The dutar, which literally translates as ‘two strings’, is an integral part of the Turkmen nation’s centuries-old music. No celebration, be it a wedding or a public holiday, is complete without performances by folk musicians (bagshis).
Bagshis have always been held in great reverence and respect and their names have been the subject of legend. They themselves cherished their instruments and took tender care of them. Dutars were much treasured possessions kept in special soft fabric cases, and were never lent to anyone. There is one real-life story popular in Turkmenistan of dutar player Shukur Bagshi. It goes that once the unrivalled musician’s extraordinary performance on his dutar helped to prevent the coming fierce battle with a neighboring country.
Technically, a dutar can be made from any type of wood. But this may determine the lifespan of the instrument and directly influence its sound quality. Good quality wood is a must for a good dutar. Wood from a mulberry tree is the best choice as it makes for a light, durable instrument with a fine texture and excellent resonance. No other wood produces such a rich and distinctively unique sound. The age of wood does matter greatly. It should come from a mulberry tree which is at least 50 years old. Like a man becomes wiser over years, time makes the tree stronger, more beautiful and noble.
The art of dutar playing has never shown a sign of losing importance and has retained its widespread appeal in Turkmenistan. It has now even soared in popularity: the development of folk art receives greater attention in the country.