Singing with the larynx

These days, the requisite for a rock band is learning four power chords and having long hair. Anyone who wants to get into the field of Tuvan throat singing, though, would need some bizzare wonder-twin power to make themselves a human didgeridoo, or maybe some other musical instrument that’s hard to pronounce. Even the Mongolian-derived word for throat-singing, khöömeior khoomii, is a throat-full.

Following the centuries-old tradition of making unpronounceable music is Huun-Huur-Tu; a quartet of unique musicians from the steppes of the autonomous republic of Tuva, a federal subject of Russia. Still following this tradition, Huun-Huur-Tu’s music reflects the intricate harmony of nature and the emotional calling of their homeland.

“[Throat singing] represents our nation,” muses Sayan Bapa, a co-founder of the band. “Is colour speed, colour of our culture, and our nature.”

The music may be about nature, but the execution of it is more on the supernatural side. Throat singers can actually harmonize with themselves by using their throats in a particular way to create deep buzzing undertones and melodic overtones, often mimicing elements found in nature. Unlike many other forms of music, throat singing is not often formally taught, but instead passed on from one person to another.

“You just need your air, your spiritual powers, your soul,” says Bapa. “Just hear it and practice, practice.”

Bapa and the other members of Huun-Huur-Tu have been practicing since early childhood and retain a deep passion for the centuries-old music of their people. The name Huun-Huur-Tu means “sun-propeller” in their native language and the melodies springing from their throats have as much of a radiant and mesmerizing quality as the name would suggest.

“Is just beautiful name about nature,” Bapa explains. “Is voice spectrum of sound and light. Is some gifts for people, another time of looking into earth and nature. Also try to be give some old ancient sound of voices to new civilization. Is very interesting.”

While their silk costumes and loose grasp on english might scare off some people, these guys really know their throat singing, evidenced by the critical success of their 2004 release. Huun-Huur-Tu’s four members have been touring since 1993 and have become proud representatives of their culture, even being featured in the Oscar-nominated 1999 film Genghis Blues. They each play a number of instruments including acoustic guitar, the doshpuluur (a long necked Tuvan lute) and the igil (a two-stringed Tuvan lute played like a violin).

While there are many Tuvan female throat singers now, Huun-Huur-Tu’s all male sexual composition unintentionally refers to the ancient Tuvan lore claiming a woman performing the art of throat singing will become infertile. Bapa reinforces the out-datedness of this belief.

“Long time ago was taboo-ey,” says Bapa. “Now it’s many girls are singing.”

While Huun-Huur-Tu has recently shuffled around some members, they retain their male composition. The quartet is still discovering the dynamics of the new combination, but instead of being daunted by the task, Bapa has a very excited outlook for the future of his new throat singers.

“New members, old members, so free, we are absolutely free, we understand each other,” Bapa says. “We need time to develop our music. In future there will be some beautiful music from our country.”

Mere recordings can’t show the technical virtuosity of this quartet, so the live experience is a necessary component. Plans for Huun-Huur-Tu to release a new CD remain laryn hazily set sometime next summer, so the opportunity to experience the etherial, spiritual music immediately is not to be passed up.

Curious about Tuvan throat singing? Visit Huun-Huur-Tu plays the Knox United Church Fri., Oct. 20 at 8 p.m.. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

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