Voices of Tuva


POSTED: Monday, January 26, 2009

It's a sound like no other—to Western ears, like a sound from another world.

But for world-music enthusiasts, those wonderful, contrasting drones of high-pitched, resonant whistling and guttural-sounding undertones are the trademark of Tuvan throat singing.





        Performances by the Daughters of Tuva

» Thursday: 7 p.m., Kahilu Theatre, Kamuela. Free. Call 885-6868 or visit www.kahilutheatre.org.


» Friday: noon, lecture-demonstration, Hawaii State Library. Free. Call 586-3520.


» Saturday: 7:30 p.m., Leeward Community College Theatre. Tickets are $12 to $22 advance, $17 to $27 at door. Call 455-0385 or visit lcctheatre.hawaii.edu/tyvakyzy.html.





        » www.tyvakyzy.com

» scs-intl.com/trader (The Tuva Trader)



The music of the Mongolian nomadic shepherds of the remote and autonomous Russian republic of Tuva reverberates throughout the country's breathtaking landscapes and across its borders. It's probably the country's most well-known cultural export.

The music is commonly performed by male herders, and most of the folk-singing groups that have traveled abroad have been male. The most well known, Huun-Huur-Tu, which incorporates Western musical concepts into its repertoire, performed in Hawaii last February.

But now here come the Daughters of Tuva—the English translation for the group's Turkic name of Tyva Kyzy (pronounced tih-VAH kuh-ZIH). Together for about a decade, the group, led by musical director Choduraa Tumat, is the only all-female throat-singing ensemble that tours the world.

When a Tuvan hunter or shepherd sings, his voice is meant to mimic the sounds of nature around him, whether his harmonic whistlings are like bird songs or the lower drones emanating from his throat emulate the wind whirling about the mountainous terrain.

But the women of Tyva Kyzy could include in their repertoire only music they could truly understand: gently sung lullabies.

A medley from their debut album, for example, comprises songs to calm a mother's youngest son, and the group's harmonies give it an especially lovely and poignant feel.

“;The songs that we perform have meaning to the women back home,”; Tumat said in a telephone interview. “;They are mostly traditional songs about our homeland, about love and the life of a Tuvan woman.”;




Tyva Kyzy: “;Setkilimden Sergek Yr-dyr”;

        » Listen: ”;Symyrazhyp orgai-la siler”;

» Visit the web site

Traditionally, Tuvan women were forbidden to perform höömei—the Turkic description for throat singing—due to the belief that it could harm the vitality of male relatives and lead to difficulties during childbirth.

It wasn't until the early 1990s that venerated singer and teacher Hunashtarr-ool Oorzhakj started promoting the education of girls and young women in throat-singing. He proposed that a group called Tyva Kyzy—the Daughters of Tuva—be assembled to further his startup work.

“;The group started in 1998,”; said tour manager Devan Miller, “;when Choduraa and a couple of other women organized and started the group, and then promoted themselves throughout Tuva.”;

Miller and his business partner, Stefan Kamola, helped fund and organize the group's first U.S. tour—12 concerts in 2005. Since then, Tyva Kyzy has traveled widely, even gathering a big following in Japan, Miller said.

He hopes that the group's newest album, “;Igil Unu—Iyem Unu (The Igil Voice—My Mother's Voice),”; will be out by the time the group performs in Hawaii this week.

The igil in question is a two-stringed lap fiddle. Other traditional instruments Tyva Kyzy will be playing include the doshpuluur (three-stringed fretless banjo), the byzaanchy (four-stringed lap fiddle with intertwined bow), the chadagan (hammer dulcimer), the dungur (frame drum), and homus and cha-homus (jew's-harps, the latter made from a hunting bow and arrow).

“;For us, first, it's important to have our traditional music introduced to other cultures in other parts of the world,”; Tumat said. “;Traveling far away from our home is difficult for us sometimes, but we feel we should do this. For such a small country as ours, I think we have an interesting music culture to share with others.”;