Kazakh song is the inexhaustible treasury of the nation wisdom. It reflects different sides of labour activity, historical events that retain deep emotional experience in the memory of people. Numerous proverbs and sayings, poetic legends and traditions that describe the life of folk singers and poets, narrators and musicians reflect the love of Kazakhs to songs who consider songs their main spiritual treasure.
Masterpieces include nameless songs, which occupy the huge part in the songs’ culture, i.e. which were composed by an anonymous author and which went through the national interpretation “Yelimai”, “Bir Bala”, “Kargash”, as well as the songs written by such authors as Abai, Birzhan, Akhan Sery, Zhayau Mussa, Mukhit Meraliyev, Baluan Sholak, as well as Maira, Yestai, Amre, Kenen etc.
Their songs are the masterpieces of Kazakh national musical culture. More than 100 years passed, and their songs live still making people admire them. They are sung by many singers and are widely propagandized by the modern composers of Kazakhstan in opera and instrumental concerts.
Birzhan-sal is one of the most prominent persons of Kazakh music of XIX Century. He is considered to be the founder of Kazakh national professional songs of Arka tradition. Birzhan concentrates brightness in his image typical for the Kazakh professional singer, representative of the unique artistic bohemia – sals and sery. It is natural that people added the word “sal” to his name because he is the people’s favourite and artist.
Birzhan’s songs constitute the classics of Kazakh music. The impact of the singer’s creativity on the Kazakh song is great. Birzhan’s style is vividly concert and masterly bright, and it contains akyn invocatory words. His life and creative work inspired M.Tulebayev and K.Zhumaliyev to create the opera “Birzhan and Sara”, which became the pearl of Kazakh opera.
Amongst his songs the most popular is the song “Lyailim-Shyrak”. In this song, the singer and composer expresses the admiration with the beauty of a girl. One of the favourite songs of Birzhan is “Aitpai” dedicated to the girl whose name is Aitpai.
One of the greatest Kazakh singers of the second half of XIX century is Akhan-Sery. In his creative work the following songs are especially distinguished: the song devoted to his faithful horse “Manmanker”; “Nurila”; the song “Syrymbet” that describes the love for the girl Zhamal; the song “Karatorgai” full of deep feelings, sorrows, thoughts about the vicissitudes of life; joyful song “Balkhadisha” about the beautiful girl; sorrowful monologue about the unrequited love “Makpal”; “Kulager” - the song devoted to the death of the favourite horse and describing deep feelings, presentiments, repentance, sorrow of the poet.
Famous Kazakh singer and composer Zhayau Mussa is very popular. Rich content of the songs and poems of Zhayau Mussa, in who’s creating work critical observations, satire, landscape descriptions are mixed with the image of the difficult destiny of women, freedom hopes, and dissatisfaction motifs. Significant place is devoted to the love and civil lyrics, zhoktau and fables.
In the songs “Ak sissa”, “Khaulau”, “Tolgau” and others there is the picture of social disparity, protest against the injustice. Poetical description is given to the lyrical feelings of the beloved in the songs “Sursha kyz”, “Sholpan”, “Saulem kyzdar”, “Gaukhar kyz”, the nature of the native land is shown in the songs “Bayanaul”, “Summer Day”, “Ulytau”, “Saryn” and others.
Kazakh composer and singer Mukhit Meraliyev was a great singer and author of lyrical songs. He wrote the song “Zauresh” when he was quite old and the song was very popular. It was based on the legend about the deep sorrow of the father who lost all his sons and his beloved daughter. The song very deeply describes the feelings of the father, his inconsolable grief. Fathomless sorrow of this song shocks your soul. “Zauresh” is more than just a song; it is a small unfinished requiem.
The song “Ainamkoz” gained a lot of popularity, one of the first songs of Mukhit, which narrates about a beautiful girl. Compositions of such a famous singer always conquered people with their soul and power.
Baluan Sholak is a very talented singer and composer. His song “Galiya” dedicated to the beloved and describing the world of tender feelings and love is very popular as it contains the unique combination of melody and lyricism.
Madi Bapiuly is a prominent person in the national arts of the end of XIX century. He is the author of the wonderful songs “Karkaraly”, “Shyrkynai”. Although being difficult to perform, his song “Karakesek” was very popular; and only a singer with a strong voice and with masterly vocal can sing this song. It describes the grief and sorrow, the ways to overcome them thanks to the passionate aspiration for light and freedom. It narrates about the fact that the powerful will is not broken, how it becomes stronger gradually gaining its force.
Ybyrai Sandybaiuly is the famous Kazakh singer and composer, the author of many popular songs: “Zheldirme”, “Shalkyma”, “Altybasar”, “Kaldyrgan” and others. The most popular and frequently performed song “Gakku” is devoted to the beloved girl Kakima, whose beauty is compared to the grace of a white swan. The popular song “Zhiyrma bes” describes the lost youth and the old age that came with its sorrows and grieves. These songs are performed by the brightest modern performers of the Kazakh song.
One of the remarkable pages in the history of Kazakh traditional song of the beginning of XX century is the creative work of Maira Shamsutdinova. She was amongst several famous women singers who were performing the national professional songs.
There are many songs composed by women, thought their participation in the public life in those times was within the social roles assigned by the mode of life and traditions.
The national professional song was formed within such institution as sal and sery. The possibility of a woman to become a professional singer is the evidence of her certain development stage. She achieves such a level when she gains popular independence, internal integrity that allows her existing without the dependence on the social conditions. Maira’s creating work, in spite of her popularity, is not known to full extent. But in all the parts of Kazakhstan her bright song “Maira” is sung. This song is the typical self-portrait of the author. However it does not inform about her belonging to a certain generation. In the foreground you can hear the motif of her woman’s attractiveness, and her calls to the contemporaries to have fun and to sing while young determine the general bright and joyful nature of the song, which contains not only popular similar melodies in kara-olen but also the aesthetics of Kazakh sal and sery, as well as their unique “epicureanism”, the cult of youth and characteristic idleness.
Roots of the spiritual culture of Kazakhs go into the depth of the centuries. Their oral folk creativity, the most ancient form of which is the songs of shepherds, which reflected the cults of animals and their patrons, as well as shepherd’s labour.
Patriarchal and feudal mode of life, Kazakh traditions are vividly shown in the ritual songs, for example, in the wedding songs: the festive song of the wedding party, the song-dialogue of dzhigits and girls about the change in the fate of a bride, the bride’s song-farewell to her native aul, the song-consolation, the song of the people from the bridegroom’s aul who meet the bride etc.
There are various ritual songs: songs-farewells, songs that inform about a sad event, song-sorrow about a person who died etc.
Historical songs narrate about the national rebellions and their leaders – Srym Datov, Isatai Taimanov, Makhambet Utemisov etc.
Modern songs of the Kazakhs have changed under the impression of the Russian, European and other cultures. In XX century the theatrical art appeared (in opera, operetta etc.), which took place not only within the classical repertoire but with the consideration of local national traditions.
At present, significant scientific-research work is done for the fixation and renewal (existing in the rural area and used during several rituals) of the traditional and ritual songs, which are the unique part of the global cultural heritage. In order to support the national song heritage, republican competitions and festivals of the performers are regularly held.