Hand-made Uygur Instruments in Kashgar
   2012-06-16 19:46:03    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: dingxiaoxiao

Ablimit Eysa Kurbanjan (1st, L) introduces his Uygur dap to customers at his instrument shop in Kashgar, in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China, on Monday, June 11, 2012. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com/Zhang Xu]

There is an old saying: Uygur people learn to sing when they learn to talk and learn to dance when they learn to walk. Uygur instruments play an important role in Uygur singing and dancing at celebrations like weddings. Uygur instruments have a long history of more than two thousand years, dating back to the ancient Qiuci kingdom of China's Han Dynasty.

Kashgar lies in the western part of China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and 92% of the population is Uygur.

Uygur Twelve Muqam, an important piece of world culture, has been listed as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage from Mankind by the United Nations. The Twelve Muqam was played by traditional Uygur instruments, including the ghirjek, rawab, tambur, dap, and dutar.

Actually, most Uygur instruments nowadays are made by hand. Let's follow Uygur instrument maker Ablimit Eysa Kurbanjan to find out more about Uygur instruments.

Ablimit Eysa Kurbanjan runs a Uygur instrument shop at Wustanboie, a thousand-year-old street near the famous Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar. The 25-year-old Uygur is a sixth-generation instrument maker. His 20-square-meter shop is full of different Uygur instruments. Kurbanjan often makes instruments with his assistants.

Kurbanjan can make a ghirjek, one of the main instruments in a Uygur orchestra. The ghirjek is usually positioned on the lap of the left leg and played by pressing the strings with the left hand and strumming the strings with a bow.

"The Ghirjek has four strings like a violin, and the placement of the strings is also similar to a violin, meaning that anyone who can play violin can play a ghirjek."

The dutar is the most popular Uygur instrument, and almost every Uygur household has a dutar.

"Of all the Uygur instruments, the dutar is the oldest. More than one thousand years ago, our ancestors played the dutar. People in Uzbekistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan also use the dutar."

The dutar's long handle is about 130 centimeters and its bead is in the shape of a pear. It has only two strings, one for high pitch and one for low pitch. It is played with the fingers and placed in the lap. The dutar has a warm, dulcet tone, and sounds excellent on its own and with instruments such as the tambur.

The rawap is another stringed instrument, and it has a close association with Uygur music and culture. Like most other Uygur instruments, it is made by wood fibers made of mulberry and apricot.

"The rawap has decorative goat horns above the body of the instrument, and the body can be covered in hide or snakeskin. In the past, we used hide to cover the body, but it was found later that the tone of the rawap would change when it got wet. So, most of us like to use snakeskin."

The rawab has a fretwork of bones or plastic. This is a favorite for Uygur's fretwork, usually in black and white.

Generally speaking, the rawab has five strings.

"There are two kinds of rawab: five strings and seven strings. In the past, we used five strings. Later, a famous musician made one with seven strings, giving it a more pleasant sound."

Usually, it takes more than twenty days for Kurbanjan to make a Uygur instrument. To improve the production capacity, Kurbanjan often makes several instruments at the same time.

"For example, the dap, which costs 50 RMB is the easiest for us to make. It takes five days to make one and I only make fifty Yuan. The profit is a little low. So, actually, I often make at least five of them at a time, and I can make ten daps in ten days to earn five hundred Yuan."

Kurbanjan studied to make Uygur instruments for 11 years. His grandfather was famous for reforming Uygur instruments, and many musicians are still playing instruments made by his grandfather.

Kurbanjan doesn't think his family's tradition will die out.

"I just got married. If I have a son, I will teach him to make Uygur instruments. Moreover, I have a younger brother and an older sister. My sister has a son who can learn to make instruments. So I'm not worried."

Kurbanjan says he hopes that one day he will go to China's neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan and Turkey to exchange views with local musicians on Uygur instrument making.

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