Circassian Music & Musicology 

Song Genres 

The categorization system used here for the song and melody genres is the most generic one used by musicologists in the Caucasus. There are variations and sub-categories, but these are not shown here. Missing genres (such as lullabies and children’s songs) shall be included as soon as representative audio files become available. help in this regard would be most welcome.

Some of the music sheets of the featured songs and chants are available in the book

Bereghwn (Baragunov), V. H. and Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev), Z. P’. (compilers), АДЫГЭ УЭРЭДХЭМРЭ ПШЫНАЛЪЭХЭМРЭ, ЯПЭРЕЙ ТХЫЛЪ. Adige Weredxemre Pshinalhexemre, Yaperey Txilh. Narodnie pesni i instrumental’nie naigrishi adigov, tom 1 [Circassian Songs and Instrumental Folk-Tunes, Vol. 1], Moscow: All-Union Book Publishing House ‘Soviet Composer’, 1980. [Edited by E. V. Gippius. This, and the other volumes in the series, are seminal works on Circassian musical lore. Some of the collected songs and chants are very ancient indeed]

The book is made available here for optimum benefit.

[Courtesy of Circassian Online Library]
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Pantheonic/Christian Chants & Prayers

1.  Мэзгуащэ; Mezgwasche (Forest-Lady) – Vladimir Bereghwn (Baragunov).



Mezgwasche was the goddess of forests. She was also protectress of the vegetable kingdom and the invocation of her name brought forth the rains. This is one of the defining chants of Circassian musical lore.


2.  Хьанцэгуащэр зэтэщэра...; Hantsegwasher zeteshera…* (Song to Hantsegwashe, the Goddess of Rain: ‘We are escorting Hantsegwashe…’) – Yislhamiy.



This hymn is placed second on the file. The third is addressed to St. Elijah. The first is ‘Schwerech’ Wered: Tepiraghweschi Pch’eghwala’ (‘Smallpox Song: Swift White Horse…’).

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3.  О Елэмэ, си шъэо нашъухъо!; We Yeleme, siy schewe naschwx’we! (Song to St. Elijah, invoking rain: ‘Oh, Elijah, my grey-eyed laddie!’) – Yislhamiy.


This hymn is placed third on the file. The second is addressed to Hantsegwashe. The first is ‘Schwerech’ Wered: Tepiraghweschi Pch’eghwala’ (‘Smallpox Song: Swift White Horse…’).

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4.  Пщымэзытхьэ и уэрэд; Pschimezithe yi Wered (Song of the Hunt: The Song of Lord Mezithe) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).



5.  Даущджэрджий и уэрэд; Dawischjerjiy yi Wered (Song of the Hunt: The Song of St. George) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).




Songs of Vigil over the Sick


ШъорэкI орэд: Тэпырагъошъы пкIэгъуала...; Schwerech’ Wered: Tepiraghweschi Pch’eghwala* (Smallpox Song: Swift White Horse…) – Yislhamiy.



The song’s file also contains two Pantheonic hymns.

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Anthems of the Nart Epos

(Follow the link for a selection of Nart chants and ballads)


Heroic and Historical Chants & Ballads

(The songs are arranged in chronological order in terms of the events being related. From the songs and ballads of the bards, it is possible to sketch out a skeletal oral history for the Kabardians starting from the end of the 15th century. The account also serves as a primer on the genealogy of the Kabardian princes. The two volumes of Circassian Tales (Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1963 and 1969 [1970]) are great companions to this section.)

1.  Адыгэ пащтыхьхэм я гъыбзэ; Adige Paschtihxem ya Ghibze (The Elegy of the Circassian Sultans) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).



The song is categorized as a historical anthem in this collection, as opposed to an elegy. In other works, it is also categorized as a plaintive song ‘Adige Paschtihxem ya Thewsixe’ (‘The Plaintive Chant of Circassian Sultans’). For words (in Kabardian with Russian translation) and sheet music of the chant, see V. H. Bereghwn and Z. P’. Qardenghwsch’, 1990, pp 212-16. The words of the song (in Kabardian) are also available in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 29-30. In addition, the words (with the sheet music) are found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1969, pp 15-16. The words are reproduced in the song file on the accompanying CD.


