Harm Linsen in Sakha - 2014

Harm Linsen in Sakha - 2014

How I traveled to Yakutia to celebrate the Khomus day in winter 2014

A report by Harm Linsen, 2015

It’s hard to recollect what has happened in those days from the 28th of November until the 6th of December. My initial plan was to keep a log on my laptop but it failed on me on the first evening of my stay in Yakutsk.

In August of 2014 during the International Jew’s Harp Congress in Taucha Germany, we were invited by the Yakutian delegation to celebrate the national holiday of Yakutia, Den Khomusa, in Yakutia. That would be the 30th of November. Two weeks later as I met them again in Feldegg in Austria they repeated their invitation. I accepted the invitation, not only to give the holiday the international significance it deserves but also to experience a Siberian winter. I know, I was being selfish in that respect.

So the 26th of November I took off for Moscow in order to be sure to make the plane to Yakutsk that was leaving a day later, from another airport in Moscow than the one I arrived. Additionally I could visit an event at the Dom cultural centre that evening, Vargan Fest, organised by Olga Prass and Natalia Ducheva. Here I would also meet up with my travel companions for the next two weeks, de Hungarian band Madjayar. This band consisted of Krisztián Almási on a big drum, a baraban, Béla Drabant on violin and szitara and the leader of the band Áron Szilagyi on doromb and Kaval, a Hungarian overtone flute.

That night Nikolai Sobolev took me to a wonderful place to spend the night; right smack in the middle of his Jew’s harp shop. The next room was a soundbowl shop (from a guy that I met in 2011 when I was at the Embassy of Yakutia waiting to go to the International Festival of that year but who’s name I keep forgetting, sorry) and next to that a big room that was used as a recordingstudio. This trip was full of surprises already.

27 November

Next day I wandered through Arbat street, bought myself a Russian SIM-card, ate at the hardrock café and just in the afternoon Nikolai took me to Kievskaya railstation to take the train to Vnukovo airport. Here I joined with the band again.

28 November

After a long flight with no mentional particularities (or maybe it was the choice of films that were shown. Jumanji, really?) we landed on Yakutsk airport where a big enthusiastic welcoming party was already waiting for us. Or wait. On our flight were several national MAS-wrestling teams, the girls with flags were waiting for them. In retrospect this had to be an overweight flight with all these big men.

Nevertheless we had our own welcoming party waiting to get us to a breakfasttable. At the breakfast table in Tuyara’s house, the agenda for the day was revealed and details were discussed and last changes were implemented.


So the first thing we did was going to the univeristy theatre and do some soundchecking. This went relatively smooth, despite the language barrier. So we all entered our taxibus and went to the next location, the parliament of the Republic of Sakha-Yakutia! Well, the small assemblee, there is also a larger one. The band started out with doing some soundchecking. Todays session in the parliament was all about the 60th birthday of the first president of the Republic. Egor Afanasyevich Borisov. So as all the members poored in, Nikolai and myself also went in, armed with a camera, to find a strategic spot.

The session started with a group of dancers that performed a traditional dance and then the talking started. Several people were called to the stand inluding the subject of the celebration, and spoke elaborate speeches. Not knowing the language and suffering from a jetlag it was a wonder I didn’t fell asleep but it was a close call. Not that the members of parliament were all ears, I saw people checking and chatting on their phones, papers were passed to be given back with comments and I even saw several people close their eyes, so I could have an excuse.

Anyway as soon as Madjayar started playing my fatigue vanished and I sneaked a littlebit forward to have a shot at the band. As soon as Madjayar was finished I followed them out so we could continue our programm back to the University Theatre.

