Features

Ukrainian Folk Instruments You Might Know Nothing About

Olena Pobochii
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The Ukrainians for ages have been pouring out their emotions, complaints, and joys with the help of music. Our culture inherently has a variety of musical instruments – each one is for a different occasion, particular holiday, or event.

Some instruments, like bandura or trembita, are well-known by each of us. See this list of less popular folk instruments. However, they have played an important role in Ukrainian music history and continue to do it.

By the way, many of them are mentioned in the first episode of the documentary series SPALAKH. If you haven’t watched it yet, we advise you to do it.

Tulumbas

The tulumbas, or timpani, are cauldron-like drums that have been known in Europe since the 14th century. In Ukraine, they became an indispensable instrument for the Cossacks in the cultural and political life of siches (administrative and military centers of the Zaporozhian Cossacks).

Imagine a battlefield with the din of arms and voices that make it impossible to coordinate the troop. That is when the tulumbas prove useful as its sound covers up the noise and sets the pace of the offensive or gives the command to turn back. The Cossacks were often getting the tulumbas as war trophies, but they were also crafting them by stretching fine leather over cauldrons. The historians think that the biggest drums could be beaten by as many as eight musicians, dovbyshes, at one time.

Floyara

If you have come across films about the Carpathians or the Hutsuls, you must have heard the sounds of the floyara, one of the favorite wind instruments of Ukrainian mountain people.

It has been long since crafted by shepherds from bladdernut or oak and enchased with various plant motifs according to the region. Floyara tunes have long since been accompanying joyful and unhappy events of the Hutsuls: parties, weddings, funerals.

Depending on the size, floyaras produce sounds of various ranges. The biggest floyaras, about a meter long, are called grandfather’s, and they are considered to be the most apposite “for singing,” that is, for performing instrumental suites.

Duda

You must be familiar with such a Scottish folk instrument as the bagpipe. In the Carpathian regions, the counterpart of this instrument is called duda, or koza. It appeared 200 years earlier than the one on the British islands.

The duda is crafted according to the complex technology that requires a high level of skill. It is decorated with a wooden goat head, which is an indispensable attribute of the folk holiday Malanka in the west of Ukraine. Explorers think the duda has been preserved to the present day by a miracle, for its making is very painstaking and requires exceptional devotion – craftsmen usually dedicated the whole winter to creating musical instruments.

Basolia

The basolia is a bowed string instrument with a long history. It descends from the hudyshche, a Kyivan Rus three-string instrument that was played by skomorokhs during folk entertainments. The modern basolia is similar to the cello, it has four strings and is played with a bow by leaning the instrument or holding it on the knees like a guitar. Now, basolia may be heard mainly in folk trio ensembles.

Zhaliyka

One more traditional instrument of our ancestors is a wooden pipe with a wide hole at the end, a bell. It sounds just like it is named (in Ukranian “zhality” means “lament”) — mournfully, harshly and loudly, somewhat similar to the duda-koza.

The zhaliyka was most frequently played by shepherds summoning cattle, but according to some suppositions, it could be also used at funerals because of its long crying sounding. It was almost forgotten up to the 19th century, but since the early 1900s, the zhaliyka has taken one of the leading roles in folk orchestras and ensembles.

Drymba

It is one of the most popular instruments in the world, also known as the vargan. The drymba used to be widespread throughout Ukraine, but mostly, it was entrenched in the Hutsuls’ life. They still learn to play the drymba from their childhood.

It looks like a small metal horseshoe with one or two tongues, which is pressed to one’s teeth or lips for playing. When the tongue is plucked, the drymba makes resonant sounds that may be regulated by mouth and breath.

This instrument was usually crafted by blacksmiths, and further back, the drymba could be bought at fairs from the Roma.

Buhay

It is quite difficult to trace when and how the musical instrument buhay appeared. But it is known for sure that it is named after the bird that lives in the reeds and booms.

The buhay looks like a barrel with stretched skin and a tuft of horse hair. The musicians pull this tuft with hands beforehand wetted in the water (in the days of old, beer and kvas were used for it as well).

Depending on the size of the buhay, it is also called tseberko or berbenytsia. Most often, it may be heard in ensembles and from the street Carpathian Ukraine musicians during Koliada.

Kozobas

Though the kozobas is relatively new as it was developed in the 60s of the 20th century, its history is much older. As the people of the Ivano-Frankivsk region say, they used to have such a custom: when the musicians ceased to play and went home on some day of the wedding, the feast guests constructed an improvised musical instrument from the bucket, yoke and strung wire, and played it with a stick like a bow. The produced sound reminded the goat voice.

Later on, based on this “instrument”, they decided to develop a more professional version that was called kozobas — now it is a small round drum with a neck, three strings, a wooden goat head and a cymbal. The musicians play kozobas with a short bow or by plucking strings with their fingers, sometimes beating a cymbal.

Torban

The torban, by the sounding and construction close to the lute and partly to the guitar, is an undeservedly forgotten instrument in Ukraine. It was most widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries, and among the people that were fond of it, there was Ivan Mazepa (Hetman of Zaporizhian Host), who loved to play torban, and Taras Shevchenko, a renowned ukrainian writer, poet, and painter.

It is quite difficult to master this plucked string instrument with two necks, 14 strings and 12-13 additional unfretted strings.

Dzholomyha

An unusual variant of sopilka called dzholomyha, or dvodentsivka, enables one musician to sound like there are two. It came from Zakarpattia, where it is crafted from one wooden bar by drilling two parallel channels and forming two dentsivka-sopilkas into one. At that, one part of dzholomyha sounds like a constant bass line, while the second one creates a melody by changing the tone.

Translator: Daryna Horychenko

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