The fate of the Circassian Mamluks is lamented in this chant. The death knell of the 135-year old Circassian Mamluk dynasty in Egypt and the Middle East pealed in 1516, following the defeat of Qansuh al-Ghawri by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I in the battle of Marj Dabiq, which took place north of Aleppo in Syria. In January 1517, Selim overthrew the last Mamluk Dynast, Tuman Bey, and took Cairo. Nevertheless, the progeny of the Circassian Mamluks continued to play an influential role in Egyptian society and military for centuries afterwards.


2.  Бахъшысэрей зекIуэм и уэрэд; Bax’shiserey Zeik’wem yi Wered (The Ballad of the Bakhchisaray Campaign) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).



The words of the song are found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, p31. The words and sheet music are available in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1969 (1970), pp 215-18.


This is an account of the (Christian) Kabardian army’s campaign against the Muslim Crimean khans in the late 1520s (?) under the leadership of Prince Talhosten (more about him below). The Kabardians used their fleet of ships to transport the cavalry and the two-wheeled war chariots across the sea to the Crimean Peninsula. The Kabardians attacked Bakhchisaray, the capital of the Crimean Khanate, located in the southwest of the Peninsula, and were victorious, bringing back great spoil, including 100 chariots packed full with cloth (a precious commodity at the time). Andeimirqan, the subject of the next ballad, was in the elite force of the Kabardians. At the time, the Kabardians were at the zenith of their power and held sway against the Crimean Tatars.

3.  Андемыркъан; Andeimirqan (Andeimirqan) – Vladimir Bereghwn (Baragunov).



A full account of Andeimirqan, his exploits and murder can be found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1969 (1970), pp 223-336. See next entry for a synopsis of Andeimirqan’s tale.

4.  Андемыркъан и уэрэд; Andeimirqan yi Wered (The Song of Andeimirqan) – Vladimir Bereghwn (Baragunov).



The words of the song (in Kabardian) are found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 32-4.


Andeimirqan (b. circa 1509), the equivalent of Robin Hood in the Circassian ethos, was a contemporary of the 16th-century potentate Prince Beislhen (Beslan) (son of Zhanx’wet), nicknamed ‘Pts’apts’e’ (‘The Obese’), who is credited with modifying the structure of the peerage system and updating the Xabze. Andeimirqan was the progeny of a mésalliance; his father was a prince, his mother was of unknown stock. According to one legend, he was found by Andeimir while on a hunting expedition. When his hound barked at the trunk of a tree, he wondered what the matter was, only to find a twig-basket perched on a forked branch. He brought it down and found a tiny baby covered in the basket. Andeimir, who was childless, was joyful at the find, and he brought up the child as his own.


Andeimirqan grew up to be an intrepid horseman. The news of his exploits went far and wide. He was in the entourage of Prince Beislhen, and one day while the potentate was on a hunting expedition – carted in a carriage, as the Prince was too large to fit on a horse – the Prince took aim at a wild boar, but missed the mark, and the boar fled into the forest. As the boar was driven out of the forest, the Prince took another aim, but missed again. However, Andeimirqan’s arrow pierced the boar and stuck him to the Prince’s carriage. By some accounts, it was there and then that Beislhen resolved to get rid of Andeimirqan. He instigated Qaniybolet, one of Andeimirqan’s closest friends and younger brother of Prince Temriuk Idarov, to betray him. One day, Qaniybolet asked Andeimirqan to go out with him on a hunting expedition. A contingent of Beislhen’s troops lay in ambush, and they put the hero to the sword. Some analysts maintain that the murder was a result of the internecine war for supremacy over Kabarda, as Andeimirqan, despite the obscurity of his mother’s lineage, could have claimed the mantle of sovereignty for his warrior character and bravery. It is thought that Andeimirqan was killed before 1552. He was Christian. At the time, the Circassians venerated Dawischjerjiy (St. George) and Yele (Prophet, or St. Elijah), in addition to their pagan gods. It was Beislhen Pts’apts’e’s son Prince Qaniqwe who left Kabarda (in the second half of the 16th century) to establish the Beislheney (Beslanay) nation-tribe.


