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22:24 | Aug 16 | 2011

The Voice and Music of the Sakha People

 Khomus (guimbarde) is an ancient musical instrument which appeared 5000 years ago. It is considered to be the same age as the Egyptian Pyramids. It is amazing that it is used till nowadays.
Khomus is a variety of more popular Jew’s-harp. The instrument consists of a fixed base and a flexible reed, that’s why it belongs to the reed instruments. While playing reed is placed in the performer’s mouth as a resonator. The reed vibrates freely due to the articulation and breathing in and out. Despite the seeming simplicity the jew’s-harp is able to produce a dozen different sounds. If combined with the guttural and tongue motions of the performer the Jew’s-harp can create even melodies.
Actually there are various types of jew’s-harps: their bodies are even made of larch or bamboo with the metal or bone reed. Totally there are over 160 varieties of this unusual instrument.
Different variants and names of Jew’s-harp appear almost in all peoples’ cultures all over the world. Its exact origin is still unknown, but the researches tell us it could come from South Asia hundreds years ago, spreading later to Europe, Africa and even the New World.
The jew’s-harp was quite popular among Siberian and Far East peoples since ancient times. In some regions it remained almost the only musical instrument for a long time. Altai people often used it in wedding ceremonies – the sounds of the Jew’s-harp imitates the dialogue between the beloved ones. In Buriatia the Jew’s-harp was a common instrument in shamanic rituals.
Yakut people are anyway admitted to be experts in this old instrument. They are able to feel the magic Jew’s-harp vibrations as nobody else. The Yakut khomus is able to “speak”, to produce various melodies and even imitate the sounds of nature.
Khomus in the Olonkho Land
The Yakut khomus differs from any other kind with its size (its reed’s length can be up to 10 cm) and its particular bass sound. The big reed helps to achieve a long and loud sound.
Khomus is traditionally made of metal. The smith craft was brought to the Olonkho Land (Yakutia was called so in antiquity) by the Turkic tribes settled there the Middle Ages. They started to use local ore and smelt ball iron to produce utensils and traditional khomuses.
The Yakut khomus can be justly called a classic shamanic instrument. Yakut people have special onomatopoeia methods for the rituals, especially shamanic ceremonies. The Yakut shamans often start their rituals with the horse roaring imitation. They say that long lasting low khomus reed vibrations lead the performer the way to the spiritual world.
Moreover almost all cultural and spectacular events in the Republic, including the Ysyakh holiday, start with the charming khomus sounds, celebrating the beauty of the vast Olonkho Land, the glory of nature and the triumph of life. The khomus melody reflects the unique national culture of the Yakuts.
The khomus musicians
The khomus music broke the limits of the folk art and became a part and parcel of the world’s music culture long ago. The composer German Komrakov first applied the khomus sound in the professional music in the 1960th in a small piano concerto. Nowadays there are solo khomus performances accompanied by a symphony or folk orchestra.
Today the Republic has over 50 khomus master makers with the craftsman certificate. There are only ten craftsmen of the international level, six of them are working.
From the 1940s the rebirth and spread of the Yakut khomus is connected with the name of thousands traditional khomuses author – master Semen Gogolev. The specific feature of the Gogolev khomus is the simplicity of the lines with the classic details and proportions maintaining which makes the instrument “sing”. One of his khomuses is declared as a standard of the traditional Yakut khomus. A classic Gogolev’s khomus is recognized by a small metal spiral crossbar placed over the khomus circle. Besides the visual effect this detail serves as a “stiffening plate” giving a clear sound to the instrument.
Yakutia has a lot of genuine khomus music professionals. The Republic represents around 7000 stage performers playing this instrument. Three out of nine world famous consummate musicians live in Yakutia. The Yakut khomus has become a sort of a certain brand appreciated by the experts.
Centre for music culture
Many specialists from Russia and other countries have a long lasting interest to the oldest music instrument playing culture. USA held the I International Congress “Jew’s-harp (khomus): Tradition and Modernity” in 1984. In 1991 Yakutia opened the II International Congress.
By the recommendation of this congress the Khomus Music International Centre was founded in 1992. The European, Asian and American khomusists creative and research community was organized step-by-step. There were opened national centres in Austria, France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Japan, the U.S., Hungary, and Switzerland; in Argentina and Taiwan since 2002. In the former Soviet Union – Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, in Bashkortostan, the Republic of Tyva, in the Altai Region there are branches supported by the State Government.
In 1990 in Yakutsk the Museum of Peoples of the World Khomus (Jew’s-harp) was opened – the first museum dedicated to these musical instruments. The basis of the museum became a collection gathered by Professor Ivan Alekseev, the Khomus Music Centre President. Among the exhibits there are wooden Jew’s-harps from Thailand, Philippines, India, Mongolia, Tyva and others.
Specialists and performers Spiridon Shishigin and Nicolay Shishigin participated in the cultural centre foundation together with Professor Alekseev. They brought a collection of more than 600 various nations’ khomuses from USA. Leo Tadagava, PhD from Japan, Jew’s-harp specialist and khomus performer presented the museum with variety of exhibits as well.