Tuvan Throat Singing Basics:
Tuvan throat singers are able to, through shaping their throat, lips and mouth, produce a number of tones at once. This ability to create a range of notes, including a melody and several harmonic overtones, is used to imitate sounds of nature. The three main styles of Tuvan throat singing are Khoomei (also spelled xoomei), kargyraa and sygyt.
Tuvan throat singing comes from a small and relatively unknown republic in Central Asia called Tuva. Tuva is located in the southernmost part of Siberia, and has a population of about 300,000 people. Tuvans, like their Mongolian neighbors, are historically great horsemen, and horses are an important aspect of Tuvan culture, and therefore hold a major place in Tuvan song lyrics.
The Tuvan Religion:
The primary traditional religion in Tuva is a combination of a form of Buddhism similar to Tibetan Buddhism, and Animism. It is the animistic beliefs that all parts of nature are alive and have spirits that gives Tuvan songs their subject matter.
What Does Tuvan Throat Singing Sound Like?:
Tuvan throat singing sounds extraordinarily foreign to Western ears, but holds an allure to many Western listeners. Upon first listening, one would immediately notice the growling sound of the voice, creating the richest tone in the range of tones. Listening more closely, one may hear whistling, high-pitched overtones, low humming, grunting... all coming from one person at the same time. The Tuvan group Alash Ensemble offers an excellent Tuvan throat singing listening gallery on their website.
Tuvan Throat Singing Accompaniment:
Tuvan throat singing is traditionally sung by a soloist, but is also occasionally accompanied by a percussion section, who imitates the sound of horse hooves. Many groups also use traditional Tuvan instruments, including a bowed instrument called the igil, a jaw-harp called a khomus and sometimes other stringed instruments.