As soon as Mindigafur Zainetdinov picks up one of his jew's harps, a smile flits across his face. With his back ramrod-straight and standing with his feet apart, he takes up his position in front of the microphone and puts his Bashkirian Kubyz to his lips. His smile remains when Mindigafur plays the Kubyz. "I was the 11th child in our family. All of my siblings play the Kubyz, as do my parents. My mother taught me how to play the Kubyz. It's a family tradition."
Mindigafur Zainetdinov was born in a small town in the Republic of Bashkortostan and now lives as a jew's harp virtuoso and teacher in Ufa. Mindigafur plays the Kuraj flute in addition to the Bashkirian jew's harp, the Kubyz. Kubyz and Kuraj are amongst the traditional musical instruments of Bashkiria. Mindigafur plays both instruments, among others, in the Bashkirian State Philharmonic.
"You can play every kind of music on the jew's harp. I play the melodies of traditional Bashkirian folk songs but also I like to extemporize. Naturally I can also play pop tunes and I regularly perform with a jazz band." Moreover he can be heard in a duet with the Russian photographer and jew's harp player Olga Prass. "Many people in Bashkiria play the Kubyz, there are contests where more than 500 jew's harp players compete." There is no lack of up-and-coming players. As a teacher, the master of the Kubyz still teaches a total of 200 children how to play the jew's harp and last but not least receives public recognition for this.
You can really speak of a renaissance in playing the Kubyz, Mindigafur Zainetdinov emphasizes. The former Soviet union was not interested in the tradition of the Bashkirian jew's harps. For a while, the knowledge of how to play the Kubyz and how to manufacture it were in danger of being forgotten. The instruments only appeared rarely for private use and were not at all present in public. The close link between the music of the Kubyz and the practice of shamanism did not mesh well with Stalinist cultural policy. This approach changed completely after the fall of the Soviet Union. By now the jew's harp Kubyz is a recognized and appreciated musical instrument in Bashkiria.
Yet Mindigafur has been playing the Kubyz for at least 25 years and masters the playing techniques perfectly. With a precise touch, he coaxes clearly articulated melodies from his jew's harp and is particularly impressive in his tremolo method of playing.
At the same time, he puts the thumb of his right hand on his right cheekbone. The remaining fingers of the right hand, beginning with the little finger, pluck the metal tongue inwards in a fluid motion, producing short trill-like pulses. Mindigafur enlivens the melodies by executing this playing technique with a varying number of fingers. Sometimes the middle finger and index finger embellish a melody with interval notes, sometimes three or four fingers are used.
In addition to metal jew's harps, Mindigafur Zainetdinov also plays wooden plucking jew's harps. "In order to make a sound with these instruments, it is necessary to learn breathing control especially well. Anyway, it is very healthy to play the jew's harp, it is like a massage for the lungs". Not least of all because of a virtuoso combination of several twanging and breathing techniques, Mindigafur Zainetdinov has received several championship titles, amongst other awards. in Jakutsk and Molln in Austria, as well as national state awards. Mindigafur has also made some jew's harps himself, however he does not have a lot of time to make his own instruments regularly due to the fact that he is beside Robert Zagretdinov one of the most internationally sought after virtuosos of the jew's harp and an ambassador of the Bashkirian tradition of playing the jew's harp. As a musician he does not only represent the jew's harp, he is also an ambassador of Bashkirian culture. Mindigafur Zainetdinov's smile remains on his lips as he elicits an amazing range of coloratura from the Kubyz. Maybe it is also and exactly this smile which gives the kubyz sound of Mindigafur its distinctive touch.