Circassian Music & Musicology by Amjad Jaimoukha

Circassian Culture and Folklore: Hospitality, Traditions, Cuisine, Festivals and Music (Kabardian, Cherkess, Adigean, Shapsugh and Diaspora)

Chapter 5: Music

Compiled & edited by Amjad Jaimoukha

THE AUTHOR: Amjad Jaimoukha's other works include Kabardian-English Dictionary, The Circassians: A Handbook, Grammar of the Kabardian Language, The Cycles of the Nart Epic of the Circassians, Circassian Proverbs and Sayings, Circassian Bibliography, The Chechens: A Handbook, Parlons tcherkesse: Dialecte kabarde (with Michel Malherbe).

According to social scientists, the music of a nation is a reflection of its mores and psyche. It is also an expression of its love for life. Pleasant harmonic music delights the senses of man everywhere, and the Circassians, in spite of imperfection of their music, were charmed and cheered by it. Music was indispensable at festivals as accompaniment to dances and recitals of ancient and traditional poetry, and it certainly livened up their conversations.

Circassian music has always been rich in dance tunes and melodies, which are in general produced by an orchestra, as opposed to a single musician. The solo accordion player producing melodies for the songs and dances is a relatively recent introduction. The rhythm of the music was made to be in tune with the singing words by using different techniques and ad-lib modulations, which also served to adorn the melodies. Generally, dance music was played in 2/2 or 6/8 time with a background chorus (R. Adighe, 1956, p101).

Musical lore had been preserved by minstrels by oral transmission until the 1940s, when the process of collection and recording was started in earnest in a systematic manner. By the 1970s, much of the music and songs had been collected and preserved. Some songs commemorate events that go back to the fourth century AD. According to the Soviet (Russian) composer M. F. Gnesin (1937, p30), ‘The musical art of the Circassians is very versatile and lively. It gives the impression of being the whole legacy of a rather sublime culture.’

Collection of music and songs started in the 19th century. However, systematic work only began in the Soviet period when many song collections were published. Books on history of Circassian music were also issued, toeing the line of communist historiography. Nevertheless, they remain seminal works indispensable in the study of Circassian music.

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