At the theatre I saw some people that I’ve met in Germany last summer which was a feast of recognition. Many of them also played at the concert. I also saw Tarabukin, a jew’s harp smith selling some of his instruments but I hadn’t been to a bank yet to get some money. Many performances following eachother doing one song and then as grand finale Madjayar would play a set of half an hour to 45 minutes. Now Yakut peope are apparently not used to get up and dance when they’re listening to a band in a concerthall but with a little encouragement some people got up and danced. After that there was no holding them back. This was a general pattern for the concerts to come. Now I believe it was here that Nikolai asked me to play as well, on the stage. What to do, spoiling everything by saying no or spoiling everything by playing something on a level that is well below that of the youngest Yakut children. I chose to do the latter, go for it or bust. That would be the pattern for all the big shows to come, When Albina Degytaryova had done her gig it was my turn, I can’t imagine a bigger anti-climax but that was how it went.

After this concert we went to the next event, the ‘English pub’ Dikaya Ytka or Wild Duck Pub. After sound check we had a private room here where we had an excelent diner. After that Madjayar started playing while I was at the table with Elena’s colleagues. All of which are English teachers so language was no problem.

In the first break we heard that Zloi Mambet (Ayaal Adamov), the rapper of the Yakutian farm rap was amongst the audience, so the band, being a big fan of his clip, invited him into our private room. The band suggested to do something together and then they worked something out with eachother (the rest of us were invited out of the room).

So later in the gig the band was joined by Zloi Mambet who did a rap while Madjayar played. Of course this was a big surprise for the audience and a potential hit was born. It also created a presedent for the last evening. Since it was in a café people were more eager to dance, although at a certain moment I was the only man on the dancefloor, surrounded by beautiful girls....

After this we all went back to Tuyara’s house where the band was installed for the night. For me they had a big surprise as I was invited into the house of Nikolai Shishigin and his wife Natalia to sleep there. A great honour! Not only was I to experience Sakha hospitality first hand but I also got a taste of Sakha daily life and food.

Food in Sakha is something that deserves a chapter of its own. Wherever you go you wil be received with the best food the host has and all of it, so in great quantities. Now to appreciate the hosts hospitality you are expected to sit down and eat. Regardless if you just had lunch or dinner, wether you’re hungry or not. Not doing so would be considered as a discontempt of the hosts hospitality and very very rude. So what can you expect being on the table. Well to start with the liquids, there’s mors which is a juice made from local berries and very tasty. Everyone makes his own mors so everywhere you go it’s slightly different. There’s tea and coffee. Than there is bread in slices, buns filled with hashed (horse)meat and little pancakes. There was karas or sobo which I called charcoaled fish but in fact it was grilled karb. There’s butter and jam and no doubt I forget the most important things on the table.

Now for lunch and dinner these things are supplemented with some other foods like frozen raw liver, which tastes like liver, frozen horsemeat which tastes very nice or frozen fish which tastes like our Dutch herring, soup made of horses intestines which doesn’t taste as bad as it sounds, potatoes which are actually tasting like potatoes. Icecream, pudding, a kind of thin berryjam, sweets, horsemeatballs, salads and booze (if you’re in to it).

Oh, and I’m pretty sure we had a pressconference somewhere on this day I just can’t remember when or any details.

29 November

The next morning Nikolai took me to the hospital to have my leg checked, they saw my leg being completely black because of a field hockey injury I suffered just the Sunday before the trip. The ball, which is a hard plastic thing, landed on my shinbone just above the legguard which caused a massive hematoma. By the time I was in Yakutsk the hematoma had descended right into my foot. So Nikolai insisted in taking me to the hospital. In the hospital the doctor determined that it wasn’t broken and I should give the leg some rest !no more dancing! I also got a prescription for some pills and an onguent. That costed me 1000 Rb. Later that morning Elena and the band came to have breakfast at the house I stayed in. First thing the band did was get in the garden and draw a big jew’s harp in the snow by walking through the thick pack.

01 ill fr_pr.jpg The boys making a jew’s harp in the garden.

In the kitchen the table was packed with good food. We spent breakfast with stories, laughter and singing.