5.  Къэрэкъэщкъэтау зауэм и уэрэд; Qereqeschqetaw Zawem yi Wered (The Song of the Qereqeschqetaw Battle) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).



The words of the epic ballad (in Kabardian) are found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 35-7. Two versions of the song are presented.


In the middle years of the 16th century, a combined force of the Turghwt (ancestors of the Kalmyk) and Tatars of Tarki engaged the Kabardians at the confluence of the Malka and Terek rivers. The first encounter went the way of the former party, the Circassians retreating to the Psigwensu River. The Turghwt overwhelmed the entrenched Circassians, who were forced to take refuge in the mountains. At the third meeting, the Circassian forces were on the verge of a total rout when a contingent of 2,000 warriors came to the rescue, and the tide of battle turned. The Turghwt were driven out and all Circassian lands were restored. The battle scene was also named ‘Qereqeschqetaw’, which means ‘fleeing to the mountains’ in Tatar. It is thought that Prince Teipseriqwe, father of Scholex’w, was amongst the slain in this war.

6.  Къулъкъужын зауэм и уэрэд; Qwlhqwzhin Zawem yi Wered (The Ballad of the Qwlhqwzhin Battle) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).



The words of the song (in Kabardian) are found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 38-9.


The battle between the combined forces of the Shamkhal of Tarki (mainly made up of the Turkic Kalmyks, Tatars, Kumyks and Nogais) attacked Kabarda soon after their defeat in the Qereqeschqetaw Battle. The Kabardian army massed under the leadership of Prince Scholex’w (son of Teipseriqwe, who fell in the Qereqeschqetaw Battle), at the Qwlhqwzhin River (a tributary of the Malka River), where a bloody battle ensued that lasted for 15 days. The Kabardians routed the invading army. The song eulogizes the heroism of Aritsezchey and Bech son of Ch’isch.


7.  Щолэхъупщ и уэрэд; Scholex’wpsch yi Wered (The Song of Prince Scholex’w) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).



The words (of a version) of this epic song (in Kabardian) can be found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 40-1.


The long-lived Prince Scholex’w’s life spanned the 16th and 17th centuries. He was son of Prince Teipseriqwe son of Talhosten. Prince Talhosten became the potentate of all Kabarda upon the demise of Prince Yidar (Idar), who had been installed as sole potentate of Kabarda with the help of the Western Circassians (Ch’axe) following a civil war. Talhosten the son of Zhanx’wet was the progenitor of the Talhosteney Dynasty. He was elder brother of Prince Beislhen Pts’apts’e. Talhosten and Beislhen were the grandchildren of Prince Yinal Nef (Inal the Blind) through his son X’wrifelhey. After Talhosten, Beislhen became potentate of Kabarda. Teimriqwe Yidar (Temriuk Idarov) took over the reins of power after the death of Beislhen. Teimriqwe is the grandchild (son of the son) of Beislhen’s paternal uncle. Teimriqwe, who died in 1571, was succeeded by his younger brother Qaniybolet (Andeimirqan’s betrayer). Following the death of Qaniybolet in 1589, our protagonist sat on the throne of Kabarda. He lived to be a hundred. Scholex’w’s son Qereschey was murdered by Mudar Hefe. Believers in divine justice had spun the tale that Mudar was Andeimirqan’s father, and that he slew Qereschey in revenge for the murder of his son.


8.  Сэнджэлей и уэрэд; Senjeley yi Wered (The Song of Prince Sanjalay) – Vladimir Bereghwn (Baragunov).



