A Kobzar (кобзар, pl. kobzari кобзарі) was a itinerant Ukrainian bard. Kobzars were often blind, and kobzardom became the domain of the blind. Kobzar literally means ‘kobza player’, a Ukrainian stringed instrument of the lute family, and more broadly — a performer of the musical material associated with the kobzar tradition.
The kobzar tradition was established during the Hetmanate Era around the sixteenth century in Ukraine. Kobzars accompanied their singing with a musical instrument known as the kobza, bandura or lira. Their repertoire primarily consisted of para-religious psalms and kants but also included a unique epic form known as dumas.
In Ukraine, kobzars organized themselves into regional Guilds or Brotherhoods, known as Kobzars'kyj Tsekh. They had to undergo a rigorous apprenticeship (usually three years in length) before undergoing the first set of open examinations to become a kobzar. These guilds were thought to have been moedelled on the Orthodox Church brotherhoods as each guild was associated with a specific church. These guilds then would take care of one church icon or purchase new religious ornaments for their affiliated church (Kononeko, p. 568–9). The Orthodox Church however was often suspicious of and occasionally even hostile to kobzars.
The institution of the kobzardom essentially ended in the Ukrainian SSR in the mid 1930s during Stalin's radical transformation of rural society which included the liquidation of the kobzars of Ukraine. Kobzar performance was replaced with stylized performances of folk and classical music utilising the bandura.
In recent times there has been an interest in reviving of authentic kobzar traditions which is marked by the re-establishing the Kobzar Guild as a centre of historical authentic performance practice.
The term "kobzar" has on occasion been used for hurdy-gurdy players in Belarus (where the hurdy-gurdy is often referred to as a "kobza", and bagpipe players in Poland where the bagpipe is referred to as a "kobza" or "koza".