Meet a veteran Aken Aytes artist who brings Kazakh music to life

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03:09

Jagalbek Baibahet, a 39-year-old Kazakh, is an ordinary man of extraordinary talent.

Living in the village of Sarhum in Fuhai County, in the far north of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, he has been practicing Aken Aytes for 26 years. Decades of diligence have brought him to the stages of many Aken Aytes competitions and have won him numerous awards.

The prizes that Jagalbek Baibahet won in various Aken Aytes competitions. / CGTN

The prizes that Jagalbek Baibahet won in various Aken Aytes competitions. / CGTN

Aken Aytes, or Aken Songs, is a folk art form popular among the Kazakh ethnic group. It presents impromptu musical performances by singers playing a symbolic Kazakh musical instrument – the dombra – in traditional Kazakh attire. Learning to play the dombra is the first step in mastering Aken Aytes.

Dombra by Jagalbek Baibahet. / CGTN

Dombra by Jagalbek Baibahet. / CGTN

The performer is also called Aken, which means “poet” in Kazakh. “Aken” represents the embodiment of wisdom in Kazakh culture.

Being an Aken is a challenge as the art usually takes the form of a song, where two or more Akens exchange lyrics in an antiphonic style. To have the best performance, an Aken must have a rich knowledge of culture, history, literature and even the latest government policies.

Most importantly, they must react quickly and outsmart their opponents until they are at a loss for words.

Jagalbek Baibahet plays his dombra. / CGTN

Jagalbek Baibahet plays his dombra. / CGTN

“Playing dombra or singing in itself is not demanding. The hardest part for Aken Aytes is the fighting part because you never know what your opponent will sing and you have to react quickly,” Jagalbek told CGTN during an interview at his home in Sarhum.

“But that’s also what makes Aken Aytes amazing. If there was only one person singing, that would be very boring.”

Jagalbek Baibahet (R) trains with another Aken. / CGTN

Jagalbek Baibahet (R) trains with another Aken. / CGTN

Jagalbek spends an hour a day reading books and writing down what he has learned. “I read a lot – history, nature, literature, geography, almost everything. I also talk to old people who know a lot about the past. They tell me the stories and I turn them into words”, a- he declared. .

Music flows through the veins of the Kazakh people. Many locals like Jagalbek start learning the Aken Aytes at a very young age. He told CGTN that they were learning the art form from their parents, cousins ​​and neighbors. “Usually children who have reached the age of 12 should attend an Aken Aytes competition of any size. It is very important for them to progress,” he said.

Jagalbek Baibahet plays the dombra for his son. / CGTN

Jagalbek Baibahet plays the dombra for his son. / CGTN

An Aken Aytes contest, which lasts a maximum of 40 minutes, is the most crucial gathering for Akens. According to Jagalbek, seven or eight such competitions will be held in Fuhai County, and each village also has its own.

Aken Aytes was added to China’s National Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2006.

Writer: Deng Junfang

Reporter: Xu Xiaotong, Deng Junfang

Video editor: Xu Xiaotong

Cameramen: Wei Chen, Xu Chunming


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