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CD-Review: Tyva Ensemble Album Recorded Live in 2000

Musicians and a word about their voices and instruments

The line-up of the Tuva Ensemble has varied since the group was founded in 1988. In 2000 it was represented on a Japan tour by musicians called Mergen Chayan-Khoo, Nachun Choodu, Ayas-ool Danzyryn and Shonchalai Oorzhak with Mrs. Zoya Kyrgys, the head of the Khöömei Centre in Kyzyl,Tuva, and Ms. Kira Sergeyeva. With the exception of Mrs. Kyrgys, these musicians are unknown to me. I was told that Shonchalai Oorzhak is a grand daughter of a khöömei innovator called Oorzhak "Funasital-ool", which I suspect to be a misspelling of Oorzhak Khunashtaar-ool, a well-known late master of khöömei.

The khörekteer (chest voice) of Danzyryn and Choodu with various khöömei styles and the female voice by Shonchalai Oorzhak all sound like well-trained typical Tuvan folk voices. An overall impression of the recording is very good, and as a selection of traditional Tuvan music performed by skillful young Tuvan musicians, it truly pleases my ear.

The musicians accompany their singing with igil, doshpuluur, and khomus. What is nearly lacking is percussion, but this in fact gives the recording a further character of traditionality, for percussion has only quite recently been introduced to Tuvan folk music, adopted by musicians from what is a part of shamanistic tradition by origin.


The quality of these recordings is very high. All the instruments and voices can be heard clearly and there is virtually no extra noise. The applause of the audience has been edited out in most tracks, and it is quiet enough in those tracks where it hasn't been deleted. The sound quality is beyond reprehension: it is equals a well-mastered studio quality.
A word about the set and liner notes




The liner notes of the CD cover have been written in Japanese (which I do not know) but some info is given in English, and also transcriptions of the names of the musicians and songs. Some misspellings and alternate names unknown to me occur in the transcription part. However, I will not present a thorough orthographic criticism as these few errors seem to me to be of minor importance.

I will not comment on every single track in detail to avoid making this review unreasonably long. My general impression of the set is that the musicians are familiar with the most popular Tuvan folk tunes, and they perform them in a straight-forward traditional manner by using only traditional Tuvan instruments and traditional Tuvan singing techniques. They contribute little ideas of their own to Tuvan folk music as they perform a set of songs that have been performed by many other Tuvan folk groups in a similar manner. One might speculate that the set in question is the official set of the Tuva Ensemble whatever its' line-up, and it appears to vary very little.

A version of the song on the first track, Odarladyp semirtiili (= Cattle fattening pasture), has earlier been recorded by Kara-Kys Munzuk in (Pesni i instrumentalnye melodii Tuvy, Melodiya, Moscow 1969) and its lyrics that have been credited to Sergei Saryg-ool, can also be found in Aksyonov's Tuvinskaya Narodnaya Muzyka (p. 106, Muzyka Moskva 1964). The three versions vary a little bit, which is typical to Tuvan folk tunes when played by different musicians. Shonchalai Oorzhak performs the song with a beautiful Tuvan female folk voice and the khöömei parts between the verses are an embellishment that Kara-Kys Munzuk didn't include in her performance in the 1960's. A recent tendency in Tuvan music is that solos with different khöömei styles are added to all kinds of folk songs, and not rarely even to other kinds of music.

The second track is a medley, played with doshpuluur and igil. This track is a delightful instrumental rendering, and it works as a presentation of well-known Tuvan folk tunes, which are listed in the liner notes.

The 3rd track ís titled "Chügürük" ("Gallopper") but it is better known as "Eki a''ttar" ("Good horses"), one of the favorites of khöömei lovers. This song has not been recorded by Aksyonov and it has probably been inspired by different verses taken from Tyva Kozhamyktar, Tuvan Humorous songs, a collection of which has been edited in the 1960's (Tyva kozhamyktar, redaktor S. Sürüng-ool, Tyvanyng nom ündürer cheri, Kyzyl 1965).

The 4th track is titled "Konggurgai" in the liner notes, but this surely is a confusion, for the track in question is "Konggurei", also a well-known favorite that has been recorded by many other Tuvans as well. Aksyonov reports two versions of a song called "Konggurgai" (pp. 77 and 201), neither of which is similar to "Konggurei"; both the lyrics and the melody of "Konggurei" and "Konggurgai" differ greatly.

The 12th track is titled "Chavydak", which in Aksyonov's book is called "Tractorist" (page 146). Aksyonov doesn't give the 3rd verse these musicians perform. A similar version of "Tractorist" has been performed by Sayan Ensemble, and I suspect that the 3rd verse is a recent addition to this song, but we should bear in mind that there are infinitely many versions of most Tuvan folk tunes. For instance, a Japanese expert on Tuvan folk Music, Masahiko Todoriki, reports to have transcribed dozens of versions of "Eki A''ttar".

The 14th track is titled "Beezhin", which is a transcribed Tuvan spelling for "Beijing". The song is about caravan drivers going to China, and it is better known as Ching söörtykchylerining yry" which literally means "Song of burden drivers". This song is one of my favorites, and all khöömei fans know that an early line-up of the Tuva Ensemble, featuring Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatolii Kuular and Kongar-ool Ondar, impressed Frank Zappa with this song in the early 1990's.


"Öske cher" tour by Tuva Ensemble has obviously been recorded and mastered with a painstaking care, which was a positively delightful surprise to me as I expected an irritatingly low quality that often is the result of live recordings.

The CD gives a good idea of most traditional Tuvan folk music with khöömei its' essential part. Personally I like it very much because it contains no extra elements which one would also expect from the set of the official Tuvan folk group. The musicians do their work well and pass on the tradition.

Sami Jansson
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