By Jon Roig
Arizona Daily Wildcat January 30, 1997
East meets West
Throat Singers of Tuva
8:00 PM on Sunday, Feb 2 @ The Temple of Music & Art.
The Throat Singers of Tuva, known in their homeland as Huun-Huur-Tu, return to the Temple of Music and Art for the first time in two years. As with their last performance, which sold out completely, an interpreter will explain the meaning and origin of th e songs.
Not that it'll be necessary. The Throat Singers have an alien, yet oddly familiar, appeal. The four members of the group are all accomplished singers and musicians of traditional Tuvan music. Their third album, "If I'd Been Born An Eagle," has definite po p appeal, in much the same way as The Beatles in their Dalai Lama phase. And then the kh””mei, or throat singing, begins...
When listened to at very high volumes, what sounds at first like a nasal whine reveals itself to be a perfectly modulated mix of two or three separately controlled tones that emanate from one set of vocal chords. From this, they construct intricately comp osed melodies, complex tapestries as vibrant and alive as I imagine their native land to be. Although they occasionally rewrite elements of ancient camel caravan songs to tell the tale of a car breakdown on the L.A. Freeway, this is not American music.
My cat really digs it, which is unusual, as she rarely takes note of my musical selections. Perhaps she has a genetic connection with the people of Tuva; she might feel more at home among the tundra and high, windy steppes of this small southern Siberian republic in the former-Soviet Union. Or it could be her deep affinity for Tuva's native instruments: the igil (vertical fiddle), doshpulur (a banjo-like lute), and the byzaanchi (a cello-like bowed instrument). Although the more familiar sounds of the tin whistle and the guitar occasionally join the mix, the Throat Singers' sound remains exotic; the percussion section includes a rattle made from a bull's scrotum, a deep and booming frame drum, and the unmistakable twang of the khomuz, the Tuvan jaw-harp.
What's perhaps most striking about The Throat Singers of Tuva is the way that they've made their traditional music accessible to American ears-without selling out the true spirit of their native sound. Song length is short and the selections varied; some recall Russian drinking songs and involve the whole group, while others are solemn chants performed by soloists. They continue to tour successfully world-wide because they stay true to their roots. In contrast, Yeha-Noha, a doomed experiment in popularizi ng Native American chants, seems to have found itself a permanent home in the bargain bins. The beauty and sanctity of the traditional chants is ruined by the constant intrusion of drum machines and new age keyboard work.
The Throat Singers invite you to come to them and refuse to pander to American audiences. Their music offers challenges as well as great rewards for those interested in expanding their definition of "world music."
For those interested in learning more about Tuva and the ancient tradition of kh””mei, the group will also give a throat singing workshop on Monday, February 3rd, 7:30 PM at the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts. For more information on the concert or workshop, call 327-4809.