The military exploits of the medieval feudal Prince Sanjalay against the (remnants of the) Tatars and their leader Soteresh are forever preserved in song.


Sanjalay was Prince Teimriqwe Yidar’s (Temriuk Idarov; father of Maria, wife of Ivan the Terrible) younger brother’s grandson. Prince Sanjalay’s father was Qanqilish son of Zhileghwet. In Russian sources he is referred to as ‘Sunchaley Yanglichev’. His first trip to Moscow took place in 1605. He was appointed leader of the Tarki fortress and military camp near present-day Makhachkala, capital of Daghestan. Many of his progeny also distinguished themselves as military leaders.

9. Хьэтхым и къуэ кIасэм и уэрэд; Hetxim yi Qwe Ch’asem yi Wered (The Song of Hetx’s Dear Son) – Zubeir Yewaz (Evazov).



The words of the song (in Kabardian) are found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 56-8. The words and sheet music are available in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1969, pp 48-50. Two versions of the chant are presented.


The events of this heroic tale, which is also heard among the Shapsugh, took place most probably in the second half of the 18th century. The son of Hetx stood up to the tyranny of the vehement prince of the Daw clan. The prince’s sexual exploitation of his female slaves solicited a retaliatory response from our protagonist in the shape of forming an intimate relationship with the prince’s wife. With the prince beside himself with anger, and on hearing that the son of Hetx was on a hunting expedition in the forest with a group of men, he collected his followers and went after him. The two parties met and fought. The son of Hetx slew the prince, and in turn the prince’s attendants killed the son of Hetx. 

10. ЛъхукъуэлIыдзэм я уэрэд; Lhxwqwel’idzem ya Wered (The Song of the Serf Army) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).


The words of the song (in Kabardian) are available in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 44-5.


The song relates the rebellion of the Kabardian serfs under the leadership of Schoqal against the princes and noblemen in the 1820s. The serfs made a stand at Chischbalhq on the Balhq (Malka) River in western Kabarda. The serfs preferred to surrender to the Russians rather than go back to serfdom. In other accounts, it is said that the princes and noblemen routed the serf army, but that subsequently famine gripped the land for lack of harvest. It is thought that the Mozdok Kabardians are runaway serfs that converted back to Christianity to court Russian protection against their erstwhile masters.
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11. Къарс зауэм и уэрэд; Qars Zawem yi Wered (The Song of the Battle of Kars) – Bzchamiy.



The words of the song (in Kabardian) are available in the song file on the accompanying CD.

In 1898, the Ottomans and Russians fought a battle for Kars, with Circassians fighting on both sides! The song is specifically on the Circassian account of the battle. Kars is a city with a population of about 130,000 located in northeast Turkey. The city was stormed by the Russians in the Battle of Kars during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-78, and it was transferred to Russia by the Treaty of San Stefano. Control of the city reverted back to Turkey in the early 1920s.


12. Япон зауэм и уэрэд; Yapon Zawem yi Wered (The Song of the Japanese War) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).



Words and music by Bechmirze Pasch’e. Words (in Kabardian) and sheet music are available in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1969, pp 65-7.


On the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War and the role of the Kabardian cavalry contingent and their harrowing experiences. Bechmirze Pasch’e actually fought in the War.

13. Уэзы Мурат и уэрэд; Wezi Murat yi Wered (The Song of Wezi Murat) – Zhiraslhen Ghwch’el’.


Written by Bechmirze Pasch’e, this is a song against despotism. The words of the song are available in the audio file.

Murat Wezi was an intrepid abrek (abrej), protector of the poor, in the period of Tsarist occupation of Circassia. He managed to escape many times from the clutches of the Tsarist invaders, despite perfidious tip offs. One account tells of his emigration to Turkey, where he lived until his death. Another version has him exiled to Siberia, from where he never comes back.

