The Semetey of Kenje Kara
A Kirghiz Epic Performance on Phonograph with a Musical Score and a Compact Disc of the Phonogram
Edited, translated and with an introduction and commentary by Daniel Prior
Kirghiz text transcribed with the assistance of Ishembi Obolbekov
The Semetey of Kenje Kara is a multi-disciplinary performance edition of an early sound recording of Kirghiz (Central Asian Turkic) oral epic poetry by the bard Kenje Kara. The core of the work consists of a combined musical and verbal transcription of the sung poem together with facing-page text and English translation, plus a copy of the original waxcylinder phonogram on compact disc. The phonogram, made in 1903, is one of the oldest acoustic records of an oral epic performance in existence. It is also the oldest sound sample of Kirghiz language and music; few comparable recordings of such date exist from any location or ethnic group in Central Asia. Surviving written information and drawings illuminate aspects of the recording session and make the phonogram a remarkably well-rounded early document of an oral performance. The episode of the epic Semetey narrated by Kenje Kara is widely attested by earlier and later bards, which makes comparative study possible. Altogether, the Kenje Kara Semetey phonogram offers a unique opportunity to carry out holistic study of an early oral performance.