Strings Around the World

Journey to Tuva

Stringed instruments were mostly made of wood or other easily perishable materials, therefore their history before written documentation is almost unknown, however many musicologists agree that first string instruments emerged from Central Asia and spread around the world from that region.

As a violin player, my way of exploring the music of different cultures has been through the study of their traditional string instruments. My interest in the interconnections between the string instruments of different cultures eventually led me to conduct research in Tuva, an autonomous republic in Central Asia.

My own journey with string instruments began with the violin, but over the years I became increasingly interested in the traditional string instruments from around the world. The rich musical culture of Turkey – the culture in which I was raised - provided me with a starting point. Through an exploration of Turkish traditional music and musical instruments, I encountered the Turkish rebab.

The rebab has roots that can be traced back to the ninth century and in some sources it is said to be the first bowed string instrument that emerged from Central Asia following its early development by the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group. Over time , the rebab was widely spread throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Near East and the Far East, evolving into different shapes and receiving different names as its voyage progressed. Searching through the regions that possessed instruments related to the Turkish rebab, I came across Tuva, which immediately drew my attention because of its unique musical style, and also its connection to my cultural roots and to the roots of my instruments.


An autonomous republic in the heart of Asia, Tuva, is home to Turkic Tuvan people, who possesses a music style that involves special techniques and an intimate connection with nature. Moreover, the Tuvan string instrument igil, belongs to the same instrument family as the rebab.

With my interest piqued, I made a trip to Tuva. My preparation involved establishing connections with people from Tuva and also studying the Tuvan language, which is a Turkic language with influences from Mongolian, Tibetan and Russian and has only about 280,000 native speakers in the world. My month-long journey started with a flight from Istanbul to Moscow and then continued by train on the Siberian Express for three days in order to reach Krasnoyarsk, from where I took a minivan to Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva, arriving after a 14-hour long ride.

During my trip I interviewed many people, including musicians, musicologists, composers, instrument makers and shamans. This gave me a great knowledge and insight about their culture and music. I played with local musicians and made field recordings. I attended shamanistic rituals and  interviewed shamans about their use of music as a healing tool. I interviewed musicologists about the history and structure of their music.  I gave a presentation on Turkish string instruments at the Tuvan Cultural Center. The annual throat singing competition was opened with my presentation, which was very well attended, and the TV channel of Tuva, who was there for the competition, interviewed me.

 

At the concert on the National Throat Singers Day, which was declared a national holiday three years ago, Tuvan musicians invited me to join them on stage and asked me to play a Turkish piece before the piece we were going to play together. After travelling such a long road to get to Tuva, Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim by Asik Veysel was the first piece that came to my mind, which means I’m on a long thin road. After that we played the Tuvan piece Ezir Kara together, which means black eagle.

 

I asked one of the best instrument makers of Tuva to make and igil for me. I visited his studio daily to watch the process. Afterwards I took my igil to the instrument museum in Izmir, Turkey, where the instrument makers measured the igil to make a copy for the museum.

 

My trip enabled me to make many good connections. My dream is to create a collaborative cultural project between Turkey and Tuva in the future. Sharing the same roots and ancestors, Tuvan and Turkish people have a lot in common. It would be wonderful to strengthen these connections once again and bring the cultures closer to each other.

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