14. Чэрты (Черти) Исмел и уэрэд; Cherti (Cheirtiy) Yismeil yi Wered (The Song of Yismeil Cherti) – Zhiraslhen Ghwch’el’.



This is a song on one of the instigators of the 1927-8 uprising in the town of Zeiyiqwe on the Bakhsan River in Kabarda. It remained an underground song for decades. Songs lauding the exploits of the abreks could be categorized into a sub-genre.


The 1927-1928 Bakhsan Revolt against the arbitrary and ruinous policies of the time was brutally put down by the Soviet authorities. Of the 118 people who were prosecuted, eleven were executed and the rest were given prison sentences ranging from three to ten years. Ridiculous trumped-up charges included belonging to the princely class (five cases) and to the nobility (ten cases). Only eight persons were eventually rehabilitated. The official line is that the families of the rest did not submit the necessary papers to exonerate their kin. For details of the uprising (in Circassian) refer to H. Mambet (1992).


Elegies & Laments


1.  Джэтэгъэжьхэ Iэгъурбий и гъыбзэ; Jeteghezchxe ’Eghwrbiy yi Ghibze* (‘The Elegy of ’Eghwrbiy Jeteghezch’) – Vladimir Bereghwn (Baragunov).



This is a well-known Kabardian lament. The words of the elegy were composed by the residents of the Kabardian village Yislhemey (currently part of Upper Kurp), the music by either the Kabardian Bile Wezir, or by the famous (female) Ossetian accordionist Kubata Tugan. The words (in Kabardian with Russian translation and comments) and music sheet of the dirge are found in V. H. Bereghwn and Z. P’. Qardenghwsch’, 1990, pp 114-20.

2.  ИстамбылакIуэ; Yistambilak’we (Exodus) – Zawir Tut (Tutov).



This is a heart-rending song about the Great Circassian Exodus of the 19th century. Two snippets from the lyrics of the song in Kabardian (with English translation) are available in the text of the book and in the audio file.
Yistambilak'we (Exodus), Tut Zawir.mp3 Yistambilak'we (Exodus), Tut Zawir.mp3
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Plaintive Chants

1.  Нартыгу и тхьэусыхэ; Nartigw yi Thewsixe (The Plaintive Song of Nartigw) – Ziramikw Qardenghwsch’ (Kardangushev).



For words (in Kabardian with Russian translation and comments) and sheet music of the chant, see V. H. Bereghwn and Z. P’. Qardenghwsch’, 1990, pp 371-5; and Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1969, pp 53-4. See Z. Qardenghwsch’ (1979, pp 48-9) for words of the chant.


The plaint relates the story of Nartigw (literally: Nart-Heart). Once upon a time there was an evil prince called ‘Tiq’ (also referred to as ‘Schawetiq’ and ‘Schewetiq’). One spring, as the villagers were about to go out to the fields for the ploughing campaign, the prince said, ‘If you do not enclose my homestead with seven thorned high stone fences, I will not give you permission to go on your ploughing campaign,’ and then rode out on a hunting expedition with his two wolf-hounds. The villagers fell into turmoil, but their hands were tied. An adroit village youth named ‘Nartigw’ secretively put his armour on and rode after the prince. When he caught up with him at the edge of the forest, the two men fought, and Nartigw was able to kill the prince. Nartigw left the prince’s body in the wild under the protection of his wolf-hounds and went back to the village undetected. The prince’s cadaver was duly found, but the killer was not discovered. One day, when Nartigw turned old, he took up his violin (shich’epshine) and composed this song on his adventure.


This song may be sub-categorized into ‘Zerizawxeiyizh Wered’ (literally: ‘Exonerating Chant’). It may also be categorized in the Heroic/Historical genre (depending on one’s opinion regarding autocratic princelings).

2.  Жамботрэ Екъубрэ я тхьэусыхэ; Zhambotre Yeqwbre ya Thewsixe (The Plaintive Song of Zhambot and Yeqwb) – Hezhdal Qwnizch (Kunizhev).



