From a small south-central Siberian republic that borders Mongolia came the sound of a world few know. Men dressed in stunning silken garments and carrying fragile-looking instruments took their seats on stage. For nearly two hours, the packed theater in the Fine Arts Building was transfixed by the mysterious voices.
Hailing from Tuva, Huun-Huur-Tu is a quartet of khoomei singers and musicians. Khoomei is a style of Central-Asian throat singing, a technique of harmonic resonance manipulation. The singers have the ability to shift the frequency of their voices to a specific formant and combine it with harmony. This creates a melodic and complicated tune, one that can even mimic the sounds of various animals. Khoomei is also known for its “wind through the rocks” sound.
A plethora of instruments accompanied the four singers: guitars, drums, a flute, and other native stringed instruments that were constructed of snakeskin, pine and mountain-goat skin. Their songs are about love, revolution and, most notably, horses – an animal that holds great importance to Tuvan culture and pastoral life. Each complemented the singing, creating an atmosphere where one could truly feel the anguish of a family far away, or experience Tuva at dusk complete with realistic impressions of birds cawing and elephants trumpeting.
The Northern Light interviewed Huun-Huur-Tu group member Sayan Bapa about the group’s performance on Oct. 23.
What brought you to Alaska?
Usual tour. We’ve been here two times already for a couple of days each visit. This time we are here for 10 days.
What has your reception been like in other places?
Very good. Music helps people relate to each other.
Have there been bad attitudes, misunderstandings during your concerts?
People get curious at first. They might not understand the music at the first song. The second, third and further songs help them open up. Without knowing the words, people anywhere get the same emotions.
What is the message of your music? What are you trying to convey with your art?
It’s hard to answer right away. We are practicing an ancient art. We are trying to share the depth of our culture with other people, and they feel it throughout the performance. Without letting anyone down, we try to show that among today’s pop culture and electric instruments there is a live form of music. We as musicians know the difference and this gives us power, spiritual power to play live music together.
What is the most challenging in the learning process (of learning how to throat-sing)?
Here we are talking about the depth of your emotions. It’s not enough to just produce the sound. You need to learn to unify your feelings with your playing and singing. And this is called mastery.
In your opinion, why is it important to bring different cultures to different places?
People become more tolerant, less prejudiced. All the sudden they look at other cultures with different eyes. Suddenly someone buys a ticket to Tuva. People find themselves that way.
You can learn more about Huun-Huur-Tu and khoomei throat singing at www.huunhuurtu.com.