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Aytish is a competition between two “akyns”. (Akyn is the term used to refer to a performer that improvises verses – rather similar to a “minstrel” in olden Europe). The two “performers” sit several feet apart and duel in sung verse, each cuing off the other's words and ideas in a mixture of rhythmic singing, chanting and exclaiming.

The Akyns take turns, singing songs and creating a sort of musical dialogue, like a debate. (In another form called alym sabak – which translates as “catch the line” – one akyn will start an “argument” and the second should continue it). They have to improvise on whatever topic comes up … apparently they can perform for hours at a time on subjects which range from the beauty of the universe to the pleasures of drinking a cup of tea. The winner of the competition is the one considered to have demonstrated the most musical skill, rhythm, wisdom and wit.
Tradition Aytish contests feature just a pair of akyns – but occasionally a larger number may participate …and it has been known for someone in the audience to join in! Usually the akyn accompanies himself / herself on a komuz. In this section we present a short video clip of a performances by a pair of  Akyns. The clip was recorded in the autumn of 2009 in the village of Bokonbaevo, (in the Issyk Kul region, on the southern shores of Lake Issyk Kul). Performers: Aigul Berdigulova and Joldubai Japarov. The plot of the particular scene is based around the mutual exchange of remarks on two levels.

The clip is intended for evaluation purposes and permission for downloading and distribution has been granted for non-commercial purposes.

Recorded by: Olga Zaichenko, Sands Design studio

Length: 2:56

Format: Wmf (Winamp Media File)

File size: About 19 Mb



“It was a long time ago, and now the eyewitnesses have gone …” With these words the Manaschi begin their songs telling of the exploits of Manas – Legendary hero of the Kyrgyz. Traditional central Asian literature took the form of songs, poems and stories performed by itinerant minstrels (akyns in Kyrgyz). The Kyrgyz have an entire cycle of such legends, 20 times longer than the Odyssey, about a hero called Manas. Akyns who can recite from these are called manaschi. There have been a number of very famous manaschi – including Manaschy Sagynbai, Toktogul and Togolok Moldo – all of whom have streets named after them in Bishkek.

If the story of Manas is central to Kyrgyz traditional culture and character, psychology and spirit – the Manaschi holds a special place of respect in Kyrgyz Culture. The manaschi, (traditionally they are always men – although some women have taken to narrating the story as well), alternates between a rapid declamatory style when narrating factual information, and a strongly rhythmic recitative for depicting dialogue and direct quotation.  They use dramatic gestures, changes in tone and facial expressions as an integral part of their performance – employing all to hold the attention of the audience.

Although it is possible sometimes to catch a performance by a manaschi in the cities, there is something special about experiencing one in a jailoo – under the open sky, just as it would have been told in times gone by.

Some Notable Manaschis:

Sagynbay Orozbakov, (1876-1930) was born in village of Kabirga in Issyk-Kul region. He began his career as a manaschi when he was about 15 years old. His version of the epic was transcribed between 1922 and 1926 and is considered to be the classical variant, consisting of 180387 lines.

Sayakbay Karalaev, (1894-1971), appears on the 500 som banknote.

Toktogul Satylganov, (1864-1933), appears on the 100 som banknote.

Togolok Moldo, 1860-1942, (he appears on the 20 som banknote). He was the first manaschi to write down the verses he told.

Seydene Moldoke kyzy, (b.1922), is one of the rare female manaschi. Born in Ketmen-Tobo valley, and inspired by the great manaschi, Toktogul, she began by narrating the "Semetey" part of the epic. During the early days of her career as a manaschi, she visited Talas and other places associated with the hero.