The ancient, multitone singing technique from Tuva (which lies just north
of Mongolia) is relocated to the heartland of America on Back Tuva Future,
a CD recorded by Nashville honchos Jim Ed Norman, David Hoffner, and Ralph
Leighton. With guest appearances from Willie Nelson, Randy Scruggs, and
Bill Miller, these 10 tracks take on the shape of a multicultural hoedown
in more ways than one. Curiously, the country ethos and Tuvan tradition
have much in common--herding livestock, horses, and (of course) pretty
women--so the subject matter is harmonious. The combination of Ondar's
guttural, polyphonic throat singing and country music is at first distracting
but eventually gets carried along by the enthusiasm of the participants.
There are also a couple of hip-hop/rap tracks and occasional New Age reference
points, so you can assume that this genre bender is aimed at the adventurous
listener rather than the anthropologic purist.
Tuva is a remote area smack in the center of Asia, nestled in the mountains
between Siberia and Mongolia. Traditional Tuvan throat-singing is an amazing
thing--the singer produces two notes AT THE SAME TIME, a low drone and
a higher melody. This Smithsonian/Folkways CD was probably the first Tuvan
CD available in the US; it was around when CD co-producer Ted Levin first
brought three Tuvan throat-singers on an American tour. Unfortunately,
the CD is primarily of ethnomusicological interest. There are brief examples
of the various styles of khoomei (the general Tuvan name for throat-singing),
but there are few tracks that can really be considered songs, and all
but a few of the vocal tracks are a cappella. Only three of the 33 tracks
on the CD are more than two minutes long. There is also plenty of jaw
harp, animal imitations, a solo for hunting horn, and herders' calls to
their flocks. If you're interested in hearing Tuvan MUSIC, you're better
off with "Tuva: Voices from the Land of the Eagles", Ellipsis
Arts' CD/book "Deep in the Heart of Tuva", or any CD by Huun-Huur-Tu.
Tuva, Among The Spirits: Sound, Music And Nature In Sakha And Tuva
Thanks to the astonishing clarity of modern recording techniques, this
remarkable CD documents the oldest form of music making, which producer-recorders
Ted Levin and Joel Gordon refer to as "sound mimesis," or the
art of imitating natural sounds through music, as practiced in Tuva. With
a variety of musicians, including members of Huun-Huur-Tu and other regular
folk musicians and farmers, these 19 tracks were recorded outdoors on
location (with the exception of two recorded in a small living room).
Musicians and singers interact with the sounds of wild and domestic animals
and environmental sounds like streams, the wind, and bird song. Throat
singing and xomuz echo the harmonics of a babbling brook, upturned igil
(fiddle) and doshpuluur (lute) replicate the effect of a wind harp with
the breeze caressing the strings, and horsemen chant in the saddle, picking
up the rhythm of galloping steeds. These and many other examples illustrate
a living animist tradition where the boundaries between sound and song
have no clear definition; indeed, the very term "music" as the
Western world interprets it has no equivalent, and Tuva, Among the Spirits
may well make you reassess the latent music in your own environment.
More than just a record, this is also the story of the journey of Paul
Pena, a fine blind American bluesman who learned Tuvan throat singing
well enough to win a contest in Tuva. His solo tracks, especially his
take on Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues," are the real blues
deal, but this record truly takes off when Pena and Ondar duet. The blues
and the eerie, often-guttural sounds of throat singing make a natural
match, one that simply bewitches with the clear overtones and melodies,
while the guitar and Tuvan banjo offer simple, but very plaintive, accompaniment.
About the only misstep is the inclusion of the Cape Verdean "Tras
d'Orizao," which sticks out like a sore thumb from everything else.
Get that out of your system, and the rest is pure magic.