6 Words from the Tuvan language and many facts about Throat Singing
6 Words from the Tuvan language and many facts about Throat Singing

6 Words from the Tuvan language and many facts about Throat Singing

Ever heard of throat singing? Throat singers are not well known in the West but in many parts of Central Asia and Siberia, throat singing occupies a prominent place in the culture. There are different styles of throat singing. Audio samples of throat singing are available on various media platforms.

Throat singing, especially from Tuva and Mongolia has attracted a lot of attention recently.

What is throat singing?

Throat singing is a unique vocal production technique that involves manipulating the resonant cavities of the mouth, throat, and chest to produce multiple pitches simultaneously. The most common styles of throat singing include “Khoomei,” “Kargyraa,” and “Sygyt.” Khoomei is often described as a soft, mid-range technique where the singer emphasizes the harmonic tones, creating a kind of whistling effect. Kargyraa involves producing deep, low-pitched sounds that resonate in the chest, giving a powerful and pulsating rhythm. Sygyt, on the other hand, is a high-pitched style that produces clear harmonic overtones, akin to the sound of a flute. It’s important to note these techniques require significant practice and control over the vocal apparatus to master.

Tuvan Words about Throat Singing

  • “Khoomei“: This term, pronounced as ‘ho-mei’, is the Tuvan word for throat singing. It can also refer specifically to the soft, drone-like style of Tuvan throat singing.
  • “Kargyraa“: ‘Kar-gi-raa’ in Tuvan, represents the low-pitched, resonant style of throat singing that mimics the deep rumblings of the earth.
  • “Sygyt“: Pronounced as ‘si-git’, this is the name given to the high-pitched, whistle-like style of Tuvan throat singing.
  • “Dyngyldai“: This Tuvan word, pronounced ‘din-gil-dai’, refers to the sound of a ringing bell and is used to describe the clear, sharp resonation in some styles of Tuvan throat singing.
  • “Chylandyk“: This Tuvan term, pronounced ‘chylan-dyk’, refers to a style of throat singing that combines two or more pitches, creating a unique, harmonious blend of sounds.
  • “Borum“: Pronounced ‘bor-um’, is the Tuvan term for the deep, steady drone created in some styles of throat singing, reminiscent of the roaring of a bull.

Throat singing techniques

Practicing throat singing entails a high degree of vocal control and manipulation. The singer must control the diaphragm, larynx, tongue, and lips to generate the desired sounds. In the Khoomei style, harmonics are emphasized through subtle movements of the lips and tongue, facilitating a whistling effect. This technique focuses on the mid-range of the singer’s vocal spectrum while maintaining a constant, drone-like fundamental pitch. Kargyraa, a deeper, more resonant style, requires the singer to contract their laryngeal muscles to lower the pitch. This style utilizes the chest as a resonating chamber, creating powerful, rhythmic undertones. Lastly, the Sygyt style involves shaping the mouth and tongue into a resonant cavity, allowing the high-frequency overtones to be filtered and amplified, resulting in a clear, flute-like sound. Mastering these styles necessitates patience and sustained practice, as the techniques challenge conventional singing methods.

Cultural Significance of Throat Singing

Throat singing represents a profound spiritual connection with nature and the environment. The use of different techniques in throat singing often mimics natural sounds, such as the gentle whistle of the wind or the deep rumble of thunder, symbolizing the harmony between man and nature. Throat singing is often performed during social gatherings, ceremonies, and rituals, reinforcing community bonds and preserving cultural identity. The artistry and skill involved in these distinct singing techniques are passed down through generations, making throat singing not only a form of entertainment but also a living testament to the rich heritage and tradition of these communities.

Mongolian v Tuvan Throat Singing

  • Mongolian throat singing, known as “Khoomei”, often varies in pitch and timbre, and Mongolian throat singers produce a mesmerizing blend of sounds that echo the vast landscapes and natural phenomena of Mongolia. The technique involves modulating the shape of the resonant cavity to filter overtones, creating a cascade of tones that can mimic the rustling of grasses, the gurgling of rivers, or the cries of wild birds.
  • Tuvan throat singing, while similar in technique, is distinguished by its unique regional styles, including Kargyraa, Khöömei, and Sygyt, each with its own unique timbral and pitch characteristics. The Kargyraa style, in particular, is notable for its deep, resonant rumble, reminiscent of the vast, sweeping steppes of Tuva. The Sygyt style, with its clear, flute-like sound, captures the high, piercing whistles of the wind as it sweeps across the Tuvan landscape.

Mongolian Throat Singing

Mongolian throat singing involves the production of two distinct tones simultaneously, creating a mesmerizing harmonic resonance. The lower pitches, often compared to the rumble of a mountain, and the higher overtones, echoing the whistle of the desert winds, all serve to evoke the vast expanses of the Mongolian plains.

Throat Singers

Throat singers from Tuva have a unique style that is deeply connected to their environment. As nomads residing in a territory renowned for its mountains, rivers, and expansive steppes, the Tuvan people have been deeply influenced by these natural elements, an influence that resonates powerfully in their unique form of singing. Through the manipulation of their vocal cords, they generate multiple tones simultaneously, a complex technique that creates a stunning aural landscape. Throat singing is not just a form of music; it is a language that communicates the spirit of the people and their deep bond with nature.

