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Tembolat Tkhashloko - Sing Alone

by Ored Recordings

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The Meeting

When choosing performers for our music releases, we start by examining various sources and taking a mixture of advice.
Subsequently, the success of recording sessions depends on our communication skills and how well we are prepared for meeting with representatives of a certain culture.
In other words, the outcomes of recording sessions are based on how passionately we are motivated by the subject.
However, a meeting with Tembolat Tkhashloko (Kerefov) was somewhat different.
This, and subsequent music releases of his performance, are a product of our collaboration in a broader sense. In this respect, our work with Kazbek Nagaroko is somewhat similar to this one.
We have known Tembolat for a relatively long time. His voice can be heard in the last two Circassian music releases (OR-001, OR-005).
As early as 2014, we were drawn to his manner of performance. Yet, we did not have the nerve (or courage) to start talking about our ‘spontaneous’ recording sessions in the future.
In 2016, we had the chance (opportunity) to interview Tembolat Tchashloko. At one point, he mentioned that he had been singing ‘for himself’ for a long time and trying to learn folk songs as much as possible. He is even considering recording his performances, but the studio environment seems uncomfortable and inappropriate to him.
At that point, we came up with the idea to start our collaboration. No more than a week after the interview, we recorded a performance with the young man again.

Balancing between canonical and situational performance

The important feature of that recording session was the fact that Tembolat sang all the songs solo.
The fact of the matter is that Circassian traditional music is meant for a music band.
Each and every Circassian song is accompanied by counterpoint, aka “eghu” or “gheu”
This is when the choir comprises two or more people accompanying the primo, the leading solo performer.
Similarly, polyphony is a characteristic of almost every genre in Circassian folklore with some exceptions, like late Soviet lyrical songs and religious music.
We have also come across archive recordings containing Nart sagas (pshentals) performed in the form of recitation.
Some ethnomusicologists suggest that this is a recent phenomenon which reflects the disappearance of song tradition. (traditional song?)
Be that as it may, this evening, Tembolat’s repertoire mainly included the songs of smaller heroic epos, i.e. sagas about real historical figures taking part in various battles.
In this genre, counterpoint is considered to be an integral part.
The fact that the music archives of research institutes are mainly comprised of songs without counterpoint merely reflect the nature of that genre. This was based on the circumstances in which the recording sessions took place.
At the time of recording, there was nobody who could sing along, and a folklorist managed to convince an informant to perform solo.
Because of that, we emphasize the fact that Tembolat sings alone, which also includes naming the music album ‘Sing Alone’.
Tkhashloko is full of enthusiasm for playing and singing traditional music.
The way he performs traditional music and how talks about it shows that folklore is an integral part of his life.

For a long time, he had been trying to gather together those who were interested in the subject. Over the years, he was part of numerous music bands that shared the same interest in such music.
However, due to various day-to-day issues, young Kabardians could not make a permanent band and sing folk songs with any kind of regularity.
Although similar music events happen from time to time, Tembolat feels like it is not enough.
This was the reason why he started singing and playing solo.
The very uniqueness of the situation is that Tkhashloko’s solo performance is not a situational digression from Circassian folk tradition: folklorists do not catch him off guard.
Tembolat does not sing as if a small choir accompanies him. He knows that he performs alone, and therefore, having prepared, he tries to fill the gaps / voids which are meant for counterpoint (eghu).
Thanks to that, the young musician creates a unique sound. The depth and self-sufficiency of his performance is ensured by the instruments that Tembolat has made himself for such an occasion.
His three-stringed Circassian violin (shikapshin) is designed in such a way that makes it sound louder, whereas one string imitates counterpoint.
It is hardly the case that violin sound can be a substitute for counterpoint (egheu). Still, it certainly enriches a song.
Another method used by Tkhashloko to make his solo performance self-sufficient is to imitate counterpoint by using a Kamyl (a circassian flute).
Where a vocal refrain is supposed to be, Tembolat plays a melody on a wind instrument. While singing the main line, he starts recitation that fits with the simplistic, minimal sound of Kamyl.
Still, it should be noted that this is not a newly emerging tradition. This is more like an interesting experiment within the conventional style of the genre.
What is important to us is the fact that this experiment is not something done for the sake of self-expression or with the aim to imitate ‘modern’ sound. It is a rational and practical manoeuvre that sounds quite confident.
The way Tkhashloko relates himself to folk music is close to our philosophy of folklore.
On the one hand, Tembolat is conservative: he does not use any sophisticated technology (for example, sampling or juxtaposed voicing sung by one person). He shares with us the idea that folk music, by all means, is live music. On the other hand, Tembolat does not treat folk music as if it is something sacred, or connected to a mythical ancestral spirit or heroic past.
Traditional music to him is not a mere reconstruction, but something that happens here and in the moment. Music for him is like an aim in itself.
We suppose that this has an explanation.

First of all, Tembolat does not think in terms of the death of the tradition or folk revival. Since his early years, he has lived in an environment where music was a part of everyday experience rather than an exotic and rare one. Tkhashloko’s grandfather used to sing well on numerous occasions. Our musician caught classic Circassian feasts, which were accompanied by a performance of ancient songs apart (separate/ after the meal?) from the meal.
Later on, as an adult, Tembolat did not stop attending the village events where traditional music is still kept alive. This proves that our informant is an authentic one.
Secondly, while being in the folk tradition, Tambolat was also a part of the Kabardino-Balkarian art group during the nineties.
Back then, music styles such as punk rock, grunge, and hip hop were widely spread across Nalchik. Our musician took an active part in the hip hop movement of that time.
age. In this respect, it is evidence of his musical intuition.
Another important aspect that distinguishes Tembolat from the majority of young folk musicians is his interest in the music traditions of other ethnic groups (particularly, the Irish, English, and Italians), which enriches his musical acumen. Tkhashloko plays not only as he is supposed to play, but also as he desires it. Of course, he may end up digressing to his own personal style of performance given his idiosyncratic approach to music and the fact that he is continuously looking for his own unique sound. However, at this moment, the most important fact is that he plays his repertoire naturally and unpretentiously.

About songs and tunes on this release

Although the origins of Ored Recordings dwell in Kabardiono Balkaria, this music release (the thirteenth one) is the first exclusively Kabardinian album. Before annexing to Balkaria (merging with Balkaria into one republic), Kabarda was the Eastern region of Circassia. Its indigenous population is represented by the Circassian sub-ethnic group. Therefore, the music of Kabardians is also a part of the broader Circassian culture, though it has its own musical dialect.
Past Circassian releases were mainly comprised of Western Circassian repertoire with some minor inclusions of Kabardian music, whereas this album contains Eastern Circassian songs and melodies (with only one exception).
As mentioned earlier, the album contains songs of historical and military nature, also known as smaller historical epos.
Most of these songs are dedicated to the heroes of the Russian - Caucasian War songs of prising, songs of complaining as well as to the heroes of an earlier period - Kerbeche, Ajdamerkane, and others.
Apart from the songs, Tembolat played some Kabardian kaphs (kaphea) - dance melodies.
An outstanding example was the Irish melody that can be mistaken for the ancient Circassian melody, given the cultural context and Tkhashloko’s idiosyncratic style of performance.

Sound: Timur Kodzoko
Sound editing: Timur Kodzoko
Photography: Elberd Bif
Cover art: Milana Khalilova
Notes: Bulat Khalilov, Yaroslav Suzdaltsev, Olesya Altynbaeva
Recorded in Shalushka village, Kabardino-Balkaria, Russia


released October 30, 2016


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Ored Recordings Tbilisi, Georgia

Traditional and local music from the Caucasus and beyond

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