After this we went back to Yakutsk, again we had a full program, the youth palace, where a full program was played as a final rehearsal for the big day November 30, ‘Den Khomusa’ or the day of the jew’s harp. After that we went over to the Muus Kaya restaurant. There we had a very luxurious dinner and later played on an open stage That is, the band played and many others played, I took pictures with the bands camera (and a few with my own cam)

30 November

Next day was the big day; Den Khomusa, jew’s harp day. I was woken by Nikolai to watch a special Television broadcast in honour of the Den Khomusa. After having watched the show we both played our harps. After breakfast Nikolai and I went by bus to the national sports arena to see Madjayar open the worldcup MAS wrestling. MAS wrestling is litterally stick wrestling (compare MAS with the English mast/pole). You take a plank, put it upright on one of it’s long sides. the two contestents put their feet against this plank while they are seated on the ground facing eachother. A third person, the referee, gives both contesters a stick that they both have to hold. When the referee releases the game the contesters try to pull the stick out of the others hands in any possible way. The game consist of three rounds so whoever pulls the stick out of the others hands twice wins the game.

After this we prepared ourselves for the big day, the celebration of jew’s harp day. It started as usual with an elaborate soundcheck. After this my memory is blank we probably ate something, before we did the grand performance, Official papers were handed over, there was a lot of talking but mainly music was played, with the jew’s harp and as far as I know the first performance ever on a Yakut stage of a didgeridoo (yes, yes, history in the making). Aldan Rozhin, discovered this instrument when he visited the Ancient Trance and International Jew’s Harp Festival in Taucha (Germany) and fell in love with it. With the help of Bernhard Hanreich he could obtain a good instrument of a craftsman who visited Schloss Feldegg that summer and now he’s performing with it. The genres varied from classical to folk to ultra modern (tr(d))ance music. A tjokfull programm in which even I played a humble part by playing, representing the Netherlands, a piece as well. (of course after Albina played)

After show we were invited for a cup of coffee or tea with a biscuit for a cosy cooling down of the evening.

After that I returned with Nikolai to the sports arena to see the last games of the MAS wrestling worldchampionship. Later I found out that Nikolai only had one ticket for himself but he knew to conquer every barrier by calling I’ve got here a guest from the Netherlands”. In the end we sat next to the wrestlingstage among the coaches, their sportsmen and their entourage. Russia became champion in the kingsclass and many other classes as well, I never listened to the national anthem of Russia as many times as that evening.

After the honoring of the athletes and interviews and the “obligatory” fotoshoots, we took the bus back home again. And that is quite something special, waiting for the bus in a Siberian wintersnight. You’d think we would be the only ones but nothing was less true, some 6 or 7 people were waiting for the bus as if it was the most common thing to do, which it obviously is for them.

1 December

Next day I had breakfast with Nikolai, Natalia and Damir and Aldar, their grandchildren who are the children of Elena our guide and interpreter. Then we went to the jew’s harpmuseum where we underwent a few rituals (which mainly consisted of doing wishes with the aid of a special jew’s harp), official ceremonies were held (Zoltan Szilagyi, jew’s harpmaker from Hungary, donated through his son Áron of the band Madjayar, a jew’s harp that was entirely made out of titanium to the museum) and Krisztián of the band Madjayar peformed a session with the mansanas, a kalimba but then mounted on a framedrum instead of a gourd. This made it possible to create certain special soundeffects by moving the mansanas up and down and around over a flat surface, creating all kinds of Doppler effects. This was a meditative session and a 15 to 20 people came to attend. People were invited to lay down on the floor during the session, some of them did and some even fell asleep, which is not uncommon during a session like that. This was then followed by a healing session by a traditional Yakut healer, Zoya Duranova…..

She closed her session by chasing away evil spirits with a white Deibir or horsetail from every single person that attended. As a finale some employees from the museum played their jew’s harps for us. Which was followed again by obligatory fotosessions as souvenir for those who attended.

02_pr.jpg Zoya brushing all evil off with a deibir.

As we went outside to continue with the rest of the programm we were up for a nice surprise, our taxi was nothing less that the UAZ of Spiridon Shishigin’s school in Pokrovsk, next destination of our journey....

03_pr.jpg An UAZ!!

The UAZ is the working horse of the Russians, no surface so bad or the UAZ will plough through, it looks like a van but actually it’s what we would call a four wheel drive, a 4x4 terrainvehicle.

