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Yurta, steppe, horse, song. How the trio from Tuva made throat singing famous

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Yurta, steppe, horse, song. How the trio from Tuva made throat singing famous

10.07.2019

Sergey Vinogradov

Touring schedule of the Alash ensemble from Tuva Republic during the International Indeginious People's Languages Year hasn't change. Seven months a year best throat singing ensemble is touring around Russia and abroad, during the rest of the year they are collecting folklore gems in Tuva and prepare new shows.After booked-out shows in os Angeles and Tokio, the musicians need to rest at home in taiga, alone with nature and herds of horses.

Trio participants told Russkiy Mir what are the Tuvian songs about, how Kalinka-Malinka souns to the accompaniment of the Tuvia folk instruments, and how their American manager learned throat singing.


Street Performers

We met with Alash band during the festival in Vologa. Tuvians gave concert under the open sky in ancient Russian city setting. Habitually, they have started tuning instruments three hours before the performance. One of the musicians Ayan Shirzhik played a big drum for not less than half an hour, searching for bass tones. Unusual sound was flowing over the old center of Vologda forcing passerby to look at the city Kremlin tower clock - did they change the chimes sound?


"We don't perform often in Russia, and for the very first time in Vologda Oblast," shares with audience the head of the music group Ondar Badu-Dorzhu, "We spend 7 months on tour." From Vologda the trio heads to Switzerland, then Italy, and afterwards to China.

They bring around about a dosen folk instruments and concert costumes. All instruments made by Kyzyl artisans are traditional and authentic. Costumes are too flusy for a taste of contemporary person.

By the way, the same can be referredto the Alash trio. The musicians make original arrangements of the old Tuvian songs bringing in contemporary melodies from countries they visit. Tuvians meet local musicians in person performing and recording albums with some of them. Jingle All the Way album was recorded together with the American banjo king Bela Fler was rewardedwith Grammy 10 years .



Kalinka on one string

Paricipants met in Kyzul Arts college where they've studied together. They started playing together during student years. Today the ensemble celebrates 20th anniversary. The name Alash comes from Tuvian river known for ts fast flow and tortuosity.

All three were born in village. The stories of familiarization with traditional musicare very similar. While parents were working their kids had to stay with grannies who sang and played folk instruments. "My grandfather was singing for himself I started to sing along," shared Ayan-ool Sam.

Today all the world is singing along to his ensemble. "People react to our songs in different ways," said Bady-Dorzhu Ondar. Some sit nearby stage and meditate. Others listen with closed eyes. And yet there are guys who are perplexed and stunned. People from various countries confess that sometimes they immagine Tuva landscapes in their head while listening us. When they describe what they've seen it seems very close to the truth."


There are also disappointments, but the “trick” is uncovered long before the end of the concert. Some people expect to hear Russian folk music because they see “Russia” on a playbill. Meanwhile, instead of balalaika and bayan, throat vocalists perform songs accompanying on igil with horse's tail strings.

«Sometimes we're asked to perform Russian folk songs,” says Ayan-ool Sam, “It's not a problem for us. Kalinka-Malinka accompanied by igil and tsuur (Tuvan flute) sounds just great.”



Never forget your roots

There are many Tuvan songs and all of them are different. Nonetheless, there are certain rules. According to the musicians, first two lines in quatrain are always dedicated to horses, other two to a sweetheart or a native land.

Tuvans learn from early childhood how to treat horses. Almost everybody knows how to hitch and unhitch a horse properly, how to go on horse through the taiga, catch it in herd. Alash artists put away their flushy concert suit and go back home to their relatives migrating with herds. “To live in yurta, to rear horses, to be in silence – this is my resort, I don't need anything else,” says Ayan-ool Sa.

Alash contribution in preserving Tuvan language can't be underestimated. Their songs and traditions call interest of thousand spectators. But it's not as easy to capture interest in folk traditions of their own kids. “When I come back home after a long tour and start speaking with my children in Tuvan language, they don't understand me at first, - shares Bady Dorzhu Ondar . “In Kyzyl, where all we live, everybody speaks Russian in kindergarten and in school. Plus, Russian language prevails on TV. Although in villages people speak mostly Tuvan language. I want my kids to visit village more often, communicate with older generation. We live in open world, environment is rapidly changing, one should learn several languages. Russian and English are the must. Would be great to learn Chinese as well. But it's important to remember mother tongue, one shouldn't tore away from their roots.



Tuvan from Milwakee

Everyone in Tuva knows about Sean Quirk, the American, who moved to Tuva after hearing throat-singing records during his student years. Sean still wears a cowboy hat but admits that he feels Tuvan for the most part. He told Russkiy Mir how is the first grant-covered visit to Tuva brought him a job, like-minded friends and a girlfriend.

«My grant study trip was finished, and I had to return home," recalls Sean, "But I couldn't continue going on like before. I took all my savings and went back to Tuva." Back in Tuva Sean continued studying khoomei from the best teachers, and also learning Russian language. he succeeded in both. And in personal life as well - he's married his Tuvan honey.

Now spouses raise 5 kids (“They look like dad or mom? Our youngest one look like Keanu Reeves”), they have city house and yurta. He's mastered throat singing, and once in a while goes on stage with Alash, although admits that doesn't sing on the same level. Sean has became Alash artistic manager, and during tours presents the group to spectators, talking about Tuvan traditions and explaining what the Alash songs are about.

“I speak Russian with an accent but in Tuvan I speak almost like a native speaker. In Kyzyl I I have Toastmaster gigs during national marriage ceremonies,” says Sean. “I speak English with my kids, my wife communicates with them in Tuvan, and kids listen TV in Russian. In what language do I think? It depends on where I am at the moment. Although I've started noticing that even when I visit my parents in the US, Russian and Tuvan words can pop up during some unexpected situation. Where do I see myself when I get old? In the tayga, yurta, next to horses, songs. Something like that.”

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