Sunday, June 19, 2011

Singing across the Steppes

(Click picture to enlarge)

"...Mongols have epics, 'long songs', 'short songs' and many in between; songs for every occasion, songs in praise of landscapes, battles, heroes and horses - especially horses. They have pipes, drums, jaw's harps and horse-head fiddles with as many sizes as western orchestral ones.  Women may sing in powerful strident voices crammed with trills and turns, similar to Bulgarian and Greek styles familiar to fans of 'world music'.

Men often adopt the same technique, but if they come from western Mongolia or the reindeer-herding areas to the north they also specialize in overtone singing, the astonishing two-or even three-tone technique that produces flute-like nasal notes floating like birdsong above a deep chesty drone. For epics, the men adopt a low-pitched guttural voice. And style and content alike vary from area to area.

Some claim that song reflects landscape, pointing to west Mongolian tunes as contoured as their mountains, and to steppe melodies that flow like undulating grassland. And no performance should be undertaken lightly. Performance is-and surely always was-attended with ritual and formality, because music and song have powerful effects. Some songs exorcise demons; others invoke the spirits of forest and mountain and weather (it is bad form to whistle in a tent, because whistling calls up a wind-spirit, and there are too many spirits in tents already)."

Page 32. 'Genghis Khan - Life, Death and Resurrection' , by John Man

If you want to hear throat singing, from the neighbouring country of Tuva -

Tuvan Throat Singing  -

Alash Ensemble, Throat Singers from Tuva (I bought this CD online) -

Photo, from Google Images, from the beautiful movie, Mongolian Pingpong

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