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Santiago Carralero Benítez


The Evolution of Minstrels

A Brief Story about a Long Stock

Minstrels, from ancient times and even before, until the present-day, have
been the lords of communication. Singing epic poems, giving news or as
enterteiners they were the mass media actors in pre-industrial world..
Ancient Times

• 5000 years ago, in

Mesopotamia, the kings of
Sumer dreamt about to
spread their deeds by the
early historical minstrels, in
the time of the early written
documents: hundreds of clay
slabs full of incisions made
by a sharpened reed, which
was the first alphabet of the
The First Epics

• The Epic of Gilgamesh is an

epic poem from Ancient Iraq
and is among the earliest
known works of literary
writing. Scholars believe that
it originated as a series of
Sumerian legends and
poems about the
mythological hero-king

• In classical Greece, the

minstrel was called
Rhapsodist, a professional
itinerant performer of epic
poetry, especially the epics
of Homer, in the fifth and
fourth centuries B. C. The
term Rhapsodist comes from
the stick or rhapdos, which
he used to show while
performing in public shows.
Odyssea and Iliad

• Along with the Odyssey, also

attributed to Homer, the Iliad
is among the oldest extant
works of Western literature,
and its written version is
usually dated to around the
eighth century BC. These
epic poems, along with
Aeneid and others were the
favourite repertory of
Indian minstrelsy

• In ancient times the Paanar

were the bards and minstrels
from the southern Sangam
kingdom in Tamil region. But
most of the hindu minstrels
took their sources form the
ancient northern Sanskrit
epics, the Ramayana and
the Mahabharata, which
refers to epic poems that
form a canon of Hindu
Middle Ages

• But, if minstrels can be

related to an age, that is the
Middle Age. During this long
period, there were some
different types of transmitters
of heroic deeds and love
stories, the two main
subjects to be sung by
minstrels until the present-
Medieval Minstrels

• As the courts became more

sophisticated, minstrels were
eventually replaced at court
by troubadours, but many
remained as wandering
minstrels, performing in the
streets and became well
liked until the middle of the
Renaissance, in spite of a
decline beginning in the late
15th century.
Epic heroes

• Beowulf in England, Roland

in France or El Cid in Spain
were some of the most
popular stars of medieval
western world sung by
minstrels. They had not only
to fight against others lords
and cavalrymen but
dragons, monsters and evil
gods used to oppose to the
heroes in their way towards
the legend.
Courtly love
• Courtly love was a medieval
European conception of nobly
and chivalrously expressing
love and admiration. Courtly
love was born in the lyric, first
appearing with provençal
poets in the 11th century,
including itinerant and courtly
minstrels such as the french
troubadours. This French
tradition spread later to the
German Minnesänger.

• A troubadour was a
composer and performer of
Occitan lyric poetry during
the High Middle Ages
(1100–1350) and not only a
performer, as minstrel. So,
troubadours enjoined more
famous than those one.
Since the word "troubadour"
is etymologically masculine,
a female troubadour is
usually called a trobairitz.

• In medieval Gaelic and

British culture (Ireland,
Scotland, Wales, Isle of
Man, Brittany and Cornwall)
a bard was a professional
poet, employed by a patron,
such as a monarch or
nobleman, to commemorate
the patron's ancestors and to
praise the patron's own

• Minnesang was the tradition

of lyric and song writing in
Germany which flourished in
the 12th century and
continued into the 14th
century. People who wrote
and performed Minnesang
are known as Minnesingers
Skomorokhs and Goliards:
the disrepectful minstrels of Russia and France

• Skomorokhs were slavic

harlequins. They performed
satirical songs in masks and
skomorokh dresses to the
sounds of domra,
• Goliards were mainly
university clerical students
from France who protested
the growing contradictions
within the Church and
became to wandering satirical
Asian Medieval Minstrelsy
• Where medieval social
system remained strong, like
India, Nepal, Korea, Japan,
etc., minstrelsy arose,
especially in India, where
islamic and hindu
civilizations lived together. In
Korea and Japan, because
the proliferation of feudal
clans and their rigidity,
minstrelsy, although
developed, fell in a kind of
African medieval minstrelsy

• Even in Africa, due to the

arabic influence, minstrels
played an important role, like
the spreading of the
Sundiata epic in West Africa
come to demonstrate. The
minstrel here was called by
the generic name of Griot, a
figure promoted in medieval
courts, whose tasks included
to remember the genealogy
• of his patrons.
Modern Times

• From XII-XV centuries

onwards, minstrelsy carried
on, changed or dissapeared,
according to changes in the
society. Modern times
brought improvement of
transports, roads, postal
services and serial pressed
books. So, the function of
minstrels remained strong
only in those countries less
Blind Minstrels
• When minstrelsy was
declining as a profession, it
was adopted by blind
people, who, without support
and any chance to survive
by themselves, saw in
minstrelsy a worth way to go
onwards. Indeed, blindness
was associated with
minstrelsy from the
beginning, as this picture of
a blind Homer suggests.
Biwa-Joshi and Heike Monogotari
• Biwa hōshi were travelling
performers in the era of
Japanese history preceding
the Meiji period. They
earned their income by
reciting vocal literature to the
accompaniment of biwa.
Heike Monogatari was the
epic more usual in their
repertory, a tale about the
struggle for the control of
Japan at the end of the 12th
Pansori evolution

