Библиотека нематериального культурного наследия Республики Башкортостан
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This Bashkir musical instrument for a very long time considered female. Because among the Bashkirs the kubyz (kumyz) was mostly played by women and children, while men preferred playing the kurai. Famous researchers – musicologist Lev Nikolaevich Lebedinsky and famous archaeologist, ethnologist Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko wrote about this in their works, and Ph.D. of Art Criticism Rimma Borisovna Galayskaya also mentioned this.

Today the kubyz has become a favorite instrument for both men and women, even children from an early age play it. Its melody brings the listener into a kind of nirvana, lulls and calms. Dance tunes and onomatopoeic melodies are performed on it, it is used as a solo and ensemble instrument.

«Unlike the kurai, the kubyz is a female and children's musical instrument: I have never seen men who not only play the kubyz, but also know how to extract sounds from it. Moreover, in a number of cases I witnessed a somewhat disdainful attitude of adult men towards kubyz. It is possible that this came from some ancient remnants: I could not identify this. It is necessary to take into account the specific conditions in which the Bashkir woman found herself after accepting Islam (this process began in the 10th century and continued almost until the 19th century inclusive). Deprived of male society, remote from it in everyday life, locked in the society of women and children, having no right to speak loudly, sing or laugh, she nevertheless had to find ways to her native art. The quiet and gentle sound of kubyz is barely audible in the female half of the kosh or in the room; one can sing softly and dance softly to its sounds; on the other hand, the instrument is so small that storage or instant concealment (it can be squeezed in a fist) are not difficult. In that way the public purpose of the kubyz as a musical instrument for women and children was established for a long time. Kubyz, in contrast to the kurai, is not used for performing widely sung plays – ozon-kyuy, apparently because it is difficult: it is used for performing simple, unpretentious tunes, mainly of a dance character, i.e. biyu-kyuy».
Lev Nikolaevich Lebedinsky
musicologist, folklorist
«Along with songwriting Bashkir music was also developed, and instrumental music almost prevailed over vocal music. For almost every song melody the Bashkirs had an instrumental version as its free variation. Among the instruments found among the Bashkirs two were the most common: kumyz (or kubyz) and kurai. Kumyz, in turn, was of two kinds: it is either a wooden plate with a reed cut out on it (agas kumyz) or the well-known Jew's harp, an iron frame with a steel or copper plate vibrating in it (timer kumyz). When playing any of these instruments the player took it in his teeth and pulled a string attached to a wooden reed or hit a metal plate with his finger, setting it in motion, in an iron kumyz. Wooden kumyz, more primitive, was rather rare in Bashkiria; it was noted by me among the tribes Katay, Gaina and Tanyp. Men rarely played the kumyz, it is an instrument of girls and women».

Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko
archaeologist, ethnologist


Kubyz is one of the oldest musical instruments. Archeology associates its origin with the late Neolithic era, but when exactly and where it arose – no one can still determine. People in all corners of the world have been playing it since ancient times and everyone considers it his own, folk instrument. Today more than 270 names of the Jew's harp are known among different peoples from all over the world.

In the past among the Bashkirs kubyz was considered to be a women's and children's instrument. It was mainly used for performing dance tunes and onomatopoeic melodies, it is used as a solo and ensemble instrument.

