BIR BOS'A  (the booklet)
Light-hearted songs and nuptial advice

Khorezm is a semidesert region at the crossroads of the Turkish and Iranian worlds, in the far west of Uzbekistan. Its history is closely linked with that of the river Amu Darya, formerly known as the Oxus. Khorezm, along with Sogdiana and Bactrian, was one of the three satrapies (administrative districts) of the Persian empire of the Achemenides in Central Asia (6th Century B.C.). Due to its location on one of the silk routes, the fortified city of Khiva, its historical metropolis, surrounded by the deserts of Kyzyl Koum (the red desert) and Kara Koum (the black desert) alternated between being an important caravan crossroads and a dangerous den of thieves and slave traders. From the 18th Century on, Khiva and the Khorezm region were coveted by Russia. During the "Big Game" in the 19th Century, Russia opposed Great Britain for access to the Indies and the warm seas. From this colonial rivalry came, among other things, the buffer state of Afghanistan. The Khanate of Khiva was conquered in 1873 by the Tsar's armies, which definitively liberated it from the tyranny and cruelty of its Khans. After the Russian revolution, the Khorezm region was first promoted Soviet Republic (1922), then incorporated into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic

(1924). While the ruinous effects of the Soviet era are to be regretted, for example regarding religious repertoires, it must be recognised that there were also many positive aspects, such as the development of music in the Uzbek language, the inventory and preservation of traditional repertoires, their regular broadcasting on radio, the creation of music academies, the improved status of musicians and, above all, the secularization of society, which had the immediate consequence of liberating women and allowing them access to the public arena.

A tradition of emancipation
In the traditionalist and antiquated society of the Khanate of Khiva, as in other Muslim states of Central Asia in that period, it was a matter of propriety for women to be secluded. In the privacy of their gynaecea they would sing to entertain themselves, accompanied only by rough percussion from tapped stones or clinked glasses.

The urban tradition of the professional female singers and dancers in the Khorezm region dates back only a hundred odd years. It corresponds to the arrival of the Russians in Central Asia and above all, to its Sovietization. These professionals, called xalfa, (or Khalfa, from the Arab Kalifa, literally "successor"), designates the women who read Arabic and perform traditionally, a popular repertoire for other women that is at once religious and profane, very different from the classical repertoire (maqâm).

The first professional female singers sang sad songs and religious songs during mourning ceremonies, without musical accompaniment. Gradually, they came to perform more and more during the toy, private banquets given to mark the various stages of life, births, marriages etc. The xalfa participate in certain precise stages of the marriage ritual, such as the unveiling ceremony of the bride, which takes place at the fiancé's house the day after the wedding. Contrary to the banquet (ōsh), this phase of the ceremony is exclusively intended for the women of his family. It is for them that the bride unveils her face. Older women (ōtin ôy) sing songs of blessing and the female guests come to kiss the bride and give her gifts that will be added to her dowry. After this ceremony, the xalfa – whose number varies – accompanied by their dōyrachi (player of the dōyra, framed drum) and a dancer, start singing a repertoire of appropriate profane songs, some of which feature on this CD. The xalfa generally also play an instrument, such as the accordion or garmon (small accordion). In the past, the xalfa only accompanied themselves with percussion: tambourine (daf), bell bracelets (zang), metal plates (likābcha) and flat stones (qaïraq).

These toy fulfil an important revealing and unifying role in the Uzbek social fabric. Today, these celebrations are almost always compered by the xalfa and, while the success of a toy is measure first and foremost by the number of guests, it is the beauty of the xalfa's costumes, the grace of their movements and the virtuosity of their music that gives the toy all its festive grandeur. The xalfa are dressed in brocade coats or many-coloured silk dresses and wear flowered or golden tōqi on their heads. Moreover, they are appreciated for their good manners and their spirit and these days it is no longer demeaning for a woman to sing and dance in public.

Zumrad Xalfa, professional singer
Near Khiva, in Urgench, the current administrative centre of the Khorezm region, Anabibi Otajonova (1901 ?-1958) was the first woman in the region to play in public. She taught her art to Nazira Sabirova (1922 – 2002), who enriched her repertoire with her own personal compositions. Today, Zumrad Xalfa, who was Sabirova's dôyrachi in her final years, ensures the continuation of nuptial singing. Zumrad became xalfa when she was around thirty years old, forced to earn her own living. She taught herself to play the accordion and the garmon. The accordion appeared late on in Khiva, in the sixties, whereas its cousin, the garmon was introduced into Central Asia by the Russians by the end of the 19th Century. Parallel to this learning process, Zumrad perfected her vocal art with Nazira Sabirova and literally saved the latter's precious repertoire by meticulously transcribing it into a series of school notebooks.

