One specific line of Circassian (Adyghe) instrumental music, by Alla Sokolova

Alla Sokolova (PhD) is chief by faculty of the Theory, History of Music and Technique of Musical Education of Institute of Arts Adyghe State University. Adygheya Republic, Maykop.

The present day of the Adyghe folk instrumental music are remarkable for a voice accompaniment  to music. They are called  zhiu (1). Zhiu is  an independent vocal song, a musicai variant of the melody, an indispensable  element of the instrumental ensemble.

This peculiarity has been underlined by different people. The Englishman James Bell (in the Ist half of the XIX century) repeatedly underlined that Adyghe instrumental music is accompanied by a vocal song; the men sing in low voices accompanying the music (2).

In the "Transaetions about Circassia" Khan-Girey says: "With the musicians there"s a man whose responsibility is to repeat the melody (3), which is sung by the singer, and to beat with  pkhachich (ratchet) a time step also. (4).

This  phenomenon was thr matter of attention  of  M.F.Gnesin: "The voice very often only accompanies the instrument, emphasizing the melody without any words'(5).

The use of voice for instrumental colouring can be illustrated by many recordings from the Adyghe regional record library and the archive of the Adyghe Scientific-Research Institute (ARIGI). Shapsugs  on the Black sea and on the Kuban' river, Besleneys, Temirgoys (Circassian tribal  names)   are good at the art of phonal singing. The  Bzhedugs -- a tribal name  Teuchezhsk region -- on the contrary, hardly ever use a voice accompaniment to instrumental music nowadays. According to many informants, zhiu was necessary for any instrumental music.

As such, the traditional Adyghe instrumental ensemble comprised at least three sound units, three components. The first is musical instrument: a kamil (airophon), a shichepshin  (a kind of a violin) or a  pshina - an Adyghe harmonic, which appeared approximately a 100 years ago. There could be several musical instruments. There were cases a  kamil  used together with another  kamil,  a  kamil  combined with a  shichepshin, or a  shichepshin used together with a  pshina.

The second component is a beating instrument; in ancient times palms of a hand were used as such, later - a drum was used,  nowadays a  pkhachich (a ratchet) is widely used. Other subjects that may be used for beating are 9metal sticks, stones, spoons, match-boxes and thr like). It is common practice nowadays to use a dole 9 similar to drams).

The third component is a vokal phone  singing produced by a  pkhachichao (6) -  one or two -  or some other man. Only some  men accompany an instrumental melody. But in a typical  dzheguako  group (folk musical), such as  Makhmud Shagudjiev's group from the Black sea coast, the  pkhachichaos  were constantly  present and they also produced  zhiu.

In the recording kept in the archive of ARIGI and in the Adyghe  Regional Radio Record Library the names of the people producing phone singing and beating with  pkhachich are hardly ever mentioned. This fact shows the attitude of the people to  zhiu and  pkhachichao). They are not    treated like other musicians, though a voice accompaniment and time step beating are very important for a  solist-musician. Except for very rare cases time solist himself repeats the melody by voice. According  to S.Shu,  pshinao Ibragim Dzhamirze sings himself; as is the case with the  shichepshinao Aslanbech Chich (7).  But more often it is  pkhachichao  who produces  zhiu. This is, perhaps, due to a high complexity of combining solo instrumental music with a voice accompaniment. The complexity arises from poiymetrio sounding. The solo instrumental part and the   zhiu part have independent metres.

The metre of each part coincides with the most stressed note. Each part begins at a different time, this is why their metres do not coincide. Variants are possible, when the weakest instrumental pitch combines with the strongest  zhiu pitch, which is the case with the "Shapsug zafak" for a shichepshin (8). The  stereophonic volume of the sound is strengthened by an even  rhytthmic beating with a  pkhachich without any accents.

It is a musical instrument (a pshina  or shichepshin) in the  instrumental ensemble which begins a melody. Then a little later (within one or two melody  phrases) a  pkhachichao joins in. Two or three beats with a  pkhachich are twice as long as the rhythm of the melody (example 1). At first the pkhachichao listens to the metre of melody, trying to catch it and then he joins in and begins to develop the melody.

The voice in an instrumental ensemble comes  last. Zhiu's part is a simple rhythmic melody, consisting of repeated phrases (one or two) which supplement each other (see example 2a, 2b, 2c).

