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Throat singing nomads tour Alaska

Quartet to perform in Juneau on Friday

Posted: Thursday, November 14, 2002


Like a nomadic sheep herder wandering the countryside, the throat-singing quartet Huun-Huur-Tu is traveling throughout the United States on a tour that ends in Alaska, including a show Friday, Nov. 15, in Juneau.

Originating out of Tuva, a Central Asian region nestled between Mongolia and Siberia, the heritage of "xoomei," or throat singing, is one of Asia's oldest oral traditions, where a single vocalist produces two distinct notes.


The technique of throat singing has been passed down through generations of sheep and reindeer herders in a region that was conquered by Genghis Khan in the early 13th century.

The pairing of pitches used in throat singing produces an exotic variety of tones - a single low humming sound combined with a high-pitched melody.

The music represents the sounds of nature heard in the Tuvan landscape: grasslands, mountains, and the elements of water, wind and light.

"I think that their music is closely connected with nature, but it is not a direct imitation of nature," said Sasha Cheparukhin, the group's manager. "It is a connection between nature and life."

The literal translation of Huun-Huur-Tu means "sun propeller," or the vertical separation of light rays that occurs at sunrise and sunset.

"For the members of Huun-Huur-Tu, the refraction of light that produces these rays seems analogous to the refraction of sound that produces articulated harmonics in Tuvan throat singing," the group's Web site reads.

The music is closely tied to Buddhist chant and Shamanic rituals, but Cheparukhin said Tuvan throat singing is not typically considered religious music.

While sticking to their Tuvan roots of throat singing, which is traditionally performed by a single vocalist, the members of Huun-Huur-Tu have branched out in their performances using banjo-like string instruments, Shamanic and Buddhist drum, and mouth harp.

After visiting the United States in 1993, the group experimented further, collaborating with Western artists such as Frank Zappa, Ry Cooder, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and the Kronos Quartet. But Cheparukhin said the group largely has stayed within the realm of traditional Tuvan throat singing.

Drawing their style from nomadic tribes throughout Tuva, Cheparukhin said, the group has arranged the songs for concert presentation.

Although some schools teaching the art of throat singing exist in Tuva, Cheparukhin said, the overwhelming majority of throat singers learn the technique from family members.

"They learn it from their mothers and fathers," Cheparukhin said. "This type of singing they consider a very natural way of expressing your feelings."

Ending their 13th tour of the United States in Alaska, the group already has visited New York, Vermont, San Francisco, Oregon and Washington.

Cheparukhin said the United States was the first country to welcome the cultural importance of Tuvan music.

"Despite the gap of economic development and power that exists between the two countries, Huun-Huur-Tu brings something that is necessary for American society," Cheparukhin said. "Huun-Huur-Tu feels that culturally they are messengers to deliver something of our country."

Sybil Davis, executive director for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, said it is important to bring culturally diverse performers to Juneau because of Southeast Alaska's own rich cultural heritage.

"We are culturally diverse - with Alaska Natives, Filipino, Hispanic, Korean, Black and Asian populations," Davis said in a prepared statement.

"(Huun-Huur-Tu) relates to our community in that it is a respectful celebration of an oral tradition, an indigenous culture."

Huun-Huur-Tu will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Centennial Hall. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books and Rainy Day Books and run $18 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. A free preview is at noon Friday at the State Office Building. Call 586-ARTS for more information.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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