Aitysh/Aitys, art of improvisation


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Inscribed in 2015 (10.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© 2015 by National Commission of the Kyrgyz Republic for UNESCO

Aitysh/Aitys is a contest centred on improvised oral poetry spoken or sung to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments – the Kazakh dombra or Kyrgyz komuz. Two performers (akyns) compete with one other to improvise verses on topical themes in a battle of wits that alternates between humorous ripostes and penetrating philosophical reflections. During the competition, the performers sit opposite one another improvising a dialogue on topics chosen by the audience. The winner is the performer considered to have demonstrated the best musical skills, rhythm, originality, resourcefulness, wisdom and wit. The most meaningful and witty expressions often become popular sayings. The element is practised on a variety of occasions, ranging from local festivities to nationwide events, where practitioners often use the contest to raise important social issues. Although it was traditionally performed only by men, many women now participate in Aitysh/Aitys and use the contest to express women’s aspirations and viewpoints. Today, Aitysh/Aitys is a very popular cultural component of Kyrgyzstan’s and Kazakhstan’s multi-ethnic societies and constitutes a vital part of the identity of bearer communities. Older performers teach and transmit their knowledge and skills to younger generations.