The Sound of Lonely Dombura

On a cold December day she was sitting on a little plastic chair on the sidewalk of one of the main streets of Almaty. She was silent. Seeing her one would think she was in deep meditation. And I believe she was. I was walking down the street when I heard the sounds of her dombura, a long-necked lute popular in Central Asian nations. As if bewitched by the melody, I followed the sound until I saw her. An old Kazakh lady with eyes sad, busking. I sat in front of her. Dombura was turning the sorrow of her heart into a melody. She noticed me and turned her eyes away.

“As-Salamu Alaykum,” I greeted her when she finished playing.
She put down the dombura, got a pie from her bag.
“Hello young man.”
“It’s a dombura, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. Our national musical instrument.”
“Amazing! Only two strings and such a great variety of melodies. How do you play it?”
“Well,” she put the pie back in her bag, and I felt sorry for not letting her eat first. “With your left hand you press the strings, look here, it’s not difficult.” She showed me few chords. “Then with your right hand you play the rhythm. That’s the hardest part of it. There are many different styles of rhythm, some are easy, some – not.”
Saying this, she played another melody. This time the tune wasn’t sad. And she even smiled. People passed by and stared at me sitting on the street in front of the lady. Some would drop coins in her bag, others would just smile.

After she finished playing, she put the dombura aside. She must have been freezing. The cold weather wasn’t kind to anyone around. But she was very well prepared. In her bag she had a thermos with hot tea.
“How long do you play?” I asked her..
“Oh, I don’t remember. I’m not a master of dombura. I just come here to play on weekends. I live alone outside the city. And music is the only way I can get some food for living now.” She took out the thermos, filled her cup and took a good sip of tea. I tried to say something but couldn’t find the right words.
“But that’s life. After all, I have these two strings and the melodies of my dombura, which is not that bad. Some people don’t even have even this,” said she and played the dombura.

People passed by.
I was sitting on the street.
And the lonely dombura was singing its song on a cold December day.


6 thoughts on “The Sound of Lonely Dombura

  1. Although I feel sad for the lady being alone and all, I can’t help but admire her more for making use of whatever she’s got to make a decent living. And she was kind enough to give you a brief dombura lesson 🙂

  2. Pingback: Photographs. People: Vol. 1 | On The Road

  3. Pingback: Photographs. People: Vol. 1 | On The Road

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