Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: The Kazakh Father of Battle Rap (Aytysh)

Although battle rap’s African origins are well understood, I want to understand the global roots of battle rap. To do this, I have begun looking at a Kazakh father of the battle rap style in form of the ‘Aytysh‘ (in Kazakh Aйтыш). This style finds its roots in several different folk music styles, and recently it was included in UNESCO’s list of intangible world history! Taking place between two improvisational poet/singers called akyn, these Kazakh bards duel in exceptional skill and mastery. Not only in music and oratorical poetics but in local and national history, incorporating their heritage and epics into their battling. However is able to showcase themselves as the master of text and music is the winner of the event. Finding primordial roots in the folk music style of the Kazakh zhar-zhar and the Kazakh badik, battle rap is incorrectly associated only with Africa.

In a general definition, Aytysh is the name for the style of primarily oral folk music culture emanating from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, although more accurately many regions across central Asia and the far East. The relationship between Turkey and Russia is widely studied but the musical synthesis between these two countries within the world of Russian rap culture is not yet. Olcay (2022) looked at the phenomenon of first-wave Russian emigres and their emigration to Turkey, of which many well-known composers and musicians were a part of but there is a significant lack in transfers of culture in terms of popular music.

During the aytysh (a competition between two akyns sitting opposite each other), each opponent strums a folk instrument and goes back and forth with rhymed lines. The winner is based upon who can come up with the most ingenious text attacks while showing a high level of competency on their respective instrument. Typically, themes will be based around several key areas including boy/girl relations, current events, historical stories and epics, personal and domestic conflicts and arguments, as well as the incorporation of religious and spiritual themes. More often, however, is the usage of satirical aggression in order to one-up the opponent. Politics is also a major theme that is often used, tying the genre to the world in which it inhabits. Researchers have noted that the aytysh is a reflection of the life and worldview of Kazakh nomads and folk experience, who use this form as a way to deal with and make sense of their environment and society.

The style has been protected since 2008 when the Aytysh Public Fund was created in order to encourage the continued legacy of the aytysh tradition. Contemporary competitions have also been held, the first occurring in Bishkek in 2008 followed by a competition in Kyrgyzstan in 2009.


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