Saturday, November 14, 2015

Carpe Diem #858 Throat Songs of the Steppes

Dear Haijin, singers and travellers

Tuvan throat singing in the Altai mountains is a variant of overtone singing practiced in Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Republic of Tuva and Siberia  (in Mongolian, ‘throat harmony’). It is inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.

In Mongolian throat singing, the performer produces a fundamental pitch and — simultaneously — one or more pitches over that. The people of Tuva have a wide range of throat singing vocalisations, and were the pioneers of six pitch harmonics. The open landscape of Mongolia allows for the sounds to carry a great distance, and this form of singing is an integral part in the ancient pastoral animism still practiced today. In Tuva the mountains create a multifold of echoed sounds. Often, singers travel far into the countryside looking for the right river, or go up to the right level of the mountainside to create the proper environment for throat-singing. 

The animistic world view of this region identifies the spirituality of objects in nature, not just in their shape or location, but in their sound as well. Thus, mimicry of nature’s sounds is seen as the root of throat singing. 

There are several identifyable techniques in this shadowing of the sounds of nature. I have included a few:
  • Borbangnadyr (Борбаңнадыр) is a trill reminiscent of birds and traveling brooks, made by a light rapid quivering of the lips.
  • Ezenggileer (Эзеңгилээр) is a pulsating style, attempting to mimic the rhythms of horseback riding. It is named after the Tuvan word for stirrup, ezengi.
  • Chylandyk (Чыландык) is an unusual sound of low undertones mixed with the high Sygyt whistle. It has also been described as the “chirping of crickets.” 
  • Dumchuktaar (Думчуктаар) could be best described as “throat humming. ” The singer creates a sound similar to sygyt using only the nasal passage. The word means to sing through the nose (dumchuk).
Tyva kyzy, a female throat-singing group from Tuva, in the Altai.

A Tuvan throat singer who has reached international fame is Sainkho Namtchylak (born 1957), from a village in the Altai mountains of Tuva. An experimental singer, she has made CDs of avant-jazz and folk music as well Tuvan throat songs - sometimes within the same melody. Personally, I am entranced. Namtchylak says that music and spirituality are related by the desire or tension that calls people to reawaken. A book of her poetry, Karmakand has also been publihed.

For the purposes of today's prompt, imagine how your haiku would sound if read, or chanted aloud. A haiku read slowly so that it is savoured. Accordingly, how about writing a haiku that needs to be read aloud, through the rhythm or sounds of the words. Then link it up below on Carpe Diem. Use the meadows and chants heard in throat-singing to inspire you, elements, perhaps, of shaman haiku techniques to put yourself in the 'mood' to write your haiku, as explained in the previous shaman haiku post. Following is my effort.

voice to the winds
next to where the river flows
her bare back smooth

And one more short one by Sainkho Namtchylak - you'll understand why. When you click on the video click on the YOUTUBE logo on the bottom right and the video will play at source.

This episode is open for submissions at 7.00 pm CET


  1. Thank you for sharing this valuable information of Throat Songs of the Steppes. The voice is something we can carry with us anywhere we go...the two voices you gave as un avant goû! both stir different feelings. A great prompt to stir our muse and the spirit within.

  2. Dear Hamish,
    Such a pity that your beautifully worked out posts are shown at a time when we are all overcome with the happenings in France. I for one, would love to be allowed to consider them fully at a later date, when I can give them the attention they deserve.

  3. I felt inspired by your third video choice - unlike Joanna I feel that this is a perfect moment to address self healing. Bastet

  4. Thank you for this incredible music!