One by one, four young, tiny women took their turn tonight in the SF
Asian Art Museum's jam-packed Samsung Hall. One by one - clad in ancient
and exotic outfits of leather and silk - each sang soprano, alto, tenor,
baritone, bass, a bit of didgeridoo... and then all at the same time.
It was throat singing at its stupefying best, voices like light seen
through a prism, like water squirting from a constricted hose. Indeed,
the mechanism of throat singing is similar to putting a finger at the
end of the hose - the trick is tightening the throat.
One of the singers, Sholbana Denzin, is both a musician and an economist,
so I asked her after the show how she would estimate the degree of
frugality to be achieved by using one Tuvan instead of five opera singers
in the world's financially stressed companies.
She sidestepped the issue (fraught with danger of union politics)
by asking if Americans know the proportion of Tuvan men practicing
throat-singing. This American guessed one in 10, but Devan Miller,
producer of the tour, had the right answer: one in four. Counting only
ethnic Tuvans - and not the large number of Russians left over from the
bad old days - that translates to 50,000.
And right there, you have one of two essential facts about Tyva Kyzy,
"Daughters of Tuva" - they are not men, but rather five (with instrumentalist
Ayana Mongush) of Tuva's 50 women throat singers, and only female
The other important - and statistically improbable - thing to know about
Tyva Kyzy is that they are the best. When you listen to European throat
singers, Mongolians or Tuvan men, after the initial amazement of hearing
numerous overtones and two simultaneous pitches, interest tends to lag.
These rare women throat singers go far beyond novelty and shock value.
They are outstanding musicians.
Choduraa Tumat, the group's leader and star, hits the high-C equivalent
sygyt - a powerful, whistle-like overtone - while maintaining kargyraa,
the low, rumbling, four-note fundamental, shifting seamlessly into
khoomei, the multiple-note, multiple-tone sound... and does so with
elegance and melodic beauty.
There are some Mongolian throat singers performing with as much lyricism
and humor as Tyva Kyzy, but I haven't heard any better. (Tuvans are
often confused with Mongolians, but in fact, they are Turkic, ethnically
different, and even a small Tuvan enclave - the tsengel Tuvans - within
Mongolia exists in strict separation.) Throat singing or "just singing,"
the Daughters of Tuva are special every way.
Next stop on their tour is Berkeley's Julia Morgan Center
(www.juliamorgan.org) tomorrow evening - a venue that may be too small
for the attraction. For additional information, see http://www.tyvakyzy.com/.
Some upcoming events in beautiful, cavernous Samsung Hall (the catalogue
room of the Main Library in its previous incarnation): Chuseok Gala on
Oct. 22; Filipino concert on Oct. 27; Rajeev Taranath's sarod recital
on Nov. 10. See http://www.asianart.org/.
[log in to unmask]