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!

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.

Fado Poetry and Saudade

Fado poetry came before Fado singing, one could say that it brought about fado singing, evokes rich landscapes of the city life of old Portugal; and is designed to be expressive. Fado music is an amazing blend between the poetry and the communicative abilities of the voice, with strong harmonic accompaniment, leading to a rich mixture of word and melody. Fado poetry is said to be expressed by the word saudade which refers to a kind of longing in Portugese.

Amor ciume                Love, Jealousy

Cinzas e lume             Ashes and Fire

Dor e pecado              Sorrow and Sin

Tudo isto existe          All of this exists

Tudo isto e triste         All of this is sad

Tudo isto e fado.         All of this is fado.

– Amalia Rodrigues

Fado Poetry often refers to itself in that, the poet often talks about Fado music itself – about what it is and what it’s not. Fado understands the spirit it wants to be in. The poetry is not about expressing sadness so much as stating it. It represents a kind of experiential existentialism, and articulates poetic suffering.

Saudade, guitarra, love / longing, cities, seafarers, destiny, street cries.


Coração Independente                 Independent Heart

Coração que não commando      Heart that I don’t command

Vive perdido entre e gente           Living lost among the people

Teimosamente sangrado             Stubbornly Bleeding

Coração Independente                 Independent Heart


Ah quanta melancholia!               Oh what melancholy!

Quanta quanta solidão!                So much, so much solitude!

Aquela alma que variza,               That soul, that emptiness,

Que sinto intúil e fria                    That i feel useless and cold

Dentro du meu coração!               Within my heart!

– Amalia Rodrigues


Saudade might not be a translatable word, but is definitely understandable. It is not overstated; it is modest, but underlines everything it sees. It isn’t erupting out – the grief isn’t exploding. It is subtle.

Confesso então que                        I confess I cried

Que julguei por tais                      thinking because of these

Que o fado tinha morrido            Fado itself had died

-Alberto Rodrigues

The atmosphere of Fado poetry is changing with time. The cityscape is changing. The language of modern Fado poetry seems like smoke from early Fado poetry. When the society changes, art has to belong to a time period to keep being consistent. It has to make an effort to hold on to, and stay with antiquity. But in the words of Luís Moita:

Once someone said

That fado put to sleep

Those who heard its moaning

That fado takes away our energies

That it takes away our happiness

That it is a song of the defeated

It is a heresy, it is a sin

To say such things about fado

To make such a statement

If fado is sad, when it is sung

It only brings to tears

Those who have a heart.

Fadistas and Fado Artists

Maria Severa, who lived in Lisbon in early 19th century was the first Fadista in Portugal to be acclaimed as a Fado performer. She is sometimes accredited with not just the popularity but also the origin of Fado music. She was a prostitute that sang fado and also played the Portugese Guitar. Severa has been uplifted to mythical proportions, and there are plays, musicals written about her life; including the first sound movie in Portugal in 1931. Severa died when she was only 26, and gave spirit to this new form of music in Portugal. To this day, a black shawl worn by a Fadista is a traditional feature of Fado Music.

Like many many kinds of music, Fado also started among the poor people in the cities. Sung by prostitutes, heard in taverns, late into the night on dimly lit streets. Maria Severa made fado popular among the rich, because of her romance with the aristocrat Count Vimioso.

This is from the Shaw Festival’s musical about Severa’s life.

It is not atypical for a man to sing Fado, but it is primarily a woman’s voice that really makes Fado happen. Trained female vocalists and the guitarra portugese and the black shawl are the ingredients of a traditional fado performance.

Another prominent figure in 20th century Fado is Amalia Rodrigues. Amalia, a performer all her life, is another towering figure of Fado. Amalia was called the Queen of Fado and had a 50 year long career in performance. Amalia not only gave her life to Fado, but was also accredited with taking Fado to the world. She enjoyed an acting career as well as a singing one.

Many like Mariza and Misia walk the fine bridge between making fado more contemporary and sticking to its traditional format. While Mariza has done a lot of work in taking Fado to the world, and making it popular throughout the world.

Maria da Fé, Hermínia Silva, Argentina Santos and Carlos do Carmo are some other prominent names in Fado.

Fado, like other folk forms is sung over the mic, and the vocalisation doesn’t reach up to the high ranges of the female voice most often. Stress is most often given to the expression of the beautiful poetry that evokes the duality of loneliness, and the landscapes of the cities this music came from.

Isn’t it true that as the cities of the world become homogenous, the music that was born in the same city, but 200 years back, that brings to us a strange nostalgia about our roots.

Fado Music from Portugal

First Showcase:

Fado Music from Portugal!

Brazilian and North African influences have shaped the Portugese expressive form of vocal and guitar music called Fado. Fado music, like many other folk forms originated among the urban poor in early 19th century.

Usually, Fado is sung with a 12-string guitar accompaniment. This 12 string guitar – called guitara portugese is very characteristic of this musical form. It is a derivative of the lute. The 12 string guitar migrated to Portugal through Africa and in the process several things were altered in its construction. The modern 12 string portugese guitar has a very vibrant, expressive sound, and Fado has a distinct harmonic language.

The vocalists  talk about a painful mourning – saudade – which is a portugese word that is hard to translate in any other language; and has a meaning similar to lament or sadness that is impossible to get over. Amália Rodrigues was one of the pioneering Fadistas of the 19th century. Sometimes Fado music also has bass or violin accompaniment.

Fado Painting

Fado music comes from Lisbon and Coimbra, which are two different parts of Portugal. Coimbra Fado is more stylized, but Lisbon Fado is more bluesy. Music takes the shape of the place it comes from. Lisbon music is more artsy and intellectual, while Coimbra fado is more folksy, but the poetic component is less interesting.

A popular new Fadista is Mariza, who has a brilliant, richly textured voice, with very expressive gestures.

is my favourite song by Mariza!

The ordinary things in life that there
Only the memories that hurt
Or make you smileThere are people who go down in history
the history of people
and others of whom neither name
remember hearing

They are emotions that give life
I bring to nostalgia
Those who had with you
and ended up losing

There are days that mark the soul
and people’s lives
and one where you leave me
I can not forget

The rain wet my face
Ice and tired
The streets that the city had
I’ve traveled

Ouch … my cry of missing girl
screamed the city
the fire of love in the rain
died a moment ago

The rain stopped and listened
my secret to the city
And behold, it hits the glass
Bringing nostalgia