Pokrovsk is about 70 kilometers from Yakutsk along the Lena and we passed a number of rivervalleys of the meandering river. In Pokrovsk the Lena is 4 kilometres wide, a distance I know all too well for I have to cycle that every morning to the trainstation when I go to work. We also passed the terrain where every summer the biggest summersolstice festivities are held of the entire republic, of course now it was almost midwinter.

Once in Pokrovsk, we drove straight to the school of which Spiridon Shishigin is the headmaster. Here we were welcomed in the headmasters office where the table to good custom was made especially for us guests.

Then we were led into the aula where we were welcomed with a ceremony and some performances, in the hall to this room we went through a honour guard formed by the children of the school, all dressed in local dress. After the performances we the guests had to give “acte de presence” as well.

After the show a quick questions and answers with the students was set up and on to the next event.

We had to dress up in our warm gear and went up to the office of the head of the Khangalassky district. We drank tea, held speeches, saw a film that told us to invest in Yakutia, the band was praised (the first foreign band that visited Pokrovsk to perform) and charters were given, so was I chartered for my work to promote the Khomus (jew’s harp). We also were given an honorary medal.

04_pr.jpg Receiving the honours.

The theatre of Pokrovsk was our next stop with, again, a complete programm. A lot of jew’s harp acts, a girl on guitar singing about the jew’s harp, Spiridon Shishigin played, I played some (the first foreigner ever apparently), Sölvi Fannar an actor from Iceland who was in Yakutia to shoot some scenes played one of his own compositions. All this inbetween the performances of local talents. And the show was concluded by a performance of Madjayar from Hungary making them the first foreign artists to visit and perform in Pokrovsk. Again they rocked the place!

After this our guides had a surprise for us we drove up the river and stopped there. We left the car and stepped on the frozen river, already something of a track was forming and our guides told us that in a day or two the connection with the other side of the river will be opened, that is four kilometres frozen river that is crossed by car. (yes that’s the distance I cycle every mor…). The members of the band quickly performed a dry crawl on the ice so they could claim to have swom in the Lena, it left us some hilarious pictures.

Off to Spiridon Shishigin’s house, Nikolai’s brother and the worlds best jew’s harp player according to many. First we were invited into a traditional Yakut house, a balagan, that Spiridon had have built in his garden to admire and for some blessings, then we went into his house to enjoy our evening meal. This was very warm and hearthy, gifts were exchanged, music was played for us and of course we had a copious meal.

05_pr.jpg A copious meal at Spiridon Shishigin’s home.

Back to Yakutsk we went with the van to Tuyaras flat when we were halted by the police. Apparently the UAZ in which we drove is no city car and they thought it was suspicious driving suddenly in a residential area.

2 December

Next day we went to Vilyuisk, a city about 600 kilometres (that is twice my country, the Netherlands, at its longest point) northwest of Yakutsk and approximately 200 kilometres from the polar circle. Vilyuisk is considered by many Sakha as the centre of their culture. We did this trip by car in a van that had place for about15 persons, over a big wide dirtroad to Vilyuisk. This road has all the looks of a highway here in Europe, with signage above and next to the road, stops and tankstations underway and electric lighting at night. Only in the winter the condition is such that this road is accessible in summertime the top layer of the road thaws and changes into mud. But under the topsoil the ground remains frozen which makes it impossible for he water to drain, which leaves very wet mud at the surface, this means that cars get stuck in the muck and can’t get out without help.

To make the journey a bit pleasurable, because you’re almost litterally on eachothers lap, I sat the wole journey next to Albina Degytaryova Yakutia’s BIG star, stories were told and songs were sung. We were asked to sing songs from our country and I felt a bit akward to admit that I knew many melodies but not the texts. However my rendition of Paper Doll (which is not Dutch I know) was appreciated no less. For next time I will learn some songs that are apparently related to my family, I think the Yakut will like that.

