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Tuva; the throat singers

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Russia, Western and Central Asia
Includes Armenia, Tuva, etc..

These regional sections are merely a guide, are usually somewhat out-of-date, and are not the only content on the site. You will find much more by searching the site:

If I'd Been Born An Eagle

Imagine horses trotting a dance with a guitar-like accompaniment ... flute and voice taking turns with the melody ... then an otherworldly voice groans the chorus -- harmonizing with himself. That's more or less the sound of Huun-Huur-Tu's third album, If I'd Been Born An Eagle. The Tuvan group plays traditional music and strives to "show the musical colors of different times in Tuva" by using their imagination to recreate Tuvan music that was never recorded.

The Republic of Tuva has been part of the Russian Federation since 1992, located between Mongolia and Siberia. Unlike most singing, Tuvan throat singing is a style in which the singer sings more than one note at a time by emphasizing certain overtones in their voice creating a harmony of two to four notes. - Paul Harding
(see also John Cho's Meistersingers of the Steppe)

Vershki da Koreshki
Real Life Of Plants

It's a rare album that can be an adventurous fusion of many different and unrelated roots and yet still remain true to the origins of each disparate element. This band (whose name translates as "Roots and Leaves") manages it quite well. They are a quartet from Amsterdam. Mola Sylla comes from Senegal with his voice and a number of traditional instruments. Kaigal-ool Khovalyg brings the tools and throat singing of Tuva. Bassist Vladimir Volkov is a jazzman from Russia. Alexei Levin, also Russian, plays both ancient and modern instruments including piano and accordion.

What comes of all this is something far different than the usual "toss 'em in a basket and see what happens" world fusion project we are so familiar with. It's remarkable subtle, a jazz jam with cultural roots. Each artist hangs on to his heritage or interest for dear life, exchanging glancing blows of idiom and tradition, but mostly just sharing what they know best and letting the other musicians join in with their own ideas. So we have Sylla singing in a west African chant, with Khovalyg adding a long, drawn out fiddle line around it, eventually joined in by a tinkling piano or sliding bass line. It occasionally bursts into an uproarious din, with throat singing, jazz piano and African strings all tearing it up in what can be strikingly bizarre or sometimes humorous combinations.

But it is the more subdued moments that actually define this recording, as each man finds the disparate beauty of the others music, lends his own idea, and then sits back as the whole ensemble creates something new. Real Life of Plants is honest, simple, and even more remarkable, recorded live. - CF

City Of Love
Real World

If Real World has any one defining knack, it is the label's ability to find the artists who play traditional music and make it live again. Here is the music of Turkmenistan, played by a group of thirty-something musicians from "The City Of Love," Ashkabad. This is the capital of the former Soviet territory, sitting on its southern border within spitting distance of Iran, culturally hitched to ancient Persia and of course, electronically plugged in to British rock, Turkish pop and American jazz. Without ever actually mimicking any of these, they manage to convey the excitement of jazz, the lush beauty of arabesque and the energy of rock, all the while playing the music of their own country with conviction and authentic feeling. It's a neat trick that very few modern folk revivalists can pull off, but Ashkabad does it radiantly. Their fusion of east-west pop is best spotted in the dramatic ballad "Ketshpelek," which has the baroque element of 60s art-rock so wrapped up in the arabesque pop strings that it is hard to tell where they are coming from, but compelling enough that you'd follow them anywhere. The up-tempo numbers are as exciting as any klezmer tune, full of strings, accordions, woodwinds and percussion in swirling tornadoes of rhythm. The ballads are tear-jerking, the dances wild, the whole sound so amazingly universal and yet so easily placed on the map. This is the best of the whole world, music that while you know where it's from, drives you to listen to find out where it's going. - CF

Irina Michailova
Russian Twilight
Well Tempered World (510.526.5608)

Everything about the packaging said "Run away!" The saccharine title, the pretentious, wispy photographs, the recording credits for "Skywalker Sound, a division of Lucas Digital Services" all said "Beware, we have captured the world and it will change your life." Instead what we get is a fine singer, born in Kazakhstan, trained to be broad minded in a St. Petersburg conservatory and willing to take a few risks. Instead of the pro forma "world beats" and synthesizer ambiance, Michailova and producer Kathy Geisler have chosen cellos, steel drums, Jew's harp, traditional flutes and drums, Asian strings and a general acoustic tone to capture a variation of moods. It ranges from stark drama to soft-lit moodiness, and only once or twice drifts into sentimentality or pop pretense. Standouts include "Uz ty Vanya," an austere Russian folk tale played off a frame drum and a very raw violin sound (you'll hear shades of Marie Boine here); and the eerie "Dance Of The Winds" with it's drones, twangs and drum beats setting a wonderfully tense, beautiful mood. Russian Twilight is a welcome surprise, uniquely genuine in a world full of crossover imitations and world beat pretenders. - CF

The Ilyas Malayev Ensemble performs ancient central Asian music At The Bazaar Of Love (Shanachie). A NYC emigrant from Uzbekistan, malayev was well known in the former Soviet satellite as a vaudevillian singer and comedian, but his secret life as an amateur singer of the Persian maqam flourished along side of it. These excellent recordings, made at WNYC radio studios in New York, feature a traditional unadorned band of tanbur, percussion and voices, with a violin added in a bow to post Soviet modernism. - CF

Gevorg Dabagian
The Music of Armenia Volume 3: The Duduk
Celestial Harmonies

The music of the duduk of Armenia has become familiar to many through the many recordings of Djivan Gasparyan in the last decade. Here's a chance to hear another player of equal emotional range on an instrument made for individual expression. The duduk is a small double-reed instrument. It has a mix of warm tone and raspy over-tone that makes it instantly recognizable and unique. In Armenia, this instrument has the respect that the violin has in more western classical music, even though its repertoire comes from a more "folk" oriented base. While it can be heard in many different kinds of ensembles, from duduk chamber groups to folk music with many different instrument and vocalists, this set features it as a solo, accompanied only by a droning second duduk and occasionally a drum. It is in this setting, and with this performer, that one can truly appreciate the beauty and evocative quality of the instrument. It has an emotional quality normally associated with singers, and it seems to evoke in the listener the same feelings of joy, sorrow and loss that a good folk singer can. This is the third set in Celestial Harmonies' "Music of Armenia" series produced by David Parsons. It includes excellent liner notes on the history of the instrument and the composers by WNYC's John Schaefer. It also completely lacks the name of the performer anywhere on the cover, including his name only in the fine print credits and once at the end of Schaefer's notes, so look for it under "M" for music, or "V" for various artists, which is my guess as to where most stores and station libraries will file it.

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