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I listened to three cds that provide a backpackfull of inspiration for me as a female throat singer. Two of them feature Tuvan tradition, one Altai throat singing. In 2005, the Tuvan group Tyva Kyzy (Daughter of Tuva) published this first cd of theirs, Setkilimden sergek yr-dyr (A cheerful song from my soul), and the same year, their leader Choduraa Tumat published her own solo cd Belek (Gift). The cd Erdine by the Altai singer Tandalai (Raisa Modorova) came out in 2007.
Both in Tuva and in Altai, female throat singing is taboo: the local ideal of femininity does not allow a woman to emit so masculine sounds. In Ted Levin's book (Levin, Theodore Craig & Valentina Süzükei 2006, Where rivers and mountains sing: sound, music, and nomadism in Tuva and beyond. Bloomington; see review in Höömei 2007) a male throat singer states that a female throat singer loses her fertility; on the other hand, a female throat singer told that they say a throat-singing woman will bring misfortune over her male relatives.
On the other hand however, researcher of Tuvan traditional culture Kenin-Lopsan proposes that the origin of throat singing lies in the encouragement songs sung by nomad women to their cows and ewes, when their young were in danger of being abandoned, for example after a difficult birth. Still another proposed origin of throat singing are lullabies. By the way, all the three cds discussed here include lullabies.
In Levin's book, both Choduraa Tumat and Raisa Modorova tell they had been so unsure about the propriety of their own throat singing that they needed, according to their animistic world view, to go and ask for approval from the spirits of the rivers and mountains of their home district. Both the singers had in the end found out that their song was accepted also by the spirit world, and that they must do what they feel is right and what they want to do.
Also some male throat singers have given support to them: Tyva Kyzy credits on their cd the legendary throat singer Khunashtar-ool Oorzhak, Tyva Kyzy member Ailangmaa Damyrang's teacher, who first presented the idea about a female throat singing group, and Möngün-ool Dambashtai, who encouraged the group by dedicating to them the title piece of the cd.
As expected, the cd includes all the Tyva Kyzy hits that they have been playing since they founded the band in 1998, and which therefore groove like a moose: "My homus", "My tea bowl", "Potpourri of lullabies", "My Bai-Taiga". Of these, especially My Bai-Taiga is my favourite: Ailangmaa herself comes from the Bai-Taiga region and sings with the authority of one deep-dyed in tradition.
In addition to the hits, the cd fortunately includes many less known pieces. Choduraa says in the introduction that finding and arranging pieces for a female group is challenging, because the group is one of its kind. Nevertheless, the selection includes both compositions and traditional pieces, and the arrangements fit well for the group. Airiness is added in form of solos by Choduraa, Ailangmaa, and Sholbana Denzin. Traditionally, Tuvan music is performed solo, and therefore the passages with three-voice harmony in some songs do not quite appeal my ear. Luckily enough, these passages are pretty short.
When listening to the cd, I discovered still more clearly how important the contrast between the voice qualities and expression of Choduraa and Ailangmaa is for the dynamics of the group: Ailangmaa's voice is easily recognizable, agreeably soft and warmly traditional, associating to the tradition-bearer singing on a precious archive recording and taking you deep into the nomadic culture, whereas Choduraa's quality is rather that of a singing star shining high on estrades.
Both the Tyva Kyzy cd and Choduraa's solo cd include a leaflet giving the Tuvan lyrics and the same in English. For the learner of throat singing this is ideal. Also otherwise Choduraa's cd is recommendable for one learning the basics of throat singing: she namely earns her bread as a music teacher in the conservatory.
Most of the songs on the cd are traditional, and what delights me greatly, most of them are not found on every throat singing cd, although they might be well known in Tuva. About many of the songs Choduraa as a teacher tells exactly whose repertory and which region the song comes from. The last piece on the cd is one that Choduraa learnt from her late teacher Gennadi Tumat. Choduraa treats tradition with the freedom of one who has grown into it and knows it thoroughly, when she, as it is customary, adds her own verses to the songs and even composes a new melody for one of the songs.
On Choduraa's cd, my favourites are the songs sung for ewes, she-goats and cows, if they have problems with accepting their lambs, kids or calves. For me these songs tell about the down-to-earthness of the Tuvan culture and about the nomads' love for animals. These songs Choduraa has heard since her childhood sung by her mother taking care of their cattle. Also the lullaby and the song about her home district she learnt from her mother.
The disadvantage of the solo cd is that many of the songs were recorded layerwise: Choduraa plays duet with herself with many instruments, and this eats the groove. The music grooves the most when the former Tyva Kyzy member Shoraana Kuular joins the play with her chadagan zitra and you get closer to live feeling.
Tandalai's solo cd begins with peaceful tempo and atmosphere: she has obviously slipped multi-tracking. The contents of the cd is divided into two: the first nine tracks appear mostly as traditional Altai songs. Altai throat singing is called kai, and like the Tuvan throat singing, it also has many forms - karkyra, koomei and sygyt. The low karkyra is very surprising when presented by a woman, and its low rolling sound entertains you in the peaceful epos that starts the cd.
Tandalai has an impressive singing voice also in the normal register, and it comes to its right in the humoristic Altai folk songs or in the ones describing the landscape. When she combines high-pitch singing with simultaneous Altai jaw harp (homus) playing, it sounds relatively peculiar.
In the last four pieces, the voice quality shifts towards rock, and synth, electric guitar and drum set is added. Every once in a while, Tandalai gives you a glimpse of her five-octave range: high-pitch flute-like, near-classical singing, and straight afterwards the extreme low rolling karkyra of Altai epic singing. In this combination, you do not always avoid the feeling of cirkus tricks or including too many elements in one song, but sometimes the combination feels like serious vocal art. Towards the end, it sounds more and more like Tandalai has been inspired by the Tuvan vocal artist Sainkho Namchylak.
It is amazing how many kinds of music Tandalai presents, everything equally convincing. On the other hand, the cd leaves you wondering whether so many genres have the same audience or whether you rather should have two separate cds.