The next two posts return to the bards of the Caucasus but this time focusing on the practices in the North Caucasus and crossing over a little into Georgia. Because of the difficulty in accessing information, the following is a piecemeal account of whatever I can find on bards or ballads, from the Vainakh, the Adyghe, the Ossetians, the Lezgis, the Avars, the Kumyks, the Laks and a brief mention of the Nogai – the latter five being from Dagestan, a region of the Caucasus this blog has hardly touched upon. Unfortunately, the details are spotty and for Dagestan almost non-existent. Moreover, some aspects of the bardic practices described in publications do not always coincide with musical examples I have – which may reflect the published accounts being outdate with current practices and/or a lack of accessible musical examples. Some of the details I struggled identifying concern: whether and/or when bards perform solo or in ensembles; whether the songs are monophonic or multi-voiced; the bards’ use of accompanying instruments; the role as historian and/or cultural gatekeeper; the difference between epics, heroic songs, historical songs, and other ballads; and the mythical and legendary sources they may share.
So the next post explores the bards of the Northwest and Central North Caucasus (i.e., the Vainakh, the Adighe, and the Ossetians and takes a brief look at a Georgian bardic tradition) and the following post then addresses the musics of Dagestan.
I have noticed (in a crassly reductive sort of way) 2 streams of bardic styles that cross over the region: one which is more ballad like with a predictable verse or verse-chorus format while the other makes use of sections of recitative styled singing of text sandwiched between more melodic phrases that typically feature sustained tones and a descending line. Before getting into the details, I do want to acknowledge that adequate accounts of the bardic tradition would require more attention to the lyric and thematic content but this is beyond the scope of this blog, which is primarily concerned with musical material. Also, because barely any of my other posts have addressed Dagestan, and because little information exists on the region or its music (it does not even make its way as a subheading into the Encyclopedia of Music’s entry on the “North Caucasus” (Jordania 2000a)) I provide a short general overview of Dagestani music before tackling the details of the individual music cultures. As you will also notice for the music posted about Dagestan, many of the examples lack details concerning who is performing and even the name of the song being performed.