Kubyz was a favorite instrument among young girls who came in the evenings for gatherings. At the gatherings they played the games «Naza», «Yesherem yaulyk», «Yozyok khaliu». Also the kubyz was played on such holidays as Sabantui and Iyiyn.
Folk ensemble «Etegen»
Ensemble «Etegen» of the Urmanchinsky rural House of culture. Village of Urmanchino of the Salavatsky district. The author of the video: Rustem Gaisin
The famous composer, folklorist Airat Kubagushev writes in his works about the difference between the Bashkir kubyz and other Jew's harp instruments: «Kubyz (kumyz) is a Bashkir self-sounding reed instrument of the Jew's harp type. The structure of the Bashkir kubyz does not differ from the Jew's harp instruments of other peoples, because the Jew's harp is common, it exists or existed among all peoples.
There are two types of Jew's harps: frame and arcuate. In everyday life of the Bashkirs both types have remained: a metal kubyz with an arcuate body and a wooden kubyz (agas kumyz) on a frame base. The metal kubyz is a steel spring attached to the top of a horseshoe-shaped (arcuate) fork. Wooden kubyz is a plate made of birch or maple with a reed cut out on it».
Airat Minniakhmetovich Kubagushev,
composer, folklorist, Merited Worker of Arts of the
Russian Federation and the Republic of Bashkortostan
The Bashkirs have one more musical instrument – kyl-kubyz (kyl-kumyz). This is an ancient Bashkir stringed bowed musical instrument and it is not a Jew's harp.
When playing the metal kubyz it is clamped with the lips and supported with the left hand, slightly bringing closer to the open teeth. The reed is pinched with the fingers of the right hand, which causes vibration and a bourdon sound on the tonic, from which overtones are extracted when the articulation changes. The sound is quiet, the range is within an octave. When playing the wooden kubyz the sound is obtained from pulling the reed with a thread attached to it.

Virtuoso kubyz player Mindigafur Zainetdinov talks about the peculiarities of the kubyz and playing on it
Video from the YouTube channel of the branch of VGTRK GTRK «Bashkortostan»
A little about the wooden kubyz...

Wooden kubyz is common in the northeastern regions of Bashkortostan. The virtuoso kubyz player of the world Mindigafur Zainetdinov also talks about this. In 1985, during an expedition, he managed to find a performer on a wooden kubyz in the Mechetlinsky district. She turned out to be a resident of the village of Gumerovo, Kafia Garipovna Garipova, born in 1910. She made kubyz herself, using a simple knife and a piece of maple. «I'm looking at the tool. A very simple design: a plate made of hard wood, length – 17 cm, width from 1.5 to 2 cm, thickness – 2 mm. In the middle of the plate a reed is cut out, to the base of which a coarse thread is attached with a knot. When we asked her to play something, the room filled with quiet sounds. They have something from a vibrating string, from the beating of a tambourine and the squeak of a mosquito. And at the same time the melody of the popular Bashkir dance was clearly heard through the buzzing of the reed», – says the kubyz player.
There are legends among the people
about the origin of wooden kubyz
This happened in those times when the Bashkirs were engaged in cattle breeding. One rich cattleman's shepherd died, and his son named Bikbai left an orphan. Years passed, and Bikbai became a strong guy, admired by everyone who knew and saw him. Rich cattleman trusted him to herd his best horses. On fine days boys and girls often adorned their horses, saddled them with the best saddles and rode out to the wide open space where kymyzlyk grew rapidly. These trips turned into a true celebration of youth. Guys and girls organized different games, sang, danced, played the kurai. And Bikbai, who had a variety of abilities, showed special agility in these games.

One day he made for himself kubyz from the wood of maple and learned to play dance melodies on it. When the youth went to the field, they sang and danced to the kubyz. It was then that Bikbai's instrument was called «kubyz», because guys and girls went to kymyzlyk.

Rich cattleman had two daughters – Gulyuzum and Gulsum. Both of them loved Bikbai and asked him to make kubyz for them. Bikbai played his instrument for them, but did not make kubyz.

Seeing Bikbai's abilities, rich cattleman from time to time took Bikbai with him to the city market. The fact that Bikbai goes to the market with the rich cattleman, communicates with his daughters irritated other girls. And therefore, during the trips, they sang, encouraging the guy:

Don't shoot that hare,
There is no blood in it, dear.
Don't fall in love with that guy
– He is not rich, dear.

Eh, if only there was a smooth floor for the great dance
That would spread out.
And if only there was a glass table
That majestically would rested on that floor.
And if only there were the ringing bowls
That would stand on that glass table;
Well, and if only there was delicious fish
That would lie in those ringing bowls;
If only there was a knife made of ringing steel
To cut those fish.

