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Tuvan Huun-Huur-tu Performs in Southern Oregon

There are about 305,000 people living in the South Siberian steppes and mountains of the Tuva Republic of Russia, a landlocked region at the heart of Asia. Theirs is an ancient culture and their music-making is among the world's oldest and most unusual.

St. Clair Productions will present Huun-Huur-Tu, one of the best known performing groups of Tuvan throat-singing, on Friday, Oct. 27, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Rogue Valley, 87 Fourth St., Ashland.

Huun-Huur-Tu's trademark sound comes from various over-tone or throat-singing techniques invented by the nomadic hunter-herders of Tuva. Using this technique, one vocalist can sing two distinct pitches at the same time. There is the fundamental note and, high above it, a series of harmonics. The singer can produce melodies from the harmonics while still sounding the fundamental note.

According to Jazz Times, "a rustic joyousness and unadulterated expressiveness come out of these musicians." The Chicago Tribune wrote, "it is unfamiliar yet very accessible, an other-worldly but deeply spiritual music that is rooted in the sound of nature."

The four-piece Huun-Huur-Tu has been updating and continuing Tuvan folklore since the group began in 1992. Back then they were called Kungurtuk.

Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Alexander Bapa, his brother Sayan Bapa, and Albert Kuvezin founded the quartet to present the songs of their homeland while combining tradition and innovation. The musicians later decided to rename the ensemble and over time, like many music groups, they have had some changes in their membership.

The current lineup includes Khovalyg, a self-taught overtone singer. Khovalyg worked as a shepherd until the age of 21, when he was invited to join the Tuvan State Ensemble, which he left in 1993 to devote his attention to the newly formed quartet.

Sayan Bapa received his musical training in Kislovodsk, Northern Caucasus, where he played fretless bass in a Russian jazz-rock band for several years. In the early 1990s he returned to Tuva to study his roots and became a member of a folk-rock band, performing traditional Tuvan music on electric instruments.

Radik Tolouche joined Huun-Huur-Tu in 2005. Born in the Ovur area of The Republic of Tuva, near the border with Mongolia, Tolouche learned throat-singing from his grandfather. He participated in various Tuvan rock and folk groups and currently teaches igil at the Kerndenbilija Arts School of The Republic of Tuva.

Alexei Saryglar joined the ensemble in 1995 to replace Alexander Bapa. He completed his musical training in Ulan Ude as a percussionist for classical and popular music and became a member of the large Russian state ensemble Siberian Souvenir.

Tuvan music strongly evokes nature. Tuva is a sparsely settled region of grasslands, boreal forests and mountain ridges that lies 2,500 miles east of Moscow at the geographical center of Asia, north of Mongolia.

Traditionally, throat-singing was largely performed a cappella. However, Huun-Huur-Tu was one of the first groups to combine throat-singing with ancient acoustic instruments such as the cello-like two-stringed igil, the four-stringed byzaanchi, the three-stringed doshpuluur and the khmomuz — a local equivalent of the mouth harp.

Using these with percussion and voice, Tuvan musicians create eerie harmonics and otherworldly noises, even mimicking the sounds of animals.

By imitating the sounds of nature, the musicians seek to link themselves to the beings and forces that most concern them: domestic animals, the physical environment of mountains and grasslands, and the elemental energies of wind, water and light.

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