Zumrad Xalfa is today characterised by the size and exactitude of her traditional repertoire, even though she is sometimes obliged, given the competition, to use a synthesizer to satisfy the demands of an audience which is ever more seduced by modern or western inspired music.

Here, Zumrad Xalfa sings a little-known part of the traditional repertoire of the Khiva xalfa whose content overturns a few preconceived ideas. For these recordings, she accompanies herself on the garmon and, contrary to custom, or to confirm the progress of the mixing of the sexes, her dōyrachi is not a woman but her son, Geraki Madrimov. This repertoire is normally sung during meetings and ceremonies that precede the wedding night.

CD tracks
  1. Kechmayman  – "I will not leave you"
    Of all women, you are the only one…"
    A man promises never to leave his beloved, even if she "smiles on his enemies."

  2. Sadāg’ans Bōlay  – "I would die for you"
    In this three- (rather than five-) versed version of a dāstān (epic song) referring to the story of Shoxsanam, a man implores his mistress to stay in good health until his next visit. His evocation of her beauty then covers the beloved to "the ends of your body, your sweet lips..."
    Some of these songs act as a sort of "how to" manual for the newly-weds. One song reminds of the importance of preliminaries, another song encourages gentleness by careful unbuttoning of the shirt... Sexual allusions are frequent in this repertoire, but discreet and never vulgar. 

  3. Sangar  from the name of a village near Khiva
    This song indirectly refers to the
    xalfa's payment and incites their hirers to be generous towards them.
    Four xalfa went to sing in a village called Xonqa, whose inhabitants are reputed for their miserliness. The villagers only paid the singers three courgettes. A fight broke out while deciding how to share them out.
    It is to be noted that several
    xalfa live in Xonqa today… 

  4. Na Bōlg’ay  – "Why are you not here?" 
    A woman is impatient. She is willing to do anything, even "kiss the legs and feet" of her lover to spend another night in his arms... 

  5. Oshiq bōlib qoldim  – "I am in love"
    I am in love with the name of my love and I don't know if he remembers!"
    On the recurrent theme of separation, a mistress cries for her loved one who has returned to his native country. 

  6. Orzuimni eshit  – "Listen to my desire"
    You left me alone and your absence is eating away at my body.
    Who are you going to meet, abandoning me here?"

  7. Tuninay  – "Yesterday"
    A woman in love is devastated by the hurtful words her lover flung at her yesterday. But he also said a kind word yesterday.

  8. Jon ustina  – "With joy!"
    "I love your beautiful eyes and your pomegranate complexion!
    If you want to marry me, I accept: with joy !
    I love this pair of fruits that move,
    I love to taste the sap of your lips..."
    And so on, and so forth...

  9. Hayronman  –  "I'm surprised !"
    The xalfa are disappointed because a series of promises were not kept. There are other versions of this very popular song in the Khorezm region (cf. that by Norbek Baxshi on the CD Jahovir, in the same collection)

  10. Ōyna-ōyna  – "Dance, dance !" 
    A man, or a woman declares his/her passion by offering an apple to the person he/she desires. 

    "Dance, dance, my beauty !
    My eyes must rest
    The apple is red, the apple is white,
    Don't look at the apple.
    My mother would not approve !"

  11. Ah dedim  – "Oh ! I said !"
    If you touch my dress... Ah! Gently, I said !
    If you are unfaithful, I'll rip out your eyes... Ah! I said !
    If you pass me by... Ah! Gently, I said !

  12. Kelin keldi  – "The fiancée has arrived"
    The fiancée arrives at her fiancé's house on the day of the wedding and all the guests welcome her. But first the house must be prepared.

    Spray the yard, the fiancée's coming !
    Make way, the fiancée's coming,
    she's dressed like a queen !
    Get off the path, the fiancée is coming !

  13. Sog’indim  – "I miss you"
    Oh, wind ! Greet my love. I miss his heart, his black eyes and his sweet words..."

  14. Bōlmasa  – "I don't have"
    In this sad song a woman complains she has been abandoned by her unfaithful husband and she has no-one to whom she can open her heart.

    Don't trust the words of an unfaithful husband !"
    He's a liar who never keeps his promises..."

  15. Aylanayin  – "I adore"
    I love your mother who brought you into the world,
    I love your breasts that shine like silver
    And which have not yet been touched..."

  16. Mazalim  – "My darling " (a sweet word of affection, "my honey")
    An unsatisfied lover begs his lover to come back to him.
    All night and all day, I need your words, that are like the lark's singing...