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The Ghaychak: A Melodic Heritage of Xinjiang

Last Updated on 2023/11/27

The Ghaychak also known as Aijieke: A Comprehensive Overview of a Traditional Xingjianese Instrument.

Ghaychak (Aijieke, 艾捷克), also known as Halzak (哈尔扎克), is a prominent bowed string instrument originating from the Uyghur, Uzbek, and Tajik ethnic groups in Xinjiang, China. This instrument holds a significant place in the Xinjiang region, particularly in areas like Maigaiti, Bachu, Awat, Kashgar, Shache, and Kuche. Known for its distinctive role in folk and classical music, the Aijieke is especially associated with the Uyghur classical music suite known as the Twelve Muqam (维吾尔十二木卡姆).

Historical Background

The Ghaychak traces its roots back to ancient Persia, entering Central Asia around the 14th century, notably in cities like Samarkand and Bukhara. It later reached the Kashgar area, where it underwent significant modifications, including the addition of sympathetic strings, evolving into its early form. The Qing dynasty’s text, “Lü Lv Zhengyi Hou Bian,” recognized the Aijieke, listing it under the music of the Hui (回部乐). Over time, the instrument saw further advancements, eventually leading to the modern Aijieke, characterized by four main strings and the removal of sympathetic strings, though the Dolan Ghaychak maintains a form similar to that of the Qing era.

Contemporary Variations

Today, the Ghaychak is divided into several types: Dolan Ghaychak , Hami Ghaychak , Tajik Ghaychak , and the modern or improved Ghaychak (also known as the new-type Aijieke). These variations, while maintaining the core elements of the Aijieke, exhibit regional and stylistic differences.

Description and Playing Technique

The Aijieke is known for its unique, spherical soundbox made of wood, covered internally with python skin, connected to a paulownia wood board, and features sound holes. The instrument has two main playing strings, situated above several sympathetic strings. The bow is made of bamboo with horsehair. The Aijieke’s playing technique involves bowing the main strings, with the other strings resonating sympathetically.

This instrument shares similarities with the Tibetan Gengga, Central Asian Uzbek, Turkmen, Tajik instruments like the Gijak, and resembles the Kamancha found in Iran, Turkey, and Kashmir.

Types of Aijieke

  1. Dolan Ghaychak (多朗艾捷克): Also known as Dolan Gijak, it’s prevalent in southern Xinjiang regions like Hotan, Shache, Maigaiti, Kashgar, Bachu, Awat, and Kuche. It comes in one, two, and three-string variations, with a length of about 100 cm. The soundbox is typically hemispherical, made of jujube wood, and covered with sheep or donkey skin. The oldest form used a horsehair string as the main playing string.
  2. Hami Ghaychak (哈密艾捷克): Known also as Hami Huqin, it’s popular among the Uyghurs in Hami and Turpan. This instrument resembles the Huqin in appearance and can have a wooden or thin iron soundbox, covered with goat, cow, or python skin. It usually has two main steel strings and several sympathetic strings.
  3. Tajik Ghaychak (塔吉克艾捷克): Found mainly in the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County and surrounding areas, it features a unique style and design, often with two to four steel strings and used predominantly in folk music.
  4. New-type Ghaychak (新型艾捷克): Developed in the 1950s from the Dolan Aijieke, this variant features a larger resonating body, a soundboard instead of a skin membrane, and four violin strings. It is used in solo performances, ensembles, and accompanying the Twelve Muqam.
  5. Bass Ghaychak (低音艾捷克): This lower-pitched version of the Aijieke was developed in the 1950s. It’s larger in size, with a soundbox made of 32 wooden plates and an inner skin membrane. It uses cello strings and is played similarly to a cello.

Musical Roles and Cultural Significance

The Ghaychak is versatile in its musical applications, used in solo performances, ensemble pieces, and accompanying dances and songs. It plays a crucial role in Uyghur folk music and has been a central instrument in various music forms like the Maixirepu performances and Muqam.

Aijieke in Folklore

A romantic legend surrounds the Aijieke’s name. It tells the story of a young man named Aijieke, a merchant on the Silk Road during the Tang dynasty. He brought a Huqin from Persia to Chang’an (now Xi’an) and fell in love with a local girl. Sadly, Aijieke fell ill and passed away on his return journey. His companions delivered the Huqin to the girl in Chang’an, who, in her grief, named the instrument after her lost love.

Evolution and Modern Developments

The Aijieke has evolved significantly over the decades, with improvements in materials, construction techniques, and playing styles. This evolution has led to an expanded repertoire and greater expressiveness, making the Aijieke a celebrated element of Chinese musical tradition, particularly within the Xinjiang region.

Source: Baike Baidu

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