The song was composed by the minstrel Yisuf Mesey. The words (in Kabardian, with Russian translation) and sheet music are available in V. H. Bereghwn and Z. P’. Qardenghwsch’, 1990, pp 461-72. The words of the song (under the title ‘Qwschhe Zhambot yi Wered’ [‘The Song of Zhambot the Balkarian’]) are also found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 73-80.


This is a classic tale of murder and revenge. One day, Zhambot Qwschhe was murdered in his house. His mother instructed her other son, Yeqwb, to avenge his brother and slay his murderers, or else she would disown him. Yeqwb pursued his brother’s killers for two years and slew one of the suspects in Nalchik. The authorities hunted down Yeqwb, who took refuge in an old stone tower in the mountains. When the pursuers failed to take him alive, they brought out a big cannon. The troops fired a blank shot to intimidate Yeqwb into coming out. When our hero refused to yield, a live shot was fired, blowing the tower and its resident into smithereens. When Yeqwb’s mother heard about the manner of her son’s death, she asked Zhambot’s widow Negwresh to bring her accordion and play. Thrice did the mother dance for joy!


Agrarian and Pastoral Songs & Melodies


1.  Мэкъоо орэд: Мэкъу тезыгъаорэр нэлъэныкъонэшъугущ...; Meqwewe Wered: Meqw teizighawerer nelheniqweneschwgwsh… (The Mower Song: ‘Our hired haymaker is blind in one eye…’) – Yislhamiy.


The Mower Song.MP3 The Mower Song.MP3
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2.  Мэлыхъуэ; Melix’we (Shepherd) – Mamlyuki Song Ensemble/Amirx’an Hex’wpasch’e (Jr.).



From the album ‘Qeberdey’. 


Wedding Songs & Melodies

(Follow the link for audio files)



Comic and Satirical Songs & Melodies

1.  Инарыкъуей мафIэсым и уэрэд; Yinariqwey Maf’esim yi Wered (The Song of the Yinariqwey Conflagration) – Vladimir Bereghwn (Baragunov).



The words of the song (in Kabardian) are found in Z. Qardenghwsch’, 1979, pp 127-30. It is said that the song was composed by Dawit Sheriy, Lut’e Nibezch, and Sehiyd Deriqwe.


In the summer of 1914 a conflagration swept through the village of Yinarqwey (now part of Upper Kurp in Kabarda). Nax’we Wezir, whose Kumyk grandfather came to Yinarqwey to live amongst the Kabardians, was holding wedding celebrations at his house for his daughter (before being escorted to her future home). A piece of live coal fell off a tea-urn and landed on some straw. The straw caught fire, and the especially hot and dry wind blew the lit straw all over the houses of the village. At the start of the fire the priest Shogwe looked at his watch. The strong wind blew in such a way as to set most of the village on fire. The priest looked again at his watch after the fire had consumed the village. According to his reckoning it took two hours for the village to go up in smoke. Only a few houses were spared, including the priest’s. This was the third time that the Wezirs caused the village to be burnt, as Nax’we’s grandfather before him was responsible for the other two incidents. It is said that Shogwe bought victuals for his fellow villagers, who were left with no stocks of foodstuffs.

2.  МамытIэ; Mamit’e (My Mamit’e) – Anatoly Weter (Otarov).



The words of the song (in Kabardian) are available in the music file. This is a satirical account of lazy Mamit’e and how his sloth has pitted him last among his peers in terms of his position and situation in life.
Mamit'e (Mamit'e), Weter Anatoly.mp3 Mamit'e (Mamit'e), Weter Anatoly.mp3
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3.  Гуащэгъасэ; Gwascheghase (Gwascheghase) – M. I. Quandour (Qandur). [Melody]


Old comic dance. Arranged by Lyuba Balagova (Belaghi) and M. I. Quandour (Qandur), with the accordionist Firas Valenteen. The piece is introduced (in Kabardian) by Belaghi (a poet of note).
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