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Russia Close-up: Tuvans Master Sounds of nature

It largely remains a mystery how a human voice can produce several pitches at once, but for Tuvans the art of throat singing comes naturally, picked up like a language. This vocal ability is believed to have developed from people trying to communicate with nature by mimicking its sounds.

The Republic of Tuva, at the geographical centre of Asia, is one of Russia's most isolated regions nestling on the border with Mongolia.

Tuvans believe that everything surrounding them – not only animals but rivers, trees and stones – is inhabited by spirits. And by learning their language, a human can capture the power of nature.

A person should have a musical ear to throat-sing, though one doesn’t need to have a strong voice. There are five basic styles of throat singing, imitating natural sounds in their variety, from Sygyt, imitating the sounds of summer breeze, to Ezengileer, mimicking the rhythms of horseback riding.
There are also special instruments that accompany the singing. The most common is igil – a close relative of Mongolian morin khuur. Igil is a two-stringed fiddle held vertically in the lap and played by bow. Its neck and sound box are carved from a solid piece of wood, allowing the instrument to sound very loud for its small size.
Legend has it that human was inspired to make the first igil by a spirit. There was an amazing horse that won every race for the shepherd who owned it. After envious rivals killed the animal, its spirit came back to its master in a dream and instructed him to make a musical instrument using what was left of the horse’s body, so that the horse would be revived. So the man took hair from its tail for strings and bow, and its hide to cover the music box. He also put a carved horse head on the instrument’s neck to always remember his animal friend.
While it is true that Tuvans have a natural talent for throat singing, you don’t need to be born in the republic to do it. RT’s teem has met Mao Terada, a Japanese girl who discovered she had the aptitude for the art three years ago, after her mother bought a CD with throat singers. Ms Mao says she was hypnotised when she heard it, and tried to sing like that on her own with quite a success.
Eventually Ms Mao realised she had the true talent and decided to go to Tyva to master the style. Having lived there for a year now, she says she is in love with Tuvan people and nature. Tyva reminds her of Japan from 200 years ago, and she is happy there. Now she considers staying in Tuva for lifetime.
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