The voice accompaniment may be repeated 7-12 times. The musical phrases may be identical, but more often they are slightly varied.

There are two main types of zhiu. The first type is a  monotematic melody. It is based only on one musical phrase, which is repeated many times.  The second type is a bi-thematic melody (see example 4), where two musical phrases alternate.

The thematic type of  zhiu depends on the contents of the main instrumental melody. The monothematic type of  zhiu  represents, usually, a folk variant with a  pronounced theme. The bi-thematic type of  zhiu represents a melody with two themes.

Often a voice melody is a downward notive formation with the volume varying from a second to a quart or quint. Tetrachords and pentachords are functionally divided. Very often high pitch underlies the pentachords, in other variants it is a terge tone. Quart melodies are very often based on the extreme limit of sound range.

A part of  zhiu may be in octave unison with the instrumental melody. But more often only some motive pieces sound in unison with the main instrumental melody. A unison sounding is typikal of the motive formations with a closing cadence (see example 1). In the melody "To honour Kodzheberduko's convalescence" (example 3) the part of  zhiu represents a periodical music organization with a pronounced melody contour borrowed from an  instrumental melody. It has a question-and-answer structure and begins with a recitative (measure 4). This type of  zhiu can be divided into the following functionally contrasted formations: introductory-connecting (measure 4); opening-leading (measure 6-9); final-closing (measure 10-12); which slightly vary further on.

Folk performers conider that  zhiu does't require a great skill. But improvising virtuosi  create melody which is independent of an instrumental one. In this case there  a polythematic improvisation, appears co-ordinated on the whole, but rather independent for each imstrumentalist.

Adyghe  zichetiat can serve as an exanple 5, its performere, unfortunately, are unknown. The independence of melody lines determined by a different metre organization and rhythm.

Jiming of a voice accompaniment in respect to an instrumental text is usually constant.

A traditional Adyghe folk instrumental melody consists of two or three thematic pieces, each consisting of thematic repeatitions and forming such  periodic as:

A + A           B + B

The periodicity finds its expressio not only in the structure,  but in the organization of separats thematic pieces, for example,  A  or  B  represented by repetitions and sequences. Schematically the traditional folk melody is as follows:

A  A  B  B         A'  A'  B'  B'           A" A" B" B"  etc.

The name of sequences of such periodic  structures varies from seven up to twelve. They last two or three minutes in the recordings, but in real life the same dancing melodies sound longer. A voice accompaniment usually joins in at the end of the second thematic piece (B) during its second perfomence. So, the exposure of the instrumental thematic core is monodical, even without a  pkhachich; while the instrumental ensemble the exposure of a voice phone melody takes place only in the instrumental ensemble supported by a pkhachich.

Compared to the main melody, zhiu is secondary. The dependence of  zhiu on the main melody reveais itself in the thematic contents of a voice phone singing. It may  coincide rhythmically with the main melody or only with cadenced pieces. And, finally, a poliphonic instrumental melody may go together with a short voice accompaniment. It is beyond doubt that accompaniment is stable as a structural and timing unit.

Meaningless syllables are indispensable for a voice accompaniment, of the type "i-na, ni-na", "oy-na', e-ri-da" and like. In other cases traditional meaningless syllables are used, such as "o-ra", "ore-ra",'o-re-da, o!".

It is noteworthy that very often  a voice accompaniment is performed not with a clear but dull voice, sometimes with a closed mouth (nasal singing). It is possible that by this one characteristic feature that a singer imitated the sound of a shichepshin (soft, not very striking) or the sound of a  kamil (toneless, hissing). A short voice accompaniment may be compared to  kamil melodies. Kamil is unsuitable to play for very long melodies. Some European authors write that ancient Adyghes played some musical wind-instruments simultaneously. Every performer produced a short musical phrase. As a result, a single whole was created (9). On the photographs dating back to the beginning of the 20th century you can see ensembles comprising two  kamilapshes kamil-players) and a  pkhachichao. According to the evidence of informants,  kamilapshes played not simultaneously but in turn. Thetradition of antiphonal singing existed in ancient Adyghe labour songs. So, the tradition of short voice melodies came into an instrumental ensemble. The tradition that took root in the instrumental manner of playing a  kamil was adopted by vocal phone singers.

