The national epos is cultural heritage of the Uzbek people. Its importance is timeless. Epic traditions go far back in the past, but they are living and developing in cultures of many peoples. The phenomenon of epos living at the end of the 2Oth century is of great importance for history of culture. Epos will live until it lives musically. That makes epic music the most topical subject of scientific study.
National bahshi of Uzbekistan
Abdunazar Poenov (Surkhandarya)

In Uzbekistan, national epos and epic narration is represented by the genre of dastan. «Dastan»‘means «story», «praise» and «adventure». It includes both poetic and prosaic elements accompanied with music. The majority of dastans has come from ancient times. Dastans were living in memory of people. Their life was active and continued in creative imagination of performers, which in their own turn became co-authors. The content and form of dastans are based on traditions having developed for centuries. They express ideas and expectations having all-nation importance. Heroic struggle for liberty or homeland, rescue of tribesmen or lover, revenge for robbery or insult, but always for dignity of the people — that is the most important thing in dastans.

Uzbekistan dastans are rich in subjects. Social, political, economic, legal and household relations, philosophical and aesthetic views of the nation were reflected in them. They reflected the old and new, kind and malicious, funny and lofty, unusual and ordinary, in short, the life in dynamics, development and struggle. Dastans could be classified as heroic, historical and romantic. They have been forming and developing in permanent interaction.

Singer-storytellers — bahshi, dastanchi, shair and jirauplayed an important role in creation of dastans. «Bahshf means tabib-healer or shaman-healer, man or woman. Performing magic songs and playing doira (percussive instrument like «tambourine»), they expelled demons from a patient (healing rite of «Kuch» or «Kuchirlik» — that means the «Exorcism». One more meaning of the word «bahshi» — dastan singer and teller. Uzbeks call dastan-tellers in different ways: in Khorezm — dastanchi or bahshi, in Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya — yuzboshi, bazshy or shair, in Leninabad and Osh regions — soki or sozdana, in Fergana valley — bahshi or sannovchi, in Karakalpakstan — baksi or jirau. The most widespread are «shaif (poet-storyteller) and «bahshf (singer-storyteller). Storytellers are always welcome at family celebrations both in villages and cities. Nevertheless, from the end of the 19th century — beginning of the 20th century popularity to this genre in cities was reducing. No wonder that the most of dastans were recorded in kishlaks, on pastures, among dehkans (farmers) and shepherds.

National bahshi of Uzbekistan
Qalandar Normatov (Khorezm)

Being a monumental genre by subject, dastans require great improvisatory, musical and poetic talent as well as experience and skills of story-tellers. Accordingly, bahshi-dastanchi is a professional performer having good skills in narration, poetic improvisation, vocal and musical art. Original schools of story-tellers have developed in Uzbekistan. They are differed in themes and forms of dastans, performing style and cast. The four local zones in musical art of the Uzbeks had influenced formation of original schools of epic story-tellers. These are Samarkand, Surkhandarya, Kashkadarya, Khorezm (Khiva, Manghit) and Karakalpak schools.

Each local zone has own musical and performing style. In Samarkand, this is cantillation, in Surkhandarya, Kashkadarya and Karakalpakstan — declamatory cantillation of dastans in a specific guttural manner and accompanied with dombra or kobuz (two-stringed bow instrument) playing. Dombra and kobuzns well as dutarwere major musical instruments for bahshi. Performing style of bahshi varies depending on musical material. The prose is performed by normal and level voice. On the contrary, poetic text is performed in guttural manner. That gives variety of timbre, voice and dynamics. The major musical genre of declamatory cantillation is «terma» where each phrase of the melody, «nagma» or «nola», corresponds to a verse of poetic text. They are simple and laconic with not wide diapason. Story-tellers also use instrumental folk tunes — «bahshi kuf («bahshi’s tunes»). They are based on popular folk melodies, or author’s ones.

Zulfiya and Fazilat Shermatovs (khalfa, Khorezm)

Performance of dastans in Khorezm is very expressive and attracts listeners by its musical brightness. Song-recitative or song-melodic type of dastan is the most popular here. Song accompanied with instrumental ensemble is the major genre. Instrumental ensemble consisted of dutar, ghijak and bulaman. Recently a structure of ensemble has changed and included tar, bulaman (or koshnai) and doira. Bahshi-dastanchis use such genres of songs as koshuk, terma, lapar and ashula. Each Khorezm dastan has from fifteen to thirty six melodies, «nola» or «nolish», which permanently develop and add new intonations, rhythms and forms. Songs of das tans are various by character: lyric, dancing, elating, easily perceptible and memorized.

Music, revealing inward of heroes, creates a general composition of dastan. Dastans’ melodies have been created for many centuries and transferred from mouth to mouth, from one story-teller to another. These melodies form spiritual heritage of the people, treasury of harmony-intonation, rhythmic and artistic means of expression, which are typical of Uzbek folk music. Epic melodies («nagma», «nola», «kui») are enriched with new intonations, rhythms and forms. Melodies are performed with different texts depending on content of the epos.

Storytellers used melodies of popular folk songs, for example, wedding songs «Yor-yor», lullabies — «Alia», funeral -«Marsiya» for dastan arrangement. Sometimes they created either their own variants, or new melodies -» bahshy-kuf. Such melodies were called by name of its creator. Music of dastan allows free improvisation. Improvisation combines with basic structure of definite song genre. The major is recitative-declamatory genre — «terma».

Bahtberghen Syrymbetov (jurau, Karakalpakstan)

Each dastan starts with instrumental introduction. Instrumental melodies and folk-tunes are usual before each vocal section. Then, terma is addressing to the audience — «Kaisi dostondan aitayin’ («Which dastan do you want to hear?»). Narration is starting. In recitative dastans, both a story and verse are performed in rhythmic prose («sadj»). Accordingly, the melodies are of narrow diapason. Dastan uses five melodies at the most, which frequently alternate or repeat.

Recitative — declamatory or recitative-chanting dastans are very expressive and emotional. Guttural manner of singing gives that. The dull singing contrasts to accompaniment {dombra or kobuz). Melodies have definite intonation, arranged in modes and rhythms. Instrumental interacts, dividing vocal phrases, are based on introduction or repetition of separate pieces of the melody. Prevailing type of melodic sounding is gradual development. Motives are repeating and varying. Diapason is narrow. Metro rhythm is precise and regular. Performing manners of terma are various — each storyteller sings in own variety of timbres and dynamic tunes. Modern musical practice brings changes to the structure of dastan. In particular, they concern intonation and manner of performance, going from modern pop songs.

Eexpressive is Khorezm performance school, uniting storytellers of Khorezm, some districts of Karakalpakstan (Manghit, Kungrad) and Tashauz region of Turkmenistan. Art of Khorezm bahshi represents both solo performance of dastans and collective (small groups of storytellers and musicians, 3-5 persons). While in other regions bahshi accompanies dastans with dombra playing by himself, Khorezm bahshi is accompanied by instrumental ensemble (dutar and gidjak or dutar, bulaman (wind instrument) and gidjak, now dutar is substituted by tar, rubab or accordion). Naturally, that influences intonation-melodic basis of dastans and timbre color.

Umida Djumaniyazova (khalfa, Khorezm)

The Khorezm school of storytellers has two major schools — northern, so-called «Ironi», and southern — «Shirvani» (sometimes it is called as Khiva school). The two schools differ in repertoire and structure of instrumental ensemble. Storytellers of «Ironi» accompany dastan with dutar and gidjak (or dutar and doira). «Shirvani» do that with dutar (tar), bulaman (or koshnai), gidjak and doira. Dastan starts with instrumental interlude — «Saikaf. It is used in tunes inside dastan, before each song and between poetic phrases. Each tune — «nola» has its own name, and a name of song depends on first words of a verse. Order of tunes is constant and obligatory. Diapason is from quint to octave and more. Melodies are developed, melodic, often with culmination structure -«audf. A manner of performance could vary depending on artistic taste and skills of a storyteller. After instrumental introduction before narration and before each new song, storyteller-dastanchi always tune his instrument, as each next song is half a tone or tone higher than previous one. Prevailing type of melodic development is gradual elevating-depressing movement.

Audjand the end of phrases are the most melodic. The important role in popularization of dastan belongs to «aitishuf — contest of bahshi. Perfect musical arrangement and vocal accentuation of Khorezm dastans have caused that their fragments are performed as independent songs, often free of comments on their context in dastans.

In Khorezm, storytellers-women are popular equally with men — bahshi. In the past, they sang exclusively for female audience. Performance of women — halfa is soft, sincere and lyric. Their repertoire often consists of dastans of romantic plot, for example, «Takhir and Zuhra». Dastans are accompanied with instrumental ensemble of diatonic accordion and doira. Many songs from dastans are extremely popular.

Uzbek national epos testifies to high creativity of the nation that gave national storytellers — bahshi-dastanchi, creators and keepers of national epic tradition. Art of Uzbek storytellers is very popular in our days. Invitations of storytellers to family celebrations and weddings are usual. Dastan lives not only in its traditional form, but has come to a concert stage. For example, the group of «Dastan» at Tashkent Philharmonic. Ensemble of «Dastan» from Khiva, headed by National bahshi of Uzbekistan Norbeg-bahshi (Abdullah Kurbannazarov), is very popular.

In some regions of the republic there are traditional schools, in particular, schools of Kadyr-bahshi Rahimov in Dehkan-abade, Shomurod-bahshi Togaev in Chirokchi of Kashkadarya region, Islam Shair in Samarkand and others. Annual republican and international festivals and contests of national bahshi-shairs and contests of young became traditional in Uzbekistan. International contest of bahshi-shairs and akyns in Termez has been carried out since 1999- Storytellers from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan participate alongside with Uzbek storytellers. In May 2002, the contest of national storytellers was carried out within the program of Open Folklore Festival «Boysun bahori» in Boysun.

Dastans gave a ground to many musical dramas and operas («Takhir and Zuhra», » Leili and Medjnun», «Farhad and Shirin», «Alpamysh», «Oshik Garib and Shehsenem», «Ravshan and Zulhumor», «Kyrk kyz» and others). Brilliant creations of the Uzbek people -national epic legends — dastans make the treasury of Uzbek musical art alongside with the other genres of musical folklore and unwritten professional music.

Rustambek Abdullaev