Along the way several stops were held to have a wee for instance or to eat in a roadside restaurant were we had a kind of nasi but without the spices we are used to have in the Netherlands and without Ketyap (I guess this last sentence is only to be understood by Dutch or Indonesian people, sorry). At the border of the Viluiskiy region we made an extra stop at a monument in the form of a big Khomus, a Yakutian jew’s harp. On this monument we tied a ribbon and did a wish. This I have to explain. Ivan Alekseev is from Vilyuisk and because of his efforts to promote the instrument he’s given the name Khomus Uibaan by the people of Vilyuisk. That started a tradition to name people, who have done or are doing something great to promote the instrument or the culture of Sakha. For instance Diego Panarello was named here Diego Marranzano. Now it’s a sacred place for travellers and anyone who passes the monument. They need to tie a knot of fabric or leave a coin or some food to praise the spirits of the place. And while we were there Nikolai took the opportunity to baptise Áron Szilagyi with the name Áron Doromb, for his efforts to promote the instrument.

Now you may think that a journey through the Siberian winter must be a empty one but that was not the case. Apart from the other traffic on the road and the people you see at the stops, one sees a lot of hamlets along the way and even a herd of Yakut horses that are left to roam free during the winter. Apparently they return to their owners in the spring. At one of our stops a traditional healer came along to offer her services, she read the health of some of us and took care of some imbalances she detected.

After a long journey we finally arrived in Khampa, where we visited the local theatre. A beautiful old wooden building. A large group of people welcomed us here with koumys (fermented horses milk, very tasty if you have the right one and I must say at official events they only serve the best) and pancakes. Again the band did a soundcheck and then we ate dinner in a recently opened venue. In the style of a traditional house, a balagan, a kind of restaurant is housed but the space can also be used for parties and gatherings. I had frozen raw horsemeat and Yakutian icecream, which is frozen kyuorchekh (whipped sour cream with milk of highest fat possible or just natural fresh from the cow) with fresh berries (woodberries, blueberries or wild Yakutian strawberries). And I had soup and bread and more of such.

Then back to the theatre where again a show was held according to the same pattern as before, performances of several performers, Albina Degytaryova who suddenly took the mic in her hand and started walking through the audience while performing, a first as far as I know causing wave of enthusiasm amongst the audience and than me as the big anti-climax. My performance was improving however as I heard that people started clapping along with the song. (They probably were just polite).

The show was concluded by the Hungarian band that, should I still mention it, rocked the house again. First foreign band ever to perform in this venue.

06_pr.jpg Traditional decorations made of paper.

After the show and the traditional Photo opportunities we were in for another surprise, we were invited to the workshop of jew’s harp master (smith) Osipov. We got to see the place where he makes his instruments. He had only one harp for sale and I was lucky enough to buy it, a beautiful instrument blue-ed with a gasflame, his signature.

On to Vilyuisk, the band and Elena slept in one house and Nikolai and I as guest in the house of Avgustina, who I remembered from 2011, at the opposite side of the town (at least that’s how it felt).

First thing we did? Yes, eat at the kitchentable (of course). Then to bed. In Avgustina’s house there is no running water so we washed ourselves at a sink with a tank hanging over it. From the tank hangs a pin that when you push it up, water starts running from the tank. As soon as you release the pin the gravity closes the opening and stops the water from running.

Of course I wanted to pee before I went to bed, this was an adventure on its own because the toilet was in the garden. So first you slipped into some felt mules and a coat and a hat and then you follow the path through a meter of snow in the garden to the loo. This was a small building in which I could barely stand. At the inside beautiful cristalls of ice had formed. When I was peeing big clouds of mist formed which put those ice cristalls in a slightly different light.... Back in the house I slept like a log.

3 December

Next day we went straight to Vilyuisk city hall where we were welcomed by Vilyuisk’s mayor. Here we talked about Vilyuisk, about where we came from about the World Youth Festival that will be held in Hungary and more. When the mayor heard that the Yakut delegation played last summer on the churchtower of Kecskemét, Hungary, he picks up the phone and we are invited to go to the Orthodox church of Vilyuisk. The pastor of the church of St. Nicholas welcomed us and gave us an introduction and a tour through the church. Then he invited us to go up the churchtower, where we had a nice view of Vilyuisk and the Vilyui river. All this time I held my jew’s harp in my hand to keep it warm as we were planning on playing our jew’s harps at -47 degrees Celsius on the tower of the St. Nicholas, a personal record! We were also invited to play the churchbells which probably caused a terrible rackitt but the pastor was all right with it and encouraged us even.

