Music of Kazakhstan: from folklore to modern pop

Music has been an integral part of Kazakhstan’s culture for centuries. Today, music of Kazakhstan blends tradition with modernity. Kazakhstan has taken pride in that its music cannot be duplicated anywhere else and is unique. While today Kazakhstan’s music scene may be blasting popular music, it is taking cues on its traditional music and modernizing it to create something exciting, new, and unique to Kazakhstan. Plus, we got YouTube videos in this post to demonstrate.

Traditional Kazakh Music

Kazakhstan’s music is focused around its national instrument: the dombra. A dombra is a 2-string long-necked lute-type instrument with 7 to 9 frets. The tear shaped instrument is played with either one, two, or five fingers. When the dombra got started, the players were reminiscent of lute players of the Middle Ages in Europe. Dombra players wandered around Kazakhstan strumming their lutes singing poetry as they walked around. The dombra became the focal instrument of Kazakhstan folk music.

The most famous of the dombra players was Dzhambul Dzhabayev. Dzhambul began playing at age 12 and when he was 15 started playing in competitions. What astounded people was his miraculous voice, his skills, and material he sung based on Kazakh epoch poems and songs from the steppes around the early 20th century. By the time he was 55 he quit playing the dombra…..or so he thought. When there was a need to raise the patriotism and morale of the troops in the face of Fascist onslaught during World War II, he was now 70 but still decided to pick up the dombra again and wrote his best know piece “Leningradsy, my children!”. Today, Dzhambul is honored in St. Petersburg, Russia with a 300 foot statue that honors not only his work for the Victory , but as a symbol of Kazakhstan and the icon of Kazakhstan music.

Ulytau-Two Warriors

The dombra is the center of Kazakhstan folk music, but Kazakhstan folk music is not a very mainstream music genre in the world and not making the charts either today. What is amazing and surprising is that dombra has crossed over into other genres of music that are popular and that adds some Kazakh flavor to the music, for example, the band Ulytau combines rock genre with dombra motives. Ulytau is a Kazakh rock group that uses the dombra as part of its music mixing Kazakh folk, classical music, and harcore rock. The video is even a reflection of traditional Kazakh culture. WARNING: This video may be graphic to viewers due to violent hunting scenes.

Kazakh pop music

Dimash Kudaibergenov

Besides folk music, Kazakhstan has become a music center due to its location. Artists that are superstars in Russia, China, Japan, and even Europe do play concerts in Kazakhstan and have fan bases. Plus, American music is popular as well in Kazakhstan so artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, David Guetta, and Lady Gaga have huge fan bases in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan even has its own versions of popular music TV shows “The X-Factor” and “American Idol” (called Superstar KZ). However, Kazakhstan has its own superstars as well that do pull their influences from popular music. Artists like Dimash Kudaibergenov, Mika, Rin’Go, Luina, NG, Amir Franc, and others are big artists in Central Asia that are also very popular.

Dimash Kudaibergenov

Aktobe native, Dimash Kudaibergen is Kazakhstan’s new music sensation. By his early twenties Dimash already has gained a large fan base in Kazakhstan, China and other countries in the region. He has already made a name for himself in a number of international competitions and heads various musical popularity lists in China, took the prize for Asia Best Singer in the Chinese Top Music Awards, the local version of the Grammys.

Over the 10 episodes of China’s top music competition “Singer,” Dimash won first place three times, second place one time and third place four times. His popularity in China skyrocketed almost overnight. According to Global Times, Dimash’s enormous success even allowed him to become a symbol of cultural exchange between China and Kazakhstan.

Rin’Go

 Quartet Rin’Go is another modern popular band in Kazakhstan. They have been around for a while and participated in various regional music competitions.

Kazakhstan has an amazing and vibrant music scene. The foundation of Kazakhstan’s own music scene is its folk music that’s centered around the national instrument, the dombra. While the dombra was made famous by Dzhambul Dzhabayev around the early 20th century, it is stil being played to showcase Kazakh music and being incorporated into other genres like classical music and even rock. Kazakhstan also shares its duality with its own pop music stars that gain their influence from artists in Asia, Russia, and the United States. So when walking around Almaty or Astana, don’t be suprised if you see someone playing the dombra and hearing Lady Gaga or Kazakhstan’s Dimash Kudaibergen playing out of someone’s car.