A kobzar is a travelling Ukrainian minstrel who sang to his own instrumental accompaniment on the kobza, lira, or bandura. The kobzar tradition began taking formin the 16th century. The repertoire of the kobzars included para-liturgical psalms,canticles (канти), epic ballads known as dumas, satirical songsand historical songs.
Kobzars, who were often blind, organized themselves into regional guilds (цехи) or brotherhoods. They developed a system ofrigorous apprenticeships (usually three years in length) before undergoing the first set of open examinations in order to become a kobzar. These guilds were thought to have been modelled on the Orthodox Church brotherhoods as each guild was associated with a specific church. Authentic kobzar traditions have been revived in Ukraine with the re-establishment of the Kobzar Guild.
The kobzars played an important role in Ukrainian culture as their unwritten repertoire, consisting of important historical events and teachings of morality, was passed on from generation to generation as they wandered from city to city and in the countryside. Many of these concepts embodied in this repertoire, as well as the kobzari themselves, would become an irritant to Ukraine’s ruling class, be it the Polish nobility, the Russian czarist government, or the Soviet regime.
Prints taken from the book PORTRAITS OF UKRAINIAN KOBZARS by OPANAS SLATION
PORTRAITS OF UKRAINIAN KOBZARS
BY OPANAS SLASTION
Book – Kyiv,
Opanas Heorhiiovych Slastion was a Ukrainian
graphic artist, painter, bandura player, journalist, architect and
ethnographer. Over the course of several
decades, Slastion captured the images of the kobzari (blind minstrels accompanied by the kobza or bandura) through
engravings, many of which are reproduced for this exhibit.
He was born in the Ukrainian port town of Berdyansk on the
Berdyansk Gulf of the Sea of Azov.
He studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he was also known as Afanasy
Slastyon. He then worked as a teacher at the Arts and
Crafts School (later renamed the State Ceramics Vocational School) in Myrhorod,
Slastion was one of the most active propagators of the artistry of
the kobzars, and he himself was the first outstanding sighted bandura player and tutor of modern times. Danylo Pika, one of
the founders of the Poltava Bandurist Capella (which later combined into
an ensemble now known as the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus), initially learned to
play the bandura from Slastion in Myrhorod. Later in his life, in the early 1930s,
Slastion designed the shape of the standard Kyiv bandura (the familiar modern
shape of the instrument).
While in Yalta in 1908, the technically
savvy Slastion helped Lesia Ukrayinka and her husband Klyment Kvitka make live
recordings (on phonograph cylinders) of the dumy performed
by the blind virtuoso Hnat Honcharenko. These
recordings were transcribed by Filaret Kolessa, who later published
them in his collection Melodiyi ukrayins’kykh narodnykh dum (The
Melodies of the Ukrainian Folk Dumas).