Ukrainian Folk Musical Instruments Which You May Not Have Known About
Ukrainians have long expressed their emotions, regrets, joys through music. A variety of musical instruments is inherent to our culture — each instrument for a different occasion and for individual holidays and events.
Author Yelena Pobochii. The material was prepared by the Ukrainian media about music, SLUKH. The English version was created in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute.
Each of us knows some instruments well, such as the bandura or the trembita. This is a selection of folk instruments that are not so popular. But they have played and continue to play an important role in the history of Ukrainian music.
Tulumbas, or kettle-drums, are cauldron-shaped drums that have been known in Europe since the 14th century. In Ukraine, they became an indispensable tool for the Cossacks in the cultural and political life of the Sich.
Imagine a battlefield where the rattling of weapons and shouts make it impossible for troops to coordinate. This is where the tulumbas helps, the sound of which blocks the noise and sets the pace of the attack, or commands to turn back. The Cossacks often won tulumbas as trophies in wars, but they also made them themselves – they stretched thin leather over cauldrons. Historians believe that eight drummers – “dovbyshes” – could bang the biggest drum at once.
If you have come across films about the Carpathians or Hutsuls, you have definitely heard the sounds of a floyara – this is one of the favourite wind instruments of the inhabitants of the Ukrainian mountains.
It has long been made by shepherds from bladdernuts or oaks and decorated with carvings with various plant motifs according to the region. The motifs of floyaras have long accompanied the happy and sad events of the Hutsuls: parties, weddings, funerals.
Depending on the size, the floyaras emit a different range of sounds. The largest floyaras about a metre long are called old-time, and they are considered the best choice for “singing”, i.e. performance of instrumental suites.
You probably know about such a Scottish folk instrument as the bagpipe. But in the Carpathian regions, an analogue of this instrument is called “duda”, or “koza” (“goat”). It appeared 200 years earlier than in the British Isles.
Duda is made using a complex technology that requires a high level of skill, decorated with a wooden head of a goat, which is an essential attribute of the national holiday Malanka in western Ukraine. Researchers believe that duda has miraculously survived to our time, because its production is very painstaking and requires great dedication – the masters usually devoted the whole winter to creating these musical instruments.
Basolia is a bowed string instrument with a long history. It comes from the “hudyshche”, a three-stringed instrument from the times of Kievan Rus, which was played by “skomorokhs” (harlequins) during folk entertainments. The modern basolia is similar to a cello, has four strings, and is played with a bow, when you hold the instrument at an angle or on the knees like a guitar. Now you can hear the basolia mostly in folk ensembles of “troisti muzyky” (trio ensemble).
Another traditional instrument of our ancestors is a wooden pipe with a wide hole at the end – a shank. It sounds exactly as it is called – plaintively, sharply, and loudly, somewhat reminiscent of a “duda-koza” (“zhalisno” in Ukrainian means “piteously”, “sadly”).
Shepherds often played the zhaliika, calling cattle, but there are suggestions that it could be used at funerals because of the long crying sound. By the 19th century, it was almost forgotten, but since the early 1900s, the zhaliika has played a major role in folk orchestras and ensembles.
This is one of the most common instruments in the world, also known as the vargan. Drymba used to be spread all over Ukraine, but it has become the most popular in Hutsul life. They still learn to play the drymba from an early age.
It looks like a small metal horseshoe with one or two tongues pressed against the teeth or lips to play. When the instrument’s tongue is pinched, the drymba makes resonant sounds that can be adjusted by mouth and breath.
Such an instrument was usually made by blacksmiths, and even before that the drymba could be bought at fairs from the Roma people.
It is quite difficult to trace when and how the musical instrument buhay appeared. But it is well known that it owes its name to a bird that lives in reeds and shouts with the bass voice.
The buhay looks like a tub with taut skin and a tail of horsehair. It is for this tail that musicians pull, previously soaking their hands in water (in ancient times, beer and kvass were also used for this purpose).
Depending on the size of the buhay, it is also called “tseberko” or “berbenytsia”. Most often it is heard in ensembles, among the street musicians of Transcarpathia for Koliada (Christmas Eve).
Although kozobas was created relatively recently – in the 60s of the 20th century – its history is much older. According to the residents of Ivano-Frankivsk region, they used to have this custom: when on one of the days of wedding celebration, musicians stopped playing and left home, the guests collected an improvised musical instrument from a bucket, a yoke, and stretched wire, playing on it with a stick like a bow. The resulting sound resembled the voice of a goat.
Later, on the basis of such an “instrument”, they decided to create a more professional version of it, calling it “kozobas” – now it’s a small round drum with a fingerboard, three strings, a wooden goat’s head, and a copper plate. Musicians play kozobas with a short bow or pinch the strings with their fingers, sometimes beating on a plate.
The torban, close in sound and structure to the lute and partly to the guitar, is an undeservedly forgotten instrument in Ukraine. It was most widespread in the 18th-19th centuries, and among its admirers were Ivan Mazepa, who loved to play torban, and Taras Shevchenko.
It is a plucked string instrument with two fretboards, 14 strings, and 12-13 unfretted treble strings (“prystrunky”) – which is quite difficult to study.
An unusual kind of sopilka – a dzholomyha, or dvodentsivka – allows one musician to sound for two. This instrument comes from Transcarpathia, where it is made from one bar of wood, drilling two parallel channels and forming two dentsivkas-sopilkas in one. At the same time, one part of the dzholomyha sounds like a constant bass part, and the other creates a melody, changing the tone.