07_pr.jpg In the tower of the Orthodox Nicholas church of Vilyuisk playing the churchbells.

Next in our programm was a visit to the workshop of jew’s harp master Maltsev. I bought one of his instruments. After that we were invited in Maltsevs home where we had to sit down at the table with food. And again some photo opportunities were taken. Then we visited the workshop of the big jew’s harp master Chemchoyev, from him too I bought a khomus.

And after this we went straight to the shop and the workshop of Akimova the only female jew’s harp master in Yakutia (and maybe even in the World, although I saw in Norway women do the munnharpe smithing course, she’s doing it professionally). She didn’t have any harps for sale at that moment, which is a pity for her harps are pretty special. The bow of the harp is covered in beads so the instruments bow is closed.

All the masters that we visited on this trip had a gift in the form of a khomus for Áron Szilagyi’s family who’s father is the famous Hungarian maker of jew’s harps Zoltán Szilagyi (I mentoned it before). So when I recall correctly, Osipov gave a khomus to his mother, Maltsev to his father, Chemchoyev to Áron himself and Akimova gave a khomus to his wife.

For lunch we had horses intestine soup, hashed horsemeat and “knödel”, which provided a very wholesome meal.

Before we went to the local museum we first visited the local monument comemmorating the second world war, a place I was four years ago (but then in the summer). And yes, here in Vilyuisk too there’s a jew’s harp museum, I knew this place from four years ago when I visited this place as part of the International Jew’s Harp Festival in 2011.

That happened to be our next destination, when we entered the room a whole delegation was already waiting for us, Áron Szilagyi had the honour to light the fire in the corner of the room and burn some little offerings for the ancestors. Then we all could hang a ribbon on a branche that was placed in the middle of the room accompanied by a personal wish. Further we were offered koumys and pancakes. We were ready for a programm with song and jew’s harp music.

08_pr.jpg Singing in the Khomus museum of Vilyuisk.

At a certain moment our interpreter of 2011 came by to say something and in the end Krisztián would play another sesion on mansanas.

Then we hurried to the local centre of the eldery people. Here we were greeted by the old folk of the town who did a blessingsceremony with us under the lead of a shaman. We were holding a horsehair rope and were “smoked” with incense and we took part in the Ohuokhai, the traditional yakut rounddance. Did you know that all peoples in the world know the phenomenon of rounddances? The typical Yakut rounddance always goes clockwise, this means the dancers always walk to the left. Put the right foot behind the left foot and then move the left foot to the left, this all in the rhythm of the music of course.


09b_pr.jpg Blessing ceremony.

Full of this experience we were on our way to the theatre of Vilyuisk, again there was a soundcheck and a show according to the same pattern as before. It was great to see the people whom we met before were present in the audience. The Sakha (Yakut) are not quick to hang loose or show their emotons but at a certain moment I saw this lady playing, covertly, along with Madjayar in her front row seat.

10_pr.jpg Playing along with the band.

At the end there was a photo-opportunity and everybody had to be in the photo with everybody else. Even the father of the church wanted to be in the picture.

11_pr.jpg Traditional fotoshoot after the show.

Soon it was time for the journey back to Yakutsk. We stepped in the bus ready for the long journey as we first went to a venue to eat. As said, growing hungry in Yakutia is virtually impossible. We did this in a balagan that was built in a traditional Yakut way bigger than a house but smaller than the one in Khampa. We were invited for an evening meal and again it was the best of the best. The gathering was organised to wish us a good journey back and again a lot of performances were given as we ate. The Hungarians too gave their best in a performance.

However shortly after we were on our way. During the trip we had some stops and the whole night through we were talking.

