May 102014

I metaphorically shit my pants when accidentally coming across the musically versatile Lungsuran Daur on Youtube – a group from Bandung (‘Everybody Bandung tonight’), West Java, Indonesia, steered by a musical-genius legend and innovator named Kodir Dodong – (in other write-ups he is referred to as Dodong Kodir or Pak Dodong – but Pak is simply the Javenese form of Mr.).  [The group is also comprised of Yudi Setiadi [his younger brother], Rusli Gustaman, Rudi Rodek, Asep Tato, Ricky Biola, and Dedeng Buleng.)

Everyone has heard of garage bands, – ahem, well, Ladies and Gentlemen, here I boldly present to you a garbage band.  ‘Daur’ is Javanese for recycle.  This is a group of organized chaos  – let’s start with their instruments.  The instruments imitate disparate sounds of nature [animals, insects, weather, the ocean, the elements, trains [as all good music does], etc.).  The instruments are not only just played in the traditional pentatonic and diatonic scales, but also in his own scale he calls the Dodong membranes (mainly his nature sounds, if I am understanding him correctly).  He has worked on improving the sound of the traditional Indonesian instrument called the gamelan.

He makes instruments from literally every kind of scrap, scrip, and scrape – if it can be thrown away, then it can be turned into an instrument, is Dodong’s logic. (Viz., unused shavers, plastic bags to sound like flies, broomsticks, plumbing parts, a motley of metals, cooking skewers, washers, faulty wood – even the kitchen sink, I am assuming). Much to his now-resigned wife’s chagrin and presumable unhappiness (the early days went like, ‘Why do you collect garbage? You are only messing up the house!’), he has collected piles upon piles of junk that will be used someday to conceive something out of nothing, which makes Dodong really-times-infinity elated and satisfied.  His inspirations for musical instruments can also be unorthodox:  the devastating tsunami that hit Aceh a decade ago, as well as the Asian bird flu epidemic (which inspired an instrument dubbed ‘Chicken Drum’).

Despite the eccentric and silly-sounding nature of the instruments, Dodong is far from unprofessional, and one cannot tell that his homemade instruments were birthed from garbage – either by look or — more importantly – by sound.  The guy is an extraordinary virtuoso, to say the least.

His musical inspirations are sundry:  Sundanese/Javanese traditional music and a diverse array of Indonesian styles, jazz, classical, flamenco, pop, latin, melayu (Malay-style of music), country, and blues.  He seems to be really taken with Classical, whose compositions he has played in Paris – and he loves, times infinity, flamenco, and even composed a flamenco piece for a Spanish musician friend by the name of  Kuntul Flamenco, aka Egret Flamenco, which I believe incorporates bird sounds into Flamenco.  Wish I could unearth a video link.  Also, he seems to be very smitten with American styles – in one video he says the word ‘American’ quite a bit – and then he and Lungsuran Daur transition into a blues-California hybrid sound toward the end of their long set.

Dodong and Longsuran Daur have collaborated with many world-renowned artists, including French rich-‘voxed’ tenor Sebastian Obrecht; complex-melodic Bahrani stringed instrumentalist Mohammed Haddad; Chinese pipe player Yuan Chun; and Ukranian contrabass instrumentalist Kamil Tchalawep (whom I cannot locate the existence of).

It is imperative to delve into the music of Indonesia, which admittedly I am not yet that familiar with, particularly West Javanese, because what I notice is that when you find a killer musical genius in a certain part of the world, then you will also find a cluster of deliciousness waiting to be discovered in the same region:  Mississippi, Mali, Cuba, Appalachia, the Andes, Central Siberia, begrudgingly the UK, and such similarly great stuff.

Alright enough of that.

Oct 012013

I am sorry Terrabeat fans – am at a loss of what to say. This has been the first month where nothing has come to me. It is a goodbye and goodbyes are hard to say – even though we will be online – it is still the end of an era. There will be no more sitting down at coffeeshops perusing through the Louisville Music News – and no words are coming out. I have spent all night and all morning trying to find the words and nothing is coming.

This man has allowed me to be part of the Louisville music scene and am hopefully starting a career in booking, managing, etc. Virtually every opportunity I have ever had in Louisville – I owe to Louisville Music News whether it was co-organizing the Sudanese Rebaba Mayor Show last November or being asked to recruit musicians for Ambassador Shabazz for the International Day of Peace this September. I am a person who has always been musical but have no background as musicians – and Paul was kind enough to help me find a desperately desired musical outlet and place in this City.

Louisville Music News has not only allowed me to obtain opportunities I would not have had in Louisville, but also outside of Louisville as well. I am managing an ancient lyre musician living in Wales whom I started a correspondence with several years ago because of researching for a column for LMN – and am also working on two tour research for two groups – Indialcua – a kathak/flamenco group based in Europe – and Kitka – a vocal group based in San Francisco. I owe everything to Louisville Music News – and this has been the most difficult thing I ever had to write because nothing is coming out. Even though we will be online – there is a sense of change – and it is very, very, very difficult to put on paper.

Louisville Music News is that rare thing: a music paper that covers more of the music scene than just one genre – and people will miss LMN and what it has done for the City.

Aug 262013

‘Getting back to one’s roots’ — I’ve always loved that phrase, so often used in digging deep in to music.

So where are these ‘Roots’? Can only be, LV’s neighboring region to the East — Appalachia: where the atmosphere is a thick blanket of Trees and Isolation, and all exists in constant meditative solitude.

There the border across time is so permeable, so thin, that you feel that the old world of looms and snakeskin could bleed over into the present at any moment. Time is still standing still there, where beneath that canopy of green, things archaic are preserved forever in amber.

Black willow, black maple, black walnut, black cherry (almost sounds like a chant) — