Aken Singing

China Folklore Society

Aken Aytes, or Aken Singing, is a folk performing art popular among the Kazakh ethnic group. The performer is also called an Aken, which means “poet” in Kazakh, as the lyrics are always beautiful, humorous or inspiring.

During the performance of Aken Singing, the performer usually improvises a song while playing the tamboura. Being an Aken is a challenging job as the art is usually performed in a sing-off, where two Akens exchange lyrics in an antiphonal style.

To have the best performance, an Aken must have a rich knowledge of culture, history, and even the latest government policies. Therefore, this kind of oral genre is by its nature ever-changing and full of dynamics.

Accordingly, the singers always keep their lyrics updated with the latest events and policies, as well as with the recent social and economic changes and development.

After the novel coronavirus broke out, Jarhnu Wuhas, a 56-year-old Kazakh, turned epidemic prevention and control tips into Aken songs and shared them on social media.

Those songs were composed in local Kazakh language. In addition, they were performed in a traditional antiphonal style and then shared by community members through electronic devices.

This kind of experience was not new, but far more engaged with the current situation and relevant to people’s needs. Through those songs, the necessary information and knowledge about the novel virus were better understood by the community members, which once again proves that oral traditions were not obsolete and irrelevant to the ongoing social process, but always reflected the environment people live in and served as inspiration for them.

Like other ICH elements, oral traditions not only contribute to the maintenance of cultural diversity, but also serve as a living evidence to testify the creativity of the humankind.

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