Working in Pïdïrakh aalï, May 9th, 2001. © Yuriy Kurochka

Since 1996 I have lived and performed fieldwork for extended periods in Khakassia and for shorter periods in Tuva, Shoria, and Northern and Southern Altay. In Khakassia I lived and worked closely together with musicians and instrument builders and their families and became integrated in Khakas society, as a musician, a committed researcher, as 'ours', and as an advocate of the Khakas people to the outside world.

During a first three-month orientation in 1996 I was lucky enough to be taken on a fieldwork trip by ethnomusicologist Galina B. Sytchenko from Novosibirsk State Conservatoire. Upon return to Abakan in 1999, I studied Russian and Khakas language, practiced Khakas chatkhan zither playing and khay throat singing, recorded music performances, interviewed village performers, and toured the country as a performer of traditional music with Sabjïlar, Slava Kuchenov’s first music ensemble. In the Winter of 1999-2000 I delved into Khakassia’s libraries and archives and the private collections of my colleagues in Novosibirsk. In the Summer of 2000, I worked mostly in the adjacent regions of Shoria, and Northern and Southern Altay.

Then a long-term research project began to take shape: the study of Khakas performing arts after 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart. A first focus was Khakas urban stage music, for which I lived and worked with urban musicians in the capital city Abakan. I was curious about how and why Khakas musicians had become musicians and instrument builders, how they created and performed music, built their instruments, earned a living, educated their and other people’s children, how they dealt with the changing socio-economical situation, and how they positioned their music in the incoming world music market. They created instruments, music, texts, and performances that reconnected them and their community to homeland, kinship and ethnic groups, worldviews, and nearby and distant pasts. Getting along with urban performers during those fourteen months, I became acquainted with many a musician, storyteller, and dancer from adjacent Sayan-Altay regions, an access to comparable cultures that later would prove very fruitful.

In order to grasp how urban performers thought about their music, instrument making, talent, creativity, and performing, however, I had to understand traditional notions connected to performing influenced as little as possible by former Soviet policies. This search into the complex of music, shamanic thinking, and altered states necessary to excel in performing, led me to a small community in south-western Khakassia, along the Töö river in Askhïs province, where elderly singers and chatkhan performers performed in the old way and held notions about non-human origins of stringed instruments, storytelling, and singing. Back in Amsterdam, it led me to a profound study of pre-Soviet and especially pre-war Soviet ethnography, folklore, and shamanic studies for the Sayan-Altay region at large. This historical research revealed many surprising side insights that refute common views, such as the persistent belief that Turkic peoples in southern Siberia did not have dance prior to Soviet folklore building.

More recent is my interest in the impact of globalising forces on the Sayan-Altay performing arts. How do performers of traditional music respond to contradictory expectations from audiences within and outside the community, to the demands of the world music market, to the increasing access to internet, the availability of social networks, and to the rapidly increased opportunities for world-wide visibility? In what ways does this alter performance and music? Are new genres like etno-rok and rep (hiphop), as the older genres of traditional music and estrada, involved in creating and sustaining indigenous identities and communities, or are they merely directed towards the outside world? Is the use of new media beneficial for Sayan-Altay performers and music groups, for building and maintaining community, for cultural survival?

I am a member of Arnold Bake Dutch Society for Ethnomusicology, International Council for Traditional Music, ICTM Study Group for Music of the Turkic Speaking World, Anthropology of Siberia / Антропология Сибири, and Soyuz – Research Network for Postsocialist Cultural Studies.

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