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8 October 2010

The Ancestors are Calling Collect

There are few musical cultures left on the planet that take us to a deeply primal place and even some of those cultures, mainly hailing from indigenous people have been swallowed up by electronic music or turned into popular culture in the form of world music. But for any of you who have listened to an a cappella Saami yoik, a traditional Navajo chant, Aboriginal didgeridoo, Tibetan nomadic music, or Tuvan throat-singing have experienced that deep primal place. Your root chakra opens.
Shamanism and music were wedded to each other hundreds of thousands of years ago. The first flutes, drums, harps, etc were put to shamanic use, as were many of the early singing traditions. These shamans knew about the power and intent of sound and put it to good use either healing others in some way or put it to bad use through sorcery to trip up an adversary. But even without any prior knowledge of shamanism or ancient musical practices, a music listener can experience their rootedness to the natural world listening to primal music. This certainly proves true with the Tuvan quartet Huun Huur Tu’s latest recording, Ancestors Call.
The CD liner notes speak of this natural connection and for many listeners an experience of merging with the natural world, whether a rock, a stream, or the sky feels like a real possibility. Listening to Ancestors Call provides an adventure into the unknown, even if the listener is already familiar with Tuvan throat-singing and culture. Many of us aren’t that familiar with this Central Asian country, its nomadic people, or its music which only lends to further fascination. And the desire to delve further in the exploration of something truly foreign feels like a compelling need to some of us.
Daniel Levitan writes in his book, This is Your Brain on Music, that our musical tastes are formed by the time we reach 20 years of age. However, as a caveat, he mentions a separate group of humans who possess more adventurous taste in music and the musical journey becomes the equivalent of lifelong education, at least it is for me. I didn’t grow up with Tuvan throat-singing or anything closely resembling it and how does a person make the leap from Disney tunes to rock music to exotic world music or the music of indigenous people? The word "indigenous" didn’t even enter my vocabulary until I was 28 years old when a downstairs neighbor introduced me to a collection of indigenous chants released by Ellipses Art. And yes, Tuvan throat-singers appeared in the collection of field recordings. However, at that time, I wasn’t ready to listen. Now I am.
Ancestors Call feels more like a universal spiritual experience than a recording. Yes, the CD contains music, but sounds so exotic that it feels more like entering a sacred space and as the title implies, connecting with ancestors, but not just of humans, of every creature. The only other time I felt this deeply connected to nature through music was when I first discovered Saami yoiks. And by the way, Saami yoikers also practice throat-singing.
While I don’t want to give the wrong impression, throat-singing appears on this recording, but along with singing and traditional instruments. The singing at times sounds similar to the Tibetan nomads or traditional Chinese folksongs. I imagine that the legendary Silk Road and itinerant musicians have something to do with the Chinese modes and scales, even vocal inflections appearing in the Tuvan music. But then who really knows about who taught who how to sing?  Love songs appear alongside songs of defiance. Horses and women are honored in these songs, as well as, the ancestors in the haunting closing track.
I recommend this recording for anyone fascinated with folk cultures from around the world, but also shamanic practices that employ music/sound. The most amazing aspect of discovering a new type of vocalization (this one is ancient), is that it allows us to move away from the European well-tempered scale and the Bel Canto singing style that most of us have come to accept as normal. The world offers so much more to those who enjoy quests. Take this one, it's well worth it.

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