Famous Throat Singers

  1. Kongar-ol Ondar: Arguably the most famous Tuvan throat singer in the world, Ondar has played a crucial role in popularizing this unique art beyond the borders of Mongolia.
  2. Huun-Huur-Tu: This music group is renowned for its Tuvan throat singing. Their music is a blend of traditional songs and Tuvan folklore, which is deeply rooted in the sounds of nature.
  3. Gennadi Tumat: A master of Kargyraa style, Tumat’s deep, resonant vocal style has earned him widespread acclaim in the world of throat singing.
  4. Alash Ensemble: This trio is known for their blending of traditional Tuvan music, throat singing, and contemporary influences.
  5. Sainkho Namtchylak: As a woman in a predominately male musical tradition, Namtchylak has broken barriers in throat singing. Her music often incorporates jazz and electronic elements alongside traditional Tuvan throat singing techniques.
  6. Enkh Jargal Dandarvaanchig (Epi): A master of the Khöömii style, Epi has won numerous awards for his outstanding contributions to Mongolian throat singing.
  7. Tserendavaa Dashdorj: Known as the “Grand Master of Khöömii,” Tserendavaa has dedicated his life to preserving and promoting Mongolian throat singing.
  8. Sundui Surenjav: As an internationally recognized expert in Khöömii, Sundui has played a pivotal role in the global recognition of this unique Mongolian art form.
  9. Altai Khairkhan: This group fuses traditional throat singing with modern musical elements, creating a fresh and innovative approach to this ancient art form.

Khoomei in Mongolia

Khoomei in Mongolia is not simply music; this form of throat singing is a rich cultural tradition resonating with the rhythms of the Mongolian landscape and the lives of its people. The technique of overtone singing requires the vocalist to create a continuous drone, over which they superimpose a series of melodic pitches. This creates an almost mystical harmonic interplay, echoing the natural sounds of the Mongolian steppes. The intensity and tempo of Mongolian Khoomei often mimic the sounds of nature – the galloping of horses, the flow of water, or the whistling of the wind. Mongolian throat singing also holds a significant place in their local folklore and storytelling tradition, often used to narrate heroic epics, ancient tales, and spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, Khoomei is traditionally performed in social gatherings and religious ceremonies, reinforcing the sense of community and shared heritage among the Mongolian people. In essence, Khoomei is more than a unique musical style – it is a vital thread in the cultural fabric of Mongolia.

Khoomei in Tuva

Khoomei Tuvan throat singing, similar to its Mongolian counterpart, is not merely a musical technique but a profound expression of Tuvan culture, interlaced with the nomadic lifestyle and spiritual identity of its people. This form of throat singing, known for its lower pitches and rhythmic pulsations, is akin to a sonic tapestry, embodying Tuva’s intimate relationship with nature. The Tuvan Khoomei often imitates the sounds of the natural elements – the gurgling of rivers, the rustle of the wind through the grasslands, and the calls of indigenous wildlife. It also serves as a narrative medium, recounting stories of ancient warriors, illustrious legends, and tales of divine spirits. Socially, Khoomei throat singing holds a pivotal role in communal gatherings and ritual ceremonies, fostering a sense of togetherness and cultural continuity among the Tuvans. Thus, for the Tuvan people, Khoomei transcends the realm of music, manifesting as a resonant cultural symbol and a cherished heritage.

Songs from Throat Singing

Some famous songs from the throat singing tradition:

  1. “Chiraa-Khoor” by Huun-Huur-Tu
  2. “Kargyraa” by Ondar
  3. “Sygyt” by Chirgilchin
  4. “Odugen Taiga” by Huun-Huur-Tu
  5. “Bai-La Taigam” by Alash
  6. “Durgen Chugaa” by Ondar
  7. “Eki Attar” by Yat-Kha
  8. “Khoomei” by Chirgilchin
  9. “Tuvan Internationale” by Kongar-ol Ondar
  10. “Ediskuul” by Alash.

Titles and Sample Lyrics

Being a Mongolian throat singer or a Tuvan throat singer requires immense talent and ability. To learn how to throat sing requires a degree of talent and dedication that is beyond ordinary. Below are titles with brief translations. Be aware, that much is lost in translation of throat singing songs due to the cultural context.

  • “Chiraa-Khoor” by Huun-Huur-Tu:: Chiraa-Khoor, my native land, land of the beautiful steppe…”
  • “Kargyraa” by Ondar: “In the wide and boundless steppe, under the vast sky…”
  • “Sygyt” by Chirgilchin:: The river flows, the pebble remains, the bird flies, the song remains…”
  • “Odugen Taiga” by Huun-Huur-Tu: “Over the boundless taiga, under the bright blue sky…”
  • .”Ancestors Call” by Huun-Huur-Tu: “Oh sky above, oh earth below, heed the call of our ancestors…”
  • “Legend” by HANGGAI: “In the heart of the endless steppe, lies the legend of our past…”
  • “Chinggis Khaanii Magtaal” by Altai Khairkhan: “Chinggis Khaan, son of the blue sky, riding on the vast steppe…”
  • “Mother Mongolia” by Sedaa: Oh Mother Mongolia, land of the eternal blue sky…”
  • “Tavan Hasag (Five Stallions)” by Egschiglen: “Five stallions, racing across the grasslands, under the eternal blue sky…”
  • “My Beautiful Darkhan” by Altan Urag: “My Darkhan, my beautiful, under the wide Mongolian sky…”
  • “Mongolian Melody” by AnDa Union: The melody of our land, echoing through the mountains…”
  • “Mongolian Blues” by Bukhchuluun Ganburged: “The blues of our land, the blues of the endless steppe…”
  • “Song of the Steppes” by Sarband: “Song of the steppe, song of our ancestors, echoing in the wind…”
  • “Song of Praise” by Nature Sound Orchestra: Oh land of blue sky, oh land of our ancestors, we sing your praise…”

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