kyrgyz flag.
Most of the boz-ui in Kyrgyzstan are produced in one village
Another symbol of nomadic culture is Manas. Manas is the epic hero who united scattered tribes into one nation – Kyrgyz. The Epic Trilogy exists among the Kyrgyz only and represents the enormous narrative, comprising of more than 500,553 verse lines. As a genre, the Epic Trilogy is attributed to the heroic epics and reflects a story about different periods of the Kyrgyz civilization. The Kyrgyz Manas Epic was officially included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on December 4, 2013.
Manas is not only a symbol of Kyrgyz national unity, it is also used in schools as a means to teach about the nature of humanity and upbringing, so it still plays an important role in modern Kyrgyzstan.
Below, please listen to the epic poem Manas recited by The Kambarkan Folk Ensemble from their concert at Min-On in 1998.
Kyrgyz cuisine and traditional musical instruments
It is no surprise that meat is an essential part of Kyrgyz cuisine, which has its roots in nomadic culture. The Kyrgyz people rarely eat pork due to the high proportion of Muslims in the country, but mutton, horse meat and beef are popular.
Famous dishes include shashlik, grilled skewers of lamb or beef seasoned with spices, paloo (plov), rice cooked with meat and vegetables, manty, minced meat wrapped in dough and lagman, thick noodles made from wheat flour that are boiled and served in a soup of meat, tomatoes and onions. But the most popular dishes is besh barmak, means “five fingers” because nomads traditionally eat this dish with their hands. Beshbarmak is usually made from finely chopped boiled meat, mixed with dough and chyk, an onion sauce
Sheep are a particularly important ingredient in Kyrgyz cuisine. Their meat and organs are used in cooking, and their pelts are used to make felt and more. Even their anklebones are used as toys for children.
Thanks to the country’s fertile highlands, Kyrgyz farmers can cultivate fruits like apples, peaches, cherries, etc. Apricot trees are also used to make a stringed instrument called a komuz. The komuz has a simple structure: a body made from apricot wood and three strings. It is known for its gentle, pleasant tone and play styles including swift, dramatic strumming and acrobatics.
Another classic Kyrgyz instrument is the temir komuz, a metal jaw harp. It’s an idiophone played by putting the instrument to the lips and making a vocal sound, then adjusting that sound using a valve.
Please enjoy listening to “Horseman,” a piece from the Cultural Lecture by Ordo Sakhuna held at Min-On 2017 played on both the komuz and temir komuz.
Kyrgyzstan white honey, a great souvenir
White honey is produced by bees collecting nectars from flower called Sainfoin, this kind of flower grows in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. White honey is characterized by its beautiful milky white appearance and gentle sweetness. It is also very rich in nutrients and popular for helping maintain good health.
Kyrgyzstan’s fantastic “white honey” won top gold medal at a global competition
In closing, we would like to introduce musicians recommended by the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in Japan.
The Kambarkan Folk Ensemble
This group formed in 1988, and subsequently ranked well in the 1996 International Folklore Festival in the United States. They are highly acclaimed not only in Central Asia but throughout the world as an iconic Kyrgyz song and dance group. They performed alongside Syria and Pakistan at the Min-On “A Musical Voyage along the Silk Road” concert series in 1995. Their performance garnered high praise, and they appeared in the concert series again in 1998.
- Mukash Borbiev Tan bulbulu
- Nurak Ayudrakhmanov 「Sary Ozok」
Film director Shamil Djaparov founded this folk instrument ensemble in 1998. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kyrgyzstan and Japan, the ensemble visited Japan to perform under the auspices of the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in Japan in 2017.
For the Kyrgyz people, the traditional instrument called the komuz is an integral part of life. The ensemble of 1,000 komuz players performing together is phenomenal on the Second World Nomad Games held in 2016 in Kyrgyz Republic, and we hope you will enjoy watching it.
Atai Ogonbaev «Mashbotoi» 1000 komuzist
What did you think of your music journey to Kyrgyzstan? There are still many more places to go! Please look forward to our next destination.
(Produced in collaboration with the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic in Japan, who also provided photos.)
Min-On Concert Association
－Music Binds Our Hearts－