4 December

Finally in Yakutsk next morning the travelcompanions were delivered at their houses before our group could leave the bus at Tuyara’s house. There we had a good breakfast!

After breakfast Nikolai and I went into town to buy some maps of the town and of Vilyuisk from where we just had returned. Nikolai knew exactly where we could find a shop where these maps were sold and that was convenient because I would never have suspected a maps shop in the building that looked like an officebuilding. While going there we passed a hotel from where you have a nice view over town. And Nikolai took me upstairs for the view. In the lobby a giant mammoth with her young was keeping an eye on things.

12.jpg Tha mammoth and me.

As we returned to the others we went to visit the Natural-History museum of Yakutsk. A nice museum with a lot of different subjects and some very impressive exhibitions.

Then it was my turn to be the guide for Elena and Krisztián because Krisztián also wanted maps of the town and our trip to Vilyuisk. Elena took us to the fishmarket where Krisztián bought fish to take home. The fishmarket is a special place. Outside is a streetmarket where the fish is stacked like firewood at the several stands. This is no problem at all because outside it is below -30 degrees Celcius. Inside the market looks like a shopping mall where you can buy t-shirts and juwelery but the food department is the most important section. There you can find anything from reindeer sausage to smoked karb from the river and all of this fresh! Elena took us to THE souvenir shop of Yakutsk, where you could find anything from CD’s to hangers made of Mammoth ivory. Some things were pieces of art others were right down and plain “kitsch”, like you find in souvenirshops all over the World. They even sell khomuses but they costed almost a 1000 Rubel more than elsewhere. Elena took us after this to the jewellery of the town where many traditional earrings, rings and necklaces were sold. It was all silver that shined and diamonds! And for an affordable price too (but still expensive don’t worry) Here I learned that a woman’s earrings display a message, they tell you if a woman has children and how many and if one of them is still suckeled. Not long after that we were at the same hotellobby with the mammoth and the view over town, in the mean time darkness had come and we couldn’t see a lot from the town. Finally we came back to Tuyara’s flat where we enjoyed the evening meal. Rice with vegetables and meat. (It may be a bit undermentioned in this report but Tuyara’s cooking is really nice!).

After dinner Nikolai came to bring us to the studio of the national television broadcasting. Here we were expected in the eveningprogramm called “Dobriy Vecher” or, “Good Evening”. A slight panic occurred because they were counting on three guests and we were with four (+ interpreter which was our own guide Elena). Quickly a fourth mic was installed and before we knew it we were in the broadcast. All attention went, rightfully, to the Hungarian band although I was asked which were the best jew’s harps in the World? A question I thought better to answer diplomatically, “It’s depending on the kind of music you want to play”. 20 minutes later the show was over and we could go home and to bed. Finally, as we skipped the night before while returning from Vilyuisk.

13_r.jpg My moment of fame as guest of the TV show Dobriy Vetcher.

5 December

Last day of our stay we visited the theatre of the youthpalace again. Here Agnia (Tuayra’s mother and sister of Nikolai and Spiridon) thanked us on stage and gave us a CD.

Then we could have a word which was translated by Elena. Of course Madjayar had a quick performance. Following we were invited by Agnia’s Group to eat something in one of the clasrooms in the school that is connected with the youthpalace. Agnia teaches the jew’s harp (khomus) to the youngest children. They are taught traditional ways of playing. When they go their own way as young adults they develop their own ways and style. Many good talents have emerged from this group which is called Etigen Khomus (speaking Khomus).

Back in the jew’s harp museum of Yakutsk there was a small gathering of museums personnel, a few guests (amongst who Nikolai Burtsev, who’s jew’s harp patents I studied once for an article) and maybe someone of the press. This was the official fare-well. Speeches were held we received a few charters again (like the certificate that we played the jew’s harp in the bell tower of Vilyuisk at -48 degrees Celcius). We were given a pin from the “Peoples of the Arctic Circle”. Albina Degytaryova, who could not attend this came by to hand over a fare well present to us, a book with poems from her hand and the latest CD of Ayarkhaan. A lot of speeches and a unique short performance of Madjayar in which all three of them played jew’s harp. Béla the violonist learned to play the jew’s harp this very journey. As grande finale we were then taken to a visitorscentre just outside town. Here we could take a little taste of dog and raindeer sleighrides (we could all lift along for one round) by someone who did expeditions through the north of Yakutia in this fashion where no roads or paths exist. In 2016 they are going on another expedition through the Siberian snow.

