Word for word translation of dutar means “two strings”. An ignorant person may think this musical instrument is as easy as ABC: no pretentiousness, no artistic niceties and decorative adornments. However, it seems to be simple externally. Strictness and symmetry of lines of dutar are the reflection of fine art. What mastery a musician should have to communicate the melodies of his soul with the help of only two strings! If one listens to the sound of dutar he can feel the heat of the hot Turkmen son, catch the polyphony of mountain streams and splash of waves of the ancient Caspian Sea – Hazar, and hear the songs of birds over the limitless desert.

Dutar is an inseparable part of the centuries-old musical culture of the Turkmen people. Neither Turkmen festivity, be it a village wedding party or a state holiday, goes without performances of folk singers – bahshi. In their hands, dutar can both smile and cry, transmitting all coloris of feelings, making charmed listeners share the happiness and tragedy of characters of ancient destans or epic poems, and ponder on the depth of meaning of the prominent Turkmen poets.

Bahshi have always enjoyed special esteem and respect of the people. Their names were well-known and their life was turned into legends. Bahshi themselves treated their dutar with great care and affection. They guarded the dutar as an apple of their eye, kept it in a special case from soft cloth and never lent it to anybody.

Usta or dutar making masters can rightfully share the deserved glory of bahshi. Their work was valued. A purebred horse used to be given as a payment for a good musical instrument. And the trade of dutar masters was inherited. The secrets were passed on from one person to the other, from father to son, from generation to generation. However, this chain was under a threat of being broken last century. In 1960s, no more than three-four usta were living in Turkmenistan.

Master Gara Kowushev, well known in the whole country, pinned hopes on the younger son, Nazarguli. All his free time the boy spent near his father steadily watching how patiently and carefully the latter worked up pieces of wood from which a dutar was gradually born. Sometimes, the boy fell asleep in the workshop putting a billet under his head. Father gave his son easy tasks gradually teaching the secrets of the trade. He did it softly knowing that forcing the boy to learn would mean putting his son off creative work. A dutar is created by hands, but hands must follow the heart. If no heart is put in to a work, it will be a fake.

Nazarguli made his first dutar when he was fourteen. Father closely examined the instrument from all sides, passed his palm over its body, played some melodies and smiled: “There are some errors, but for the first time it’s not so bad”.

Since then, Nazarguli started making dutars with his father. The mastery came gradually, and it was difficult to differentiate the instruments made by father and by son. All of them were made to last.

Several years later, when Nazarguli grew up and got married, father built a house for him, gave a sack of flour, some foodstuffs and said: “Now, earn you bread yourself. You’ve got a trade, you’ll not be hungry”.

It has been over thirty years as Nazarguli starts his day with spreading out tool-ware, billets on the rug and begins adjusting one billet to the other.
“To make a good dutar one needs a good tree. A mulberry tree is the best one. It is light, durable, has beautiful texture and wonderful resonant qualities”, the usta teaches.

Nazarguli took one of the billets and knocked at it by fingers it produced the rich and loud sound.

“No other tree gives such unrepeatable chime. The age of a tree is of great importance. Mulberry tree must be no less than 50 years old. Like a human being becomes wiser after a number of years, the tree also becomes more solid, more beautiful and nobler”.

The master tells autumn, when fall of the leaves is over, is the best season to prepare billets for a future instrument. The tree gets dry, the wood tar becomes white and spreads about the whole tissue of the mulberry tree.

“Having cut wood billets according to sizes I bury them and keep them there for about one year to bring up to the mark, get soaked with the juices of soil, Nazarguli goes on. If work is started right after cutting the billets, eventually it will lead to the deformation and distortion of sound. When the time comes, I take out the wood, make billets, let them dry up and only then I start assembling of the instrument”.

Nazarguli’s dutars have no purchased parts except for strings, perhaps. Even metal pins that the strings are strained on are cast by the master himself. Some tools usta works with are also self-made. Adjustment of parts requires accuracy and nice calculation. The body and cover thickness of a dutar should not exceed the certain size, otherwise a master would not reach the needed sound. Meanwhile, a simple ruler is Nazarguli’s only measuring device. As for the rest, he relies on accuracy of the eye. Hollowing out the half melon like body of a dutar with a chopper as sharp as razor, the skilled hands are accustomed to chop off as many wood chips as necessary, no more and no less.

I noticed some dutars spread out on the rug for us outdoors at Nazarguli’s house differed from others with a darker color.
“It is due to the age, the master explains. These, almost black ones, are over seventy years old. Turkmen usta traditionally uses neither dyes nor varnish. They don’t make sound of dutar better.

And there is no need to decorate a thing which is beautiful itself. Everything must be natural as the life itself. After a number of years a dutar is changing. So does a man. The only difference is that time makes men white of grey hairs, whereas dutars darken”.

After all wooden parts are adjusted to each other the last no less responsible operation fitting the strings is left. Then the sound is checked. If the master doesn’t like it, he takes off the upper cover and grinds it with a miniature plane. He peels off millimeter after millimeter unless the dutar gives sounds of necessary pitch and purity. To reach it the usta should possess not only exclusive ear for music but be an excellent musician. Nazarguli’s father was such a musician, he has become so as well.

Throughout many years Nazarguli has made a lot of dutars. Well-known Ashgabat musicians, bahshi from other regions of the country order them. I asked if there was a case when his instrument was returned for a remake.

“No, I’ve never had such a shame. I think I won’t live up to it”, the master replies.
Though, Nazarguli repairs dutars sometimes. Those that like brooms were produced on the line. Sometime in the past there were dutar making workshops. They produced some dutars that weren’t in demand of buyers. A true dutar doesn’t like fuss, its birth is exclusive it`s, a hand-made piece-work. Sometimes, electric dutars, “fashion babies”, are brought for remaking. Owners ask to take off all electric filling, and return it to the initial condition. Apparently, dutar doesn’t wish to sound energized.

All dutars seem to be alike as twins. However, a professional will recognize his instrument out of thousand similar ones, for every usta has his own hand. Turkmen masters have never put personal brand or other distinctive sign on their articles. There was no need in it, as a bahshi may easily say who had made a dutar by the sound of the instrument and the quality of work.
Nazarguli Khodjamguliev has two sons Hodjamurad and Sakhatkurban. I asked whom of them the master would like to pass on secrets of the profession.

“Boys help me since early childhood, know the whole working process. I think the younger one, Sakhatmurad, will continue the family tradition. Watching how he deals with work, how he endeavors, penetrates into every detail, I see myself in the childhood, says Nazarguli. The interest in the art of bahshi has never faded in Turkmenistan, and nowadays it is on the rise. The country pays great attention to development of the folk art. I’m sure the fellow will not stay workless”.

Vladimir ZAREMBO

Web Resource:Türkmenistan Info