Story last updated at 1:14 p.m. Thursday, November 14, 2002

Tuvan throat singers bring unusual vocals to Homer
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Hailing from a similarly cold, mountainous region half a world away, the Huun-Huur-Tu singers of Tuva use extraordinary vocals to mimic nature and give voice to the land they call home.

Huun-Huur-Tu, Tuvan throat singers

  • Where: Mariner Theatre

  • When: Monday, 7 p.m.

  • Tickets: $20 general admission, $18 for KBBI & Bunnell Street Gallery members

  • More Info: 235-2662,

    In recent years, the singers have stepped out of their traditional lives in the rural land of Tuva, north of Mongolia, and into the international spotlight. Their vocal style, known as throat singing to the Western world, manipulates the vocal chords to produce two sounds at once. One sound, a low gravely note, has been compared to that of a bagpipe, while the second sound is higher and flute-like. With practice, throat singers learn to harmonize their vocals, producing an awe-inspiring melody.

    While throat singing dates far back into Tuvan culture, the musicians considered the extraordinary musical format as basic as we might consider a washboard band. But when Tuva piqued the interest of a couple of Americans, resulting in a book and documentary on the region, throat singing entered the North American radar. In 1990, a CD filled with field recordings of throat singing gathered by Ted Levin was released, further promoting the unique sound.

    "I first found out about the Tuvans when the physicist Richard Feynman sent us a tape from an old record he had from Russia (with a note) that said, 'Thought you guys might be interested in this.' When I heard it, I was blown away. I decided then and there that I had to meet the people who were making those sounds," said Levin, according to a press release.

    In 1992, four Tuvan singers founded Kungurtuk, which later became Huun-Huur-Tu. Two of the original founders, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg and Sayan Bapa are still with the group, while Anatoli Kuular and Alexei Saryglar have joined since the group's inception.

    The singers now tour extensively in the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia, mixing their dedication to the traditional sounds of their homeland with some innovation.

    Just listening to the vocalization of the singers is amazing enough, but reviewers have found the connection between the Tuvans' music and their natural surroundings intriguing. Tuvan legend and beliefs see the music as a way of tapping into the power of nature, with all natural surroundings, from babbling brooks to mountains, having a soul-like essence. The song pays tribute to those souls, said an article in Scientific American.

    "The Tuvans will ride into your brain and leave hoofprints up and down your spine," said a San Francisco Bay Guardian reviewer, while a writer for the Gazette in Montreal wrote, "The sound is peculiar, haunting, hypnotic. It is guttural, sometimes piercing sounds of vocal chords burrowing into the flesh of Mother Nature. It is wind and rushing water and crumbling earth."

    Carey James can be reached at