In Krasnoyarsk, the master of throat-singing performs in small halls. But in the USA, his album “Back Tuva Future” got to be among the 10 best, according to “New York Post”, together with John Lennon’s disc.
- I have traveled throughout the world with concerts, and I have not been only to Australia and Africa. I can tell you that definitely it is much more complicated to organize a concert in Russia than abroad. The tastes of our young people have been conquered by pop. Of course, that is not our weight category - we work only for real aficionados of national culture, and there are very few of those in Russia. The new generation is losing interest in its own culture - that is a dangerous tendency. But the authorities so far do not want to understand it.
- Nevertheless, some politicians admire throat singing. I heard that Yeltsin personally insisted that you would be awarder the title of Merited artist of Russia…
- That was very funny! In 1994, Boris Nikolayevich really came to Tuva. He drank our national milk vodka, and listened to my singing. Suddenly he approached me and asked: “What is the instrument you are hiding in your mouth?” - “I am singing that myself!” he was surprised by such an unusual voice - and some time later they gave me the “Merited”…
- Since you mentioned politics, did USSR have an influence of the world view and culture of the Tuvan people?
- Tuva joined the USSR system during the lifetime of my parents. Immediately anything having to do with folk traditions or religion was forbidden. It was dangerous show up wearing Tuvan traditional clothing in public. How many good and talented people were subjected to repressions!
The politics were very clear: get a Russian name, play Russian musical instruments - balalaika, guitar… folk music was remembered well only by grandfathers and grandmothers, and that is where we were learning throat singing. Apparently you can’t deny blood. During the perestroika we founded ensemble “Tyva” with friends - we very much wanted to get back to our ethnic roots. Now the republic is reconstruction its history a little bit: they have horse races and tournaments in national wrestling, and they celebrate the New Year by the Lunar calendar.
Without a horse, there is no life
- And is there no concern that high technologies and general globalization sooner or later might destroy Tuvan originality?
- Tuvans have a saying: “Without a horse, there is no life.” everything good there is life, we compare to a horse. I even gave my son the name “Chylgychy” - “horse herder”. it is a very beautiful name. true, this saying could now be changed: “There is no life without electricity and cell phone connection.” if you want to see real Tuvan way of life, you have to leave Kyzyl. Just 50 km from the city live nomadic herdsmen who make cheese in the way of their ancestors, live in yurts, and kill a ram for their dear guests. And this way of life has to be protected. Civilization is destructive in many ways. Television, for example, causes laziness. If a good movie is on, how could one miss it! And that is already two hours! In that time span you could feed the lambs, and not loaf on the sofa.
- And can a non-Tuvan learn the art of throat-singing?
- As soon as he learns to speak Tuva, yes. Our language has three sounds which Russian does not have; they are produced with tightening of vocal cord. There are Japanese, Germans, and Americans who learned throat singing. Of course, there is substantial tension of the organism, so that it is not recommended for young children and women to throat-sing; it is thought that the uterus can become deformed. But in Tuva, everybody sings anyway - the organism gets used to such trials.
- Why is it that your talent is valued in Europe and in the USA, but not so much in Russia?
- In America, the people have a favorite expression - “NO problem.” they can get anything they want. I recorded a joint album there with Paul Pena, “Genghis Blues”. then they filmed a movie about Genghis Khan, which was nominated for an ‘Oscar”. from that film the whole world learned that there is a mysterious republic Tyva. Probably, one day Russia will also live well like that. For us, the most important thing is - to live in peace, without separatism.
Kongar-ool Ondar was born in Tuva in 1962. He graduated from Tuvan State University. In 1985 he founded throat-singing ensemble “Tyva”. since 1992 he has been teaching throat singing in Kyzyl school of Arts. He is an author of 6 music albums which were recorded in the USA. His composition “Tuva Groove” has become the anthem of ethnic music festival “The Sayan Ring”.