Khoomei – Throat Singing from Mongolia

From Northern Asia, comes the ancient throat singing tradition called Khoomei.

The Republic of Tuva is south of Siberia, North of Mongolia. There are many styles of Throat singing and Khoomei is one of them. Others are Khorekteer, sygyt, kargyraa etc. Tuvan Republic has indigenous people belonging to a separate, exotic culture, although Tuva was occupied by white Russia before it became a republic in 1944. Along with a unique musical style, Tuvan people have their unique oral traditions of anecdotes, stories, tongue twisters which they are known for. Kyzyl is the capital of Tuva.

Throat singing is is a very unique experience for a listener. For one, the overtones produced by the singers are unbelievable and it becomes very hard to realize that the coarse, rough bottom notes and the soft, whistle like top notes are a simultaneous production! There are fewer women than men in throat singing. It is said that if women sang this style, it could harm their male relatives and also cause problems in childbirth; although there are some famous female throat singers who we will talk about this week.

Human mimicry of nature’s sounds seems to be the basis of throat singing. It is said that shepherds and nomads developed this form of singing with their daily work. Many songs sung in this style are pentatonic, and hence bring out the hilly, nomadic landscape rich with the contents of a simple life which is close to nature.

Traditionally, the voices are accompanied by instruments such as Igil, which is a bowed two-stringed instrument, Doshpuluur, which is plucked and fretless and others. The Chanzy is most used to accompany throat singing, and its sound is much louder than the Doshpuluur, although their constructs are similar. There are several very interesting instruments in Tuvan culture – Jaw Harps, zithers, and others.

Here is a small little glimpse into throat singing: Make sure you listen to the windy whistle-ey flute-like overtones. It is pure voice. And it is quite AMAZING!

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Okinawan Music from South Japan

From Portugal, we fly off to Southern Islands of Okinawa, Japan.

Okinawa is the where the sun is, where the beaches are, and where the people are distinct from everywhere else. They are known for their warmth and sweetness. Okinawa islands have their own special dialect which is quite different from other parts of Japan. The group of islands that lie southmost is called Ryukyu. Folk music of the Ainu tribes of Japan and of Okinawa clearly go a long way into history.

A lot of traditional Japanese music is pentatonic. The notes used are either: Do Re Mi So La. In Okinawa and Ryukyuan Music, an altered scale of Do Mi Fa So Ti; or a hexatonic scale of Do Re Mi Fa So Ti (Eliminating La) is often used. Okinawa music is very sentimental in nature, but is also very optimistic. Often, old memories are recounted and talked about. Towns where parents are, nature and natural beauty is described with great fondness.

The vocalisation is very distinct. Vocal breaks are used to highly emphasize and underline the happenings in the text. The small intricate vocalisation is done with them help of these breaks. An instrument by the name of Sanshin is used as an accompanying instrument to most Okinawa songs. The Sanshin is a kind of a predecessor to the Shamisen, which is more widely known. The Sanshin has 3 strings and the sounding box is covered with snake skin. It is a blind instrument and does not have frets. It is played with a plectrum attached to the forefinger, and its sound is quite twangy and characteristic.

Since Japan has very clear seasonal variations, these are often visible through the song descriptions. Most songs talk about winter, summer, autumn, spring in different contexts. A bright blue sea, pink flowers of sakura, happiness.