03 February 2011

Khustar - delight from Xinjiang

"Khushtar is part of the ancient Uyghur musical tradition. It was handmade in the tradition of Uyghur Master Instrument makers in Kashgar, Xinjiang - western border of China and Turkestan.
Khushtar is made from the wood of a mulberry tree. It has 11 strings; four are for playing, as with a normal violin, and the others are sympathetic strings that resonate along with the bowed strings (similar to a viola d'amore). 

The Khushtar is named for the carved bird that is placed on top of the handle. Khush means bird, and tar means strings. The sound of a Khushtar is very clear and resonate, reminiscent of a birdsong. The Khushtar evolved, in ancient Kashgar, from the venerable Ghijek instrument."

...When it arrived from China, it was fitted in a sturdy wooden box filled with wood shaves. One of the sympatetic pegs was broken but soon I learned that replacing them all with small violin ones, serve the purpose much better.

Tuning was somewhat tricky. Supposedly GDAE, the instrument felt very unnatural and heavy in the higher register, while the lower two strings G and D were soft and easy to play. My epiphany occurred when by accident  one of loose higher pegs jumped to D. Tuning GDG'D' works beautifully, and I will never touch the pegs to re-tune them... It very earthy, growling and dark when double stopping the 5th only to progress upwards on the lower drone string. The highest notes gives a variety of sonic reflections - from nasal high pitched ones to open, bright and freeing - all depends on the bowing, amount of rosin, the temperature and off course the mood of the instrument's soul ;) 

It was almost 6 years ago. Little bird at the top of the headpiece lost his (her?) beak and all the strings has been fitted with micro tuners from small violin...

Most of the learning was done rather impromptu during 2003 - 2007 when playing in a band called "Umanee" (http://www.pmnmusic.com/umanee/index.html). The repertoire was a mystical beverage made of Triglav's (Polish pagan god), Thor's (Scandinavian) and miscellaneous minor deities infusions including the pantheon of regressive rock-folk and rugged association with world music... Thanks to Michael O'Connor, Bill Thomson, Keryn Lientshnig, Rob Law, Dushan Mitrovic and Shakira Searle - I experienced very dynamic learning environment where my lack of proper bowing technique was not unwanted - it simply become "the sound" of the instrument which penetrated many of our textures and sonic landscapes...

(Umanee with Emah Fox, Montsalvat 2006)

And here our album LP version (from "Fravashi") with the guest vocals of Shakira Searle:

"Dzikie Pola" (Wild Steppe) with band Umanee - from "Fravashi" (2007)
by PMN Music Creations

Few years passed before I joined "Soteria Bell" and took on the Khushtar again. This time is more Hellenic, Balkan and even Uyghur - where it finally belong :)

Source: Global Times [17:29 July 14 2009]

Now a prominent instrument in the professional troupes, the khushtar viol was developed in the 1960s. It modeled its shape on instruments depicted in Xinjiang's early Buddhist cave murals. It is tuned and bowed like the professional ghijak, but its tone is lower and softer, since the whole instrument is made of wood. It is also found in soprano and tenor versions."

The maker of the instrument told me about the "Iconic" place of the Khushtar in the Uyghur national consciousness - it carries the connotations to the decades long fight with the Chinese government to gain an independence for the Uyghurs. Frankly, the instrument is now becoming the part of  traditional Chinese ensembles...
"The Uyghur (Uyghur: ئۇيغۇر‎, ULY: Uyghur; simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Wéiwú'ěr; [ʔʊjˈʁʊː]) are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China. An estimated 80% of Xinjiang's Uyghurs live in the southwestern portion of the region, the Tarim Basin.
The largest community of Uyghurs outside Xinjiang in China is in Taoyuan County, in south-central Hunan diasporic communities of Uyghurs exist in the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Smaller communities are found in major cities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey. Outside of China, large province." (from Wikipedia)


  1. Hi Peter,
    Great story about the Khushtar -it truly is an intriguing instrument. Who wrote the music for 'dzikie pola' - sounds amazing!!!
    What other instrument do you play?

  2. Hello Vivien,
    Thank you for stepping in to my blog and leaving your comments. "Dzikie Pola" is technically my composition yet its final form is a result of communal input from other members of the band.

    The song itself was inspired my the melodies of Ukraine and Eastern Poland - one could say that this is a "neo-folk" - is has no creator other than traditions which shaped us - performers - the messengers of past ;))

    More instruments coming soon...