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The Best Dombıra Players of All Time

Dombra: The Soulful Sound of Central Asia

If you have ever listened to the traditional folk music of Central Asia, chances are you have heard the distinctive sound of the dombra. The dombra is a long-necked musical string instrument that is widely used by the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras, Bashkirs, and Nogais in their musical heritage. It is a versatile instrument that can produce a range of melodies, rhythms, and emotions, from joyful and lively to melancholic and nostalgic. In this article, we will explore the origin, history, varieties, features, players, composers, techniques, tunings, scales, songs, genres, and cultural significance of the dombra.

What is a dombra?

The dombra, also known as dombyra or tambura (Kazakh: домбыра, Uzbek: dombira, Urdu: تامبورا), is a plucked string instrument that belongs to the lute family. It has a long, thin neck and an oblong body that is usually carved from a single block of wood. It has two strings that are traditionally made of sinew or gut, but modern dombras use nylon strings. The strings are attached to tuning pegs at the end of the neck and cross a short bridge to a pin at the other end of the body. The instrument has a small sound hole at the back and a thick wooden top that resonates with the sound. The instrument is played by strumming or plucking the strings with the fingers or a plectrum, sometimes tapping or scratching on the body for percussive effects.


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The origin and history of the dombra

The dombra first appeared in the Middle Ages in Central Asia, where it was influenced by various musical cultures and traditions. Some scholars trace its roots to ancient Iranian instruments such as the barbat or oud, while others suggest it evolved from Turkic instruments such as the komuz or dutar. The earliest written references to the dombra date back to the 9th century AD, when the Arab philosopher and musician Al-Farabi mentioned a tambur-like instrument in his works. The name "dombra" may derive from the Persian word "tanbur", which means "stringed instrument".

The dombra was widely used by nomadic tribes and warriors in Central Asia for entertainment, communication, and spiritual purposes. It was also an integral part of epic storytelling and poetry recitation, accompanying the oral traditions of legends, myths, and historical events. One of the most famous examples of this is the epic of Alpamys Batyr (Hero), a legendary Kazakh warrior who fought against foreign invaders in the 16th century. His exploits were narrated by bards (aqyns) who played the dombra and sang in a distinctive style called kui (melody).

The dombra also played an important role in the development of classical music in Central Asia. Many composers and musicians used the dombra as a basis for creating sophisticated musical forms and styles. One of the greatest dombra players was Kurmangazy Sagyrbayuly (1818-1896), a Kazakh folk musician who composed over 60 kuis that are still popular today. His most famous composition is "Adai", which expresses his love for his homeland and his longing for freedom. Another influential composer was Tattimbet Kazangapuly (1815-1868), who created kuis that reflected his social criticism and political views.

The varieties and features of the dombra

The d The dombra has many regional variations in terms of size, shape, tuning, and playing style. Some of the most common types are:

  • The Kazakh dombra, which has a round or oval body, a long neck, and two strings tuned in fourths or fifths. It is played with a plectrum made of horn or wood, and has a bright and clear sound. The Kazakh dombra is often decorated with carvings, paintings, or inlays of metal, bone, or mother-of-pearl.

  • The Uzbek dombira, which has a pear-shaped body, a short neck, and two strings tuned in fifths or octaves. It is played with the fingers or a plectrum made of metal or plastic, and has a soft and warm sound. The Uzbek dombira is usually plain or painted with simple patterns.

  • The Turkmen dutar, which has a flat or slightly curved body, a long neck, and two strings tuned in fourths. It is played with the fingers or a plectrum made of metal or leather, and has a deep and resonant sound. The Turkmen dutar is often adorned with tassels, beads, or coins.

  • The Hazara tambur, which has a rectangular body, a long neck, and two strings tuned in fifths. It is played with the fingers or a plectrum made of metal or wood, and has a sharp and piercing sound. The Hazara tambur is usually plain or covered with cloth.

  • The Bashkir and Nogai tambura, which have a round or oval body, a short neck, and two strings tuned in fourths or fifths. They are played with the fingers or a plectrum made of horn or wood, and have a mellow and smooth sound. The Bashkir and Nogai tambura are often decorated with carvings, paintings, or inlays of metal, bone, or mother-of-pearl.

The famous dombra players and composers

Besides Kurmangazy and Tattimbet, there are many other famous dombra players and composers who have contributed to the musical heritage of Central Asia. Some of them are:

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  • Dina Nurpeisova (1901-1991), a Kazakh folk musician who composed over 40 kuis that reflected her life experiences and social issues. She was known as the "Queen of the Dombra" and was awarded the Order of Lenin for her artistic achievements.

  • Shoqan Walikhanov (1835-1865), a Kazakh scholar, historian, ethnographer, and composer who wrote several kuis that combined classical and folk elements. He was also one of the first Kazakhs to study Russian culture and language.

  • Mukhtar Ashrafi (1912-1975), an Uzbek composer who wrote symphonies, operas, ballets, and songs that incorporated dombira melodies and rhythms. He was also the founder of the Uzbek State Symphony Orchestra.

  • Nury Halmamedov (1940-1988), a Turkmen composer who wrote music for films, theater, and television that blended dutar motifs and harmonies with modern instruments and techniques. He was also an advocate for preserving and promoting Turkmen folk music.

  • Sarvar Fayziev (1950-2014), an Uzbek musician who played the dombira in various genres such as jazz, rock, pop, and fusion. He was also a teacher and mentor for many young dombira players.

How to play the dombra?

Playing the dombra requires some basic techniques and skills that can be learned with practice and guidance. Here are some tips on how to play the dombra:

The basic techniques and skills

The first thing to do is to hold the instrument correctly. The dombra should be held horizontally on your lap or diagonally across your chest. The neck should be on your left hand side if you are right-handed, or vice versa if you are left-handed. The body should rest on your right thigh if you are right-handed, or vice versa if you are left-handed. The strings should face up towards you.

The next thing to do is to tune the instrument properly. The tuning may vary depending on the type of dombra you have and the music you want to play. However, some common tunings are C-G for the Kazakh dombra, G-D for the Uzbek dombira, D-A for the Turkmen dutar, A-E for the Hazara tambur, and E-B for the Bashkir and Nogai tambura. You can use Halmamedov (1940-1988).

  • Maqam (Arabic: مقام), which is a modal system of musical scales and rules that govern the melodic and rhythmic development of a musical piece. Maqams can be based on various musical traditions, such as Persian, Arabic, Turkish, or Indian. Some examples of maqams are "Shushtar" by Abdulla Majnun (1906-1989), "Segah" by Munir Bashir (1930-1997), "Rast" by Turgun Alimatov (1922-2008), and "Bayati" by Sarvar Fayziev (1950-2014).

  • Shashmaqam (Uzbek: шашмақом), which is a genre of classical music that combines maqam, dastan, and other elements. Shashmaqam originated in the 16th century in the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, and was patronized by the rulers and nobles of the region. Shashmaqam consists of six cycles, each with a different maqam, dastan, and instrumental interlude. Some examples of shashmaqam are "Buzruk" by Yunus Rajabi (1897-1976), "Dugoh" by Fazliddin Ayubov (1916-1994), "Iraq" by Sodiq Firozov (1920-1997), and "Navo" by Tolibkhon Shakhidi (1946-present).

Why is the dombra important for the culture and identity of Central Asia?

The dombra is more than just a musical instrument. It is also a symbol of the culture and identity of Central Asia, representing

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