This week was actually fairly busy, so hurray! I did my first interview on Monday with a kobyzist named Sayan Akmolda (his last name means "blessed mullah," and by the way notice that he has dropped the Russianized "ov" ending!). The kobyz instructor at the Conservatory recommended that I talk to Sayan, both because he is known for a very "traditional" style of performing, and also because of his involvement with a significant anthology of traditional music that just came out this past year. For a couple of years he also had a TV program on the Kazakhstan national network called "100 Kyui of the Kazakhs" (kyui is the Kazakh traditional genre of instrumental music) where he invited famous musicians to discuss and perform traditional music.
I met with Sayan at the Zhubanov Music School, where he now teaches kobyz to children (up to high-school age). Actually, he was late for our meeting, so while I waited in his office, I got a chance to talk to a couple of his students, two girls around twelve years old who chatted with me about music and their families.
The interview with Sayan only lasted about half an hour, but was very interesting nonetheless. He seems to have a lot of opinions about traditional music, and he insists on teaching his students without written notes so that they can learn to play the compositions "according to their own ways." This relates back to the traditional style of kyui performance where students learned by oral tradition and always put their own spin on the music - so that no two performers ever played a piece exactly the same.
The only thing I was sad about was that he never offered to play for me! So I have yet to hear this "very traditional" sound that he's apparently known for... O well, guess that means a second interview!
Akerke's 21st birthday was Thursday night, so she invited me and a few other close friends to a restaurant for dinner. Here, the birthday boy or girl always pays for the guests, so it's fun to get invited to these events! Dinner included horsemeat (a delicacy that only appears at special occasions) and lots of toasts to the birthday girl. After stuffing ourselves silly, we were then obliged to dance off the calories - the restaurant had a DJ playing on the lower level - and then head back to the table for more food. At least this party didn't involve consuming mass quantities of alcohol, so I wasn't in too bad shape by the time people headed home at 2am. By the way, the girl in red (on the right) is a professional dancer, so the rest of us got utterly "served" in the booty-shaking department.
I also went to a few more concerts this week - the one I saw today was really great. Akerke called around 2pm to tell me about a 4 o'clock concert at the Conservatory to celebrate Women's Day (more about that tomorrow!). Lots of student groups would be performing, so I rounded up my now-regular concert companions Anna and Jody and we headed to the Conservatory's lovely Great Concert Hall. They performed some classical stuff, some folk stuff. One young guy played the hell out of his accordion and got a huge ovation from the audience. The set by the Folk Music Department kids was great - many of them wore their own Kazakh national costumes (you have to order them specially and the often cost upwards of $500) and several small ensembles performed. One group did a really interesting (and I thought very innovative) piece that seemed semi-improvised and incorporated a lot of shamanic sounds and imagery. Definitely much better than the stale old Soviet stuff you often see at other venues!