Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stepping it Up: Yat-Kha and "Ahoi"



Until about five years ago I never knew that Tuva existed, which is pretty astounding for a map aficionado. But Tuva lies in that area in the Central Asian steppes that, when I was studying maps in grade and high school, was pretty much all Soviet Russia and Mongolia. There were a lot of areas with borders and names that ended with S.S.R. Since the fall of Soviet Union, the region has split into a checkerboard of countries, all regions that have proclaimed independence from Russia. However, Tuva still lies inside of Russian borders in southern Siberia as a federal republic or state of Russia.

When Neal Copperman and AMP concerts booked a touring group from Tuva named Chirgilchin in Albuquerque, my first reaction was "Where the f*** is Tuva?" My second reaction was "What the hell is throat singing?" I was in for an education. As for the throat singing, it turns out I'd heard it before but didn't know its name. Throat singing is the sometimes low guttural and sometimes high, nasally and whistling sound that you hear in some Asian and Eastern music. When I heard it on recordings, I always thought it was some strange instrument that I didn't recognize. Otherwise, I thought it was some kind of chanting thing that monks did. Chirgilchin helped educate me on throat singing. While throat singing is practiced among different cultures such as the Tibetans, the Inuit, and formerly the Ainu of Japan, in Tuva it developed out of the animism of Tuvan spiritual beliefs and at its root is a mimicry of nature sounds. There are many kinds of Tuvan throat singing which produce many different sounds, though I am not sophisticated enough in my hearing to know precisely when a certain type of throat singing is being employed. It sounds really cool, though.

You'll hear some throat singing in this selection by Yat-Kha at around the 1:20 mark in the song. You'll also hear some traditional instrumentation in the yat-kha, the instrument that gave the band its name and which is a traditional Tuvan zither. Yat-Kha is a Tuvan band founded in Moscow in 1991. Originally a collaborative project between Albert Kuvezin and Ivan Sokolovsky, it sought to explore traditional Tuvan folk songs with elements of post-modern rhythms and electronics. After three albums, Sokolovsky parted with the band in 1994 and Yat-Kha has de-emphasized the electronics in favor of the folk tradition and rock. The band has released twelve albums. This song, Ahoi, is a bonus track included on their 2010 release Ways of the Nomad: The Best of Yat-Kha, and references throat singing (xoomejj) and a specific type of throat singing (kargyraa) that Kuvezin is using in the song.