Music as a mystery
© RIA Novosti. Iliya Pitalev

Music as a mystery

The musical art of the peoples of the North is ancient, although it is impossible to define the date of its origin. Songs and dances were passed from generation to generation. Music was closely related to worshipping spirits and gods, and therefore every musical instrument was considered to be a specific totem. collected the most surprising musical instruments of the peoples of the North.

A vyvko (bull-roarer) is a noise-making instrument of the Yamal people. It is a small cedar or pine square plate with two holes threaded with a reindeer tendon that forms a loop. When the loop, which is stretched between the two hands, is twisted and untwisted, the plate starts to rotate, hum and make noise that resembles the sound of the wind.

A tumran is one the oldest reed instruments used by the Khanty and Mansi peoples. It is a wooden or flat bone board, or more rarely, metal board which contracts to the edge and which has a reed. The reed is cut in the middle and has a thread attached to the bottom.

A tumran is used in the following way: the performer holds it firmly against the lips and pulls the tendon thread near the reed bottom with his right index finger. The instrument starts to move and vibrate. It makes quiet sounds similar to animal voices or the patter of hoofs. The peoples of the North believed that the haunting sounds of the tumran warded off evil spirits and cured diseases.

A neryp is a violin specific to the Mansi people. It is oval or pear-shaped and hollowed out of a single piece of wood. A neryp has two or three strings that are made of horse hair or elk tendon. The performer holds a neryp vertically on the right or left knee and runs a bow over the strings. This instrument can render any tone of the human voice.

A tambourine (penzer) is a percussion instrument in the shape of a rim, covered with leather and metal jingles or zils. A tambourine is a shaman's must-have as a shaman plays to contact the spirit world. The instrument was used for specific ritual purposes: exorcism of evil spirits, warding off diseases or calling for kind spirits.

A jaw harp is a metal fork with a round loop and stretched edges. A steel reed with a hook-shaped curved edge is fixed in the middle of the loop. The instrument is used while throat singing and imitating bird calls. Peoples of the North had numerous sorts of jaw harps: for instance, the Evenki had a kordavun.

Ein enen is a Chukchi bowed lute, and is a lute-shaped instrument. It is a tin can that serves as a resonator and has a wood throat with two stretched strings. The bow was made of whale bone. To make a sound, the performer wet a long stick and bowed the strings with it.

Nars-yuh is a fretted home-made instrument used by the Khanty and Mansi peoples, which looks like a flat-bottomed boat with a prominent bottom piece. The instrument's body has a cross cut on it, which serves as an acoustic hole. The upper part is split into two parts, connected with each other. Three or, more often, five strings are made of tendon or reindeer casings or wire. A nars-yuh was a men's instrument, women did not use it. It was used to sing men's heroic songs about the deeds of warriors and epic poems.