• A type of Korean traditional

music, Pansori featured
satires and love stories.
Formerly, a shamanist
tradition from religious
origins performed by
outcastes wandering
performers, which evolved to
a classical theater recquiring
a solo singer, skilful to
memorize long poems in a
very ritualised production.
Olonkho of Yakutia

• Olonkho is the one of the

oldest epic arts of the Turkic
peoples. The term Olonkho
refers to the entire Sakha
epic tradition as well as its
central epic. Today, it is still
incidentally performed in the
Sakha Republic or Yakutia
(Siberia). The minstrel here
resembles a genuine
shaman performing as a
carrier for his message.
The Mongolian Uliger
• Üligers generally tell the
legends of mythological and
historical heroes. They
include the proverbs
attributed to Genghis Khan,
and the epics surrounding
Khan's life. Longer myths
were important vehicles for
the transmission of
shamanic traditions in
Mongolia, Buryatia and other
neighbouring areas.
The lost minstrelsy in China
• Like in Korea and Japan,
China minstrelsy in its
origins was in charge of
outcast persons,
marginalized by a radical
buddhism. In modern times,
the wandering way of life
was assumed by blind
people and the stories were
told in teahouse by
respcectable performers
under pingtan and tanci
The King Gesar epic
• The Epic of King Gesar is
the central epic poem of
Tibet. The epic is considered
the longest literary work in
the world. If completed it
would fill some 120 volumes,
containing over 20 million
words in more than one
million verses. The drungpa
is the minstrel of Tibet, often
an illiterate young shepherd,
become a enlightened being,
who performs as a shaman.
South Asian traditions

• The naxi minority of Yunnan in

China, the Mor Lam tradition
in Lao, the figure of Kong Nai,
the last minstrel in Cambodia
or the bauls from Bangladesh
reflect a common past joined
by a same purpose to transmit
old legends and to adapt new
stories as a renew
Janggar and Janggarchi
• Jangar is a narrative poem
presented in the form of
singing and story telling
popular among the
mongolian ethnic group in
western China and
performed by the janggarchi.
As a difference with the tuul
(recitacion) of Mongolia and
Siberia, Jangar is a quur, a
speech which needs an
instrument, like a morin khur,
to be performed.
Manas, Manaschi and Akin

• The Epic of Manas is a

traditional epic poem of the
Kyrgyz people dating to the
18th century, though it is
possibly much older.
Performers of this epic poem
have been called manaschi,
whereas the akin is a
generic term to describe the
enlightened minstrels of
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
The Gandharba of Nepal
• The Gaine or Gandharba of
Nepal are a caste of
wandering musicians who
travel from village to village
singing and playing the
sarangi. Their subjects
focuse mainly in the time
after unification of the
country by Prithivi Narayan
Shah and they often sing to
honour him.
Epic of Pabuji and the Bhopa

• Pabuji was a medieval hero

from Rajasthan, who became
a heroe as a defender of low-
caste people. His loyal
minstrels, the bhopa, sing and
play the rawanatha, a basic
fiddle made of a coconut and
a pole, whereas a woman
bhopin dances and shows a
big cloth, a phad, painted
scroll describing the long story
to the night audience.
Köroglu and the Bakhshi

• The Epic of Köroğlu is a

heroic legend prominent in
the oral traditions of the
Turkic peoples, performed
from Uzbekstan until
Armenia by the bakhshi, a
narrator of dastans or epic
for turkish people, usually,
playing his dumbira or
dombra, a two-string musical
The Ashik
• An Ashik is a mystic
troubadour or traveling bard,
in Turkey, Azerbaijan,
Armenia, Georgia, and Iran
who sings and plays the saz,
a form of lute. Ashiks' songs
are semi-improvised around
common bases.The ancient
ashiks were called by
various names such as
bakhshi (Baxşı), dede
(dədə), and uzan or ozan.
Kobzar and Lyrnik of Ukraine
• Kobzary and Lirnyky were
the itinerant Ukrainian bards,
often blind, and became
predominantly so by the
1800's, but whereas Kobzars
played a musical stringed
instrument known as the
kobza or bandura, Lyrniky
played that known as a lira.
Lirnyky were similar to and
belonged to the same guilds
as the kobzars.
Lautari and Guslari
• Lăutari are members of a
professional clan of Romani
musicians (Gypsies), who play a
Lăută, the name of a string
instrument. Lăutari usually perform
in bands, called taraf. Guslari
(singers) are individuals capable of
reproducing long narrative texts
about heroes and events from the
distant past and are able to
improvise new ones in the
decasyllabic metre. They were the
minstrels in Albania and former
Arabic tradition

• Sirat al-Zahir, as a narrative

poem popular in Egypt and
Near East countries, the
Azmari minstrels in Ethiopia
or the Gnawa and Rways
bards in Morocco are some
of the arabic traditions
related to the old ways of
oral and itinerant
communication along the
Arabic world.
The Griots or Jelis
• A Griot or jeli is a West
African poet, praise singer,
and wandering musician,
considered a repository of
oral tradition. His wit can be
devastating and his
knowledge of local history
formidable. Although they
are popularly known as
'praise singers', griots may
also use their vocal
expertise for gossip, satire,
or political comment.
From Africa to America: the Minstrel Show

• The minstrel show was an

American entertainment
consisting of comic skits,
variety acts, dancing, and
music, performed by white
people in blackface or,
especially after the Civil
War, black people in
blackface. It begun as a
white theatrical portrayals of
black characters date back
to as early as 1604.
NOTE: Texts and Images resources

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Thanks to all contributors

The End