Kingdom of permafrost

This was on my wishlist for a long time would I ever be in the opportunity to go to Yakutia and today it happened, we entered a hill where a corridor system was dug out. In these corridors the temperature is permanently -15 degrees Celcius summer or winter. This means that when you leave the freeze from outside it feels like it’s warm inside, I had my gloves off and my coat was open., something you would never do when -15 hits the Netherlands (which is a seldom occasion by the way). Inside the Kingdom of Permafrost all kinds of statues made out of ice are built. There’s an icebar and a bedroom in ice, the one and only “real” seat of father Christmas and you can see many scenes from epic stories from Sakha/Yakut heritage. There was also, and this will be appreciated by all youngsters and young spirits amongst us, a slide! In ice! And it went like the firebrigade! (a Dutch expression but I think you get the idea) At home this would become a dirty thing in no time and your clothes will be wet and dirty from a slide like this but at -15 it stays clean and dry.

14.jpg Going down the ice-slide.

Tired of playing we went content back to Tuyara’s flat where we prepared ourselves for the final performance of Madjayar in Pub Dikaya Ytka. With guest performances of Zloi Mambet, a former member of Ayarkhaan and a coming talent we’d seen during one of the shows we did, it was a memorable evening. This time the pub was more crowded than that first time we were there because nobody wanted to miss the last performance of Madjayar. After the performance we went to the guest-room to record the song with Zloi Mambet on film, by chance the cameraman who filmed Zloi’s videoclip was present that evening to film it. The other guest performers came to visit as well for a short while. And thus it became late before we knew it. First go by Tuyara’s place to get my stuff that was left there and then back to Nikolai’s house to pack before sleeping two hours before we had to go to the airport.

6 December

That morning the alarm went at 5:00 in the morning, I dressed myself quickly and waited for the van with the band. Then we went straight to the airport where in first instance my suitcase was not passing the scan. However we were unable to find what it was that the guy from customs saw and in the end we were permitted to go on our way anyway. After we had checked in our luggage we sat down for a tea before we emotionally said good bye. As soon as I was in the plane I was separated from the band.

In moscow I walked with the band to the conveyor belt to get our luggage. Then we went both our way, the band flew back one day later to Budapest and I had to go to the next airport to board my next flight that evening. That flight was delayed what meant a very short time to change at Zürich airport but in the end I arrived in Schiphol without problems, with a lot of new experiences richer.

If you ever want to visit Yakutia, go in winter time, the energy, the climate and the people make it an unforgettable experience. You don’t need to be afraid of the cold, it is so cold you don’t feel it (but when you do you’re almost too late!) Dressed up with many layers as I did, did get me the nickname “капуста” (kapusta, meaning cabbage) but it kept me warm as well.

My next jew’s harp related journeys are behind me in the mean time, a jew’s harp smithing course in Gjøvik in Norway and a trip to the Marranzano World Fest and the Austrian Maultrommeljam. For the time being I have more jew’s harp related trips on my list, more adventures to come.

A warm thank you for those who made this all happen Nikolai, Natalia, Elena, Tuyara, Ivan Alexeev, Nikolai Burtsev, Spiridon, Maria, Agnia, Avgustina, Nikolai Sobolev, Olga Prass, Natalia Ducheva and my uncle who provided me with the clothes that kept me warm. And a warm hello to my Hungarian friends of Madjayar Áron Szilagyi, Béla Drabant and Krisztián Almasi of whom I had the honour of joining them on this special journey.

More pictures from this trip:


More links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqoaiaMGdhk for the story from the Hungarian side.









The link to the clip recorded in the Wild Duck’s guest room: