World Music —- Nomad SONAR: Cowboys and Tuvans

Dusty Trails and Silk Roads

Mongolian herder’s shantys are compared to our country and western genre. In fact, the most familiar thing about the Tuvan’s music are the “clip-clop” syncopations, animal noises and “doogie whistling” that accompany the Khoomei.  Similar “On the Trail” elements were woven into the Grand Canyon Suite and backed Gene Autry’s tracks.1.   Clearly, Steppe songs were not created for urban ears; their low tones may have been an early form of “Sound Navigation and Ranging” that evolved as way to communicate with the distant herd 2..  Just as we sing “road songs” about our T-Birds and Deuce Coups, horses are everywhere in their themes, tempos and carved into their instruments. This obscure ethnic music surfaced in the early 1990’s because of Dr. Richard Feynman, a philatelist, who knew about the country between China And Russia.  (Lecture 3.3)  Twenty years later, the geekscape’s “find” can be seen flashing across Appadurai’s MediaScape. (Lecture 1.3) Their webmaster photoshopped their faces on the, now storied, 1930’s triangular stamps.  But, there is no way throat singing is going more “mainstream” than yodeling.3.  Not only is pentatonic music weird to western ears, but, the production of overtones requires breath control and mouth contortioning.  The ability to sing/whistle multiple notes -at once- is difficult enough and forcing the voice two octaves below a fundamental tone, makes Khoomei droning unfit for Glee and fairly excludes women.  Few ladies would dare Odugn Targa at a Karoke bar nor would Huun-Huur-Tu’s Greatest Hits be rumbled under streetlights if DoOp lived.  A 2008 concert program sampled soft, Saryglarlar love song, prayers, laments and paeans to horses and road. 4.  Clapped horse hooves (Duyuglar)  and sheep knuckles rattled inside doshpuluur provide percussion. 5. The historic pieces are said to imitate nature. 6. Moving the breath around the chest and mouth may give performers a pleasing physical sensation of echoing big winds and wild rivers.  Some “tunes” had plodding rhythms (The Camel Caravan (40’02)) and some had brisker tempos In Chiraa Khoor (9’08”) where an Igil is bowed to make a realistic whiney.  This Asian-cowboy connection is most apparent in “Second Lineage” recordings like Back Tuva Future, where Willie Nelson voices over politicized music. (Lecture 3.3, 3.4 

Tuvan music is an artifact that could never have been shared before the advent of portable recording equipment …..or the airplane.   Ghengis Blues 7. explores a wonderful “modern” moment of Tuvan-Afro fusion 8.  when Kongar-ool Ondar, the “Tuvan Pavarotti,” mets Blues singer, Paul Pena.  The circumstances that bring the “First Lineage” in contact with this talented but grieving musician are staggering and this nuanced documentary is as much about Paul’s struggle as his virtuosity.  The blind American taught himself not only Russian but Tuvan (via Braille) and mastered the oldest style of throat singing, Kargyaa. This was a most respectful cultural exchange.  Paul demonstrated authentic throat singing while accompanying himself on the blues guitar. The Tuvan audience was delighted and so moved that they honored him with a prize.   Such artist’s exchanges are becoming more possible as the “friction” of time and distance becomes more manageable.  So, it will be interesting to follow along as YoYo Ma’s “Third Lineage” explores further along the Silk Road.



3.  “.Traveling minstrels were yodeling in the United Kingdom and the United States as early as the eighteen-hundreds, historians credit the first recording to include yodeling to Riley Puckett in 1924. In 1928,… Jimmie Rodgers released “Blue Yodel No. 1″ and created an instant national craze for yodeling in the United States. The popularity lasted through the 1940s, but by the 1950s it became rare to hear yodeling in Country or Western music.”





8.   “(Gerhard) Kubik’s argument is that the source of the blues is rooted in north-east Nigeria and Cameroon based on his outline of supporting evidence in the musical forms and instruments of eastern Africa; some on his 1960s field recordings.”

Author: diane e. dreyfus

on the road until they put the lid down

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