Zhiu can be sung in any instrumental genre: a ritual melody, a dancing melody or music for listening.

A voice accompaniment in an instrumental ensemble is indicative of ancient instrumental ensemble traditions in the Adyghe culture.

Some conclusions about the functional peculiarities of  zhiu were arrived at: besides utilitarian and esthetic characteristics  zhiu has a lyric function. It is necessary to illustrate this idea.

Adyghe instrumental dancing melodies, though unigue by nature, have some common features. They are as follows: 1 - mostly a quick tempo; 2 - an even rhythmic pulsation of beating instruments; 3 - insignificant rhythmic pubsation in producing a folk melody.

Perhaps, all these features, easily visible and heard, made the impression that the Adyghe folk instrumental dancing music is impetuous, swift and gay.

According to informatically all Adyghe folk dances are smooth, soft, lyrical. The characteristics is conditioned not by music, but a vision of dancing. In SH.Shu's opinion, Adyghe folk  dances embody a lyrical idea of meeting, acquaintance,awakening of feelings of two young  people. In such dances as  zafak, islamey, zagatlyat, udzh relations between dancing men develop and deepen. It is clear that the knowlege of dancing movements allows to see a lyrical motif in dances. But more deep processes are connected with the lyrical motif (10).

The first aspect of lyricism has something to do with improvisational nature of  zhiu. Improvisation depends greatly on  zhiu-pasha (the man producing  zhiu), his personality, his gift, his scene experience and tribal traditions kept up by  zhiu-pasha. Zhiu-pasha gives tone to singing and determines the intonational contents of a melody, which ranges from a simple duplication of the melody to an independent contrapunkt. Zhiu has no intonational stability fof every melody of the same name.  "Khatukay zafak" or "Abredzh Nukh", for example, may have different  zhiu performed anew. Here we clearly see the dependence of zhiu on the main melody, its dependence on the skill of the performers.

Zhiu is stable only during the same performance. But even in this case it may have variations.

The main melody is easily recognizable when performed by any folk musician and you can get the idea of its contents. Unlike the main melody, zhiu doesn't indicate nrither the name (contents) of the melody nor its topic.

Zhiu goes together only with an instrumental ensemble and without it has no sense. There are no genre, stylistic differentiations within zhiu. It is independent by its nature. Within the traditional Adyghe ensemble it is autonomous.

The second aspect of  zhiu lyricism is its intonational dependence on the main melody. The melody is usually characterized by all kinds of fioritura, which depend on the characteristics of the instrument (f.e.pshina has a "quint swing" of the type, shichepshin has melismata and a bourdona tone).

The melody of  zhiu, on the contrary, reproduces only the main elements. Not seldom the voice repeats a cadence motif and the main melody with a definite rhythmic pulsation.

Zhiu is dependent not only on the contents of the main melody but on its form. As a rule, the number of zhiu motifs is equal to the number of motifs of the main melody. The intonetion of  zhiu is condetioned by  the Adyghe song traditions. The Adyghe polyphony (a linear functional duet) with its typical opposition of a  soloist (kikhezidzerem) and an ensemble of singing men (zhiu) already had some features of zhiu. Stability, a clear-cut rhythm, mode (key) certainly are the most typical traits of a song zhiu (11). These traits are kept in an instrumental ensemble. So, instrumental  zhiu is borrowed partly from a song zhiu; it is based  partly on reintoning a song  zhiu.

In the traditional Adyghe instrumental ensemble there is no liricism in the true seuse of the word (no melodic line, no singing of the syllables, no slow tempo). But it doesen't mean that we can't speak about lyric qualities of zhiu.


1. ZHIU  means  -  giving a voice.


 3. This man is a kamil-player.



6. Pkhachichao is the man who beats pkachich.

7. Shichepshinao is the man who plays an Adyghe violin.

8."Shapsug zafak" is performed by A.Meretukov (shichepshin). The part of zhiu and pkhachich is performed by K.Tletseruk. Recording. Melody.  33 C 32-08423-24. Here and further the foot notes are made by the author.


10.Like Zemtsovsky I by a lyrical motif we understand 1 - a free improvisation, unstable structure, 2 - reintoning of the music vocabulary of some epoch, 3 - music formulability and lyricism.

11. See in details: