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17 September 2010

In his heart, every Tuvan is a shaman

Apelsin.ru. Тranslated by Heda Jindrak

In his heart, every Tuvan is a shaman During the “KAMWA-2010”  ethno-futuristic music festival, the Tuvan group Huun-Huur-Tu gave a performance which was astonishing with its authentic energetics. Our correspondents met with the members of the group – Radik Tyulyush and Aleksei Saryglar, and discussed ethnic music, national character, and shamanism.

Your group has become one of the most famous Russian groups in the West.  How would you explain the reason for your success?

- Radik Tyulyush: If you consider the West, the musical tendencies there have long followed artificial directions. The instruments have become modernized. They left their roots. Then they became oversaturated, and the audiences started wanting to go back to nature. People want to understand their roots, and people showed up who became interested in places where civilization did not reach; the search for the forgotten started.  These seekers found it interesting to hear Tuvan melodies, our instruments, our language. They were surprised by our throat singing. For Western musicians, this was an untried experience.

-  It has been about 20-25 years, since the first Tuvan  throat singers started showing up in the West. Now people started to study throat singing. Western groups appeared that try to imitate and adopt traditional vocal techniques of the Chinese, the Mongols…

-  As far as we know, you do not use modernized forms of Tuvan instruments. Many of the festival guests probably have seen such unique instruments for the first time. Do you make them yourselves or do you order them?

-  R.T.: It is no secret that during the Soviet times, there were attempts to destroy our system of Tuvan music, singing. They tried to make the instruments sound like violins and cellos. Many people learned to play on such instruments. I learned to read music through such instruments. Then I got back to the roots, to such instruments as igil, doshpuluur, khomus. When the Soviet Union tried to prohibit them I thought it was an expression of retardation.  Alexei will tell you himself about the instruments, because he makes them.

-  Alexei Saryglar: Tuvans make their folk instruments from larch wood, leather and horse tail hair. We try to leave thing as they are. The traditions of musical instrument making are handed down through generations, there are no schools for this craft. Whoever knows how to throat-sing, most likely, received the art from his ancestors. We try very hard to stick to traditions. But we can’t get away from using iron in the making of concert instruments. The bowed and plucked instruments should have wooden pins, but for good concert tone, we have to use iron ones.

-  And why are the wooden pins better?

-  A.S.: The wooden ones give a unique timbre.

-  How did you get together, find one another?

-  A.S.: Love for the art, singing, and our culture brought us together.

-  When and how did you develop interest in music?

-  R.T.: Since I was a child. The Tuvans are a singing nation. They love to sing and to play musical instruments. Herdsmen, drivers, simple workers – everybody has some family member who sings. Even if only for himself.

I have traveled in Tuva a lot, but I have never seen any singing Tuvans.

-  R.T.: they are simply shy. Anyway, practically every Tuvan family has at least one member who sings or plays a musical instrument, or knows at least a little bit of throat-singing techniques.

What were your first instruments like, through which you learned about music?

-  R.T.: Two-string igil.  It is a two-string bowed instrument. As a child, I only sang, I started playing as a teenager.

-  And how did kai originate (tradition of throat-singing-correspondent’s note)?

-  R.T.: It is an ancient art.  It is not described anywhere, and few remember how it started. If you look at it from a wide perspective, throat singing and instruments are quite similar in the processes of sound production.

-  The byzaanchi, shoor, and khomus also produce two sounds at the same time. The sounds of the instruments are also similar to the sounds produced by animals. They attempt to reproduce the sounds of the taiga, forests, sound of hoof beats.  Throat-singing the two sounds, is an attempt to reproduce the multitude of the sounds of the world. Scientists believe that throat-singing originated in Tuva, then spread to the Altai, Buryatia, Mongolia, because the most throat-singers are concentrated in Tuva, and they compose music in many ways.

You say that the discovery of throat-singing and music played on your folk instruments became a new experience for Americans, and that Western musicians started learning throat-singing from Tuvans.  Tell me, during your tours there, did you also learn something? Did your vision of musical art change?

-  R.T.: Americans are law-abiding citizens, good and sincere. They come to the concerts, and if they like the music, they express their feelings like children. And on the musical level, one can always learn some new approaches during improvisation.

-  And what did you adopt from Western music? Why, striving for tradition, do you use electronic means for example, a synthesizer?

-  A.S.: As to myself, for example, I am against electronic music. In joint projects, I behave well, if it is a guitar, bass-guitar, or piano-type instruments. But if electronics are used - for example, when an electronic soundtrack is played, close to the original, but without the voice... then, in my opinion, there is antagonism between the real instruments and electronics.

You mean that music should not be made by a computer?

-  A.S.: Yes. Music has to pass through a human being.

-  R.T.: We play and other people become interested in it. When somebody proposes to play our songs with other instruments, we do it. The results are interesting. But it is not interesting for us to work with electronic sound-tracks. Live playing is interesting.

-  What qualities of character are usual in Tuvans?

-  R.T.: Any nation has its idiosyncrasies. Tuvans are shy, they hide their emotions, but inside they feel everything very strongly. They love children. They are always happy to see guests.  When you visit any house, they will definitely serve you tea.

-  Do you believe in luck, or do you depend totally on your own efforts?

-  A.S.: Everybody believes in luck.

-  Your art is closely associated with nature. Is nature your main source of inspiration?

A.S.: The basis of our art is in striving for correct comprehension of nature and music as a creative element. We strive for high quality, putting ourselves into the art.

Is Tuva taking a stand as a Buddhist country?

R.T.: The Buddhist religion is loyal. Tuvans are close to the Tibetan variant of Buddhism, but in his heart, every Tuvan is a shaman. Shamanism is the deepest religion for Tuvans, Buddhism is in the second place.  A Tuvan stands between two religions.  Buddhism has its positive aspects, and shamanism has others.

-  Are there some melodies which are associated with shamanistic or spiritual practices?

R.T.: Just like shamans, we use the instrument khomus. But shamans did not use throat singing. Possibly in ancient times they may have.

I always find it interesting to ask musicians how much of themselves they put into their music. How do you see this type of creative process: does the music come from outside, and you simply help it to become heard? Or is there a lot that is personal, like your own feelings, in your music?

-  A.S.: There should be something personal. Every musician can see the same melody in his own way and perform it his own way, expressing his world, his attitude to music. But if you put too much of yourself into it, that is not correct either, you have to limit yourself.

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