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Sainkho Namtchylak
Like a Bird or Spirit, Not a Face
Ponderosa Music & Art (

Sainkho Namtchylak grew up in the former USSR near the border with Mongolia, schooled by her grandmother in the Tuvan overtone (“throat”) singing style more commonly considered a male genre among the nomadic peoples of Siberia. Namtchylak studied in Kyzil, the Tuvan state capital, delving into regional shamanic traditions, and then in Moscow, rubbing shoulders with a Western-oriented musical avant-garde. She returned home to join the Tuvan state folk ensemble for a time, but with the USSR's dissolution moved to Vienna, pretty much as Tuvan overtone singing made its ostensible global debut, due in part to the Crammed Discs title Out of Tuva (1993), featuring Namtchylak.

Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan produced Like a Bird, with Namtchylak on vocals and acoustic guitar, backed by members of the Malian Tuareg ensemble Tinariwen, Eyadou Ag Leche (guitars, bass, vocals) and Said Ag Ayad (percussion), with occasional loops by Brennan. Despite what may seem an unlikely combination, in the slice-and-dice of contemporary whirled music, the result is bracing, sudden, and oddly compelling. Anyway, it's not so far removed from the creative spirit of such cerebral singers as Meredith Monk, Yoko Ono, Switzerland's Susanne Abbuehl, Portugal's Sara Serpa, South Korean Sunny Kim and Marilyn Crispell.

What prevails is a striking composite of desert and steppe, nomadic wandering and communion with a natural world indifferent to spiritual invocation and hominid fate, enigma, big sky, mysterious light, melancholy, the ethereal character of all things—human vanity—or as Namtchylak intones in “The Road Back,”: “All will come to an end / After long roads… You will remain / A star not yet discovered by anyone.”—Michael Stone  

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