One day Bikbai was invited to iyiyn. While he was playing the kubyz and all the girls were dancing to his music, the eldest daughter of the rich cattleman Gulyuzum looked at him intently. Bikbai also liked this girl. As a gesture of goodwill he presented her with his kubyz. Youngest daughter of rich cattleman saw all this and her soul flared with burning jealousy. She returned home and told her mother everything. Mother told abouit it her husband and he flew into a rage. And they decided to banish Bikbai from their home. They called the shepherd to them and he said that it was not he who made the kubyz, but an old man named Bikbau, from whom he learned to play the instrument. From that time the song that is played on kubyz and which is widely distributed among the people began to be called the «Song of Bikbau».

Another Bashkir legend tells how a young woman won the heart of a guy by playing kubyz: «…As soon as she was left alone Yaukhar threw back the veil from her face, pulled out kumyz from behind her necklace and began to play a tune on it. The guy, hiding in the bushes, froze in amazement before her beauty and extraordinary playing on the instrument».

During the Soviet era the kubyz was not such a popular musical instrument. But by the end of the 20th century attention to national musical instruments flared up with renewed vigor.

«In the 80s on our initiative and on the order of Robert Zagretdinov various experimental types of kubyz were manufactured in the factory. Among them there were two-reed one, multi-tone one with a retractable reed, kubyz with a built-in resonator, kubyz with bells, an electronic one and others», – writes Airat Kubagushev in his works.

Robert Zagretdinov was awarded the title of «Virtuoso kubyz player of the world» at the World International Festival of Traditional Folk Instruments (Yakutsk, 1991). To the another international festival in 1998, held in Austria, the musician was invited as a member of the jury. There he was awarded the honorary title of «Master of International Class», which gives him the right to conduct master classes in all educational institutions of the world. Master classes were held in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland. During the tour Zagretdinov visited (in addition to the named states) Germany, Italy, Mongolia, Norway and Finland.

Mindigafur Zainetdinov

People's Artist of the Republic of Bashkortostan, laureate of the State Youth Prize named after Shaikhzada Babich, excellent worker in education of the republic. The title «Virtuoso of the world» was awarded to him when he became the winner of the international competition of Jew's harp music, which was held in 2011 in Yakutia as part of the VII Congress-festival «Khomus in the cultural space of the world». In October 2019 the Zaynetdinovs family ensemble «Republic» from Ufa won the international competition-festival of Jew's harp music in Turkey.

A multi-instrumentalist, dancer and showman Zagir Zainetdinov, who performs under the stage name Zainetdin, is known among young people.
In the small homeland of virtuoso kubyz players the International competition of kubyz players and performers of throat singing (uzlyau) named «Ei auazy» is held annually.
Famous musical compositions with the participation of kubyz: «Jew's harp symphony» by Murad Akhmetov, ballet «Arkaim» by Leila Ismagilova.
Video from the YouTube channel of the branch of VGTRK GTRK «Bashkortostan»

Today in the Republic of Bashkortostan the instruments of master performers M. Zainetdinov (city of Ufa) and his teacher R. Zagretdinov, M. Davletbaev (city of Salavat), Z. Khalilov (city of Kumertau), F. Yangirov (Ilishevsky district), A. Rysbaev (city of Dyurtyuli), F. Kuzhakhmetov (Zianchurinsky district) are popular.

Concluding the article, we can say that the current generation has revived a new idea of the Bashkir kubyz. Now kubyz is not only a female and children's musical instrument, but also a male one too. How else to explain the fact that it was the sons of the Bashkir people who became virtuoso kubyz players? Now kubyz is played at all events dedicated to Bashkir folklore, and much attention is paid to this instrument in educational institutions.
Author (compiler): M. I. Baizigitova, 2019

Used literature and references:
Lebedinsky L. N. Bashkir folk songs and tunes. Moscow, 1965.
Rudenko S. I. The Bashkirs. Historical and ethnographic essays. Ufa: Kitap, 2006.
Kubagushev A. M. Bashkir musical instruments. Ufa: Republican Center of Folk Art, 2013.
Bashkir stories and legends. Ufa: Bashknigoizdat, 1985.

Photos: Olga Prass; website of the Administration of the Mechetlinsky district of the Republic of Bashkortostan

Video: Rustem Gaisin (https://vk.com/spektr_photos); YouTube channel of the branch of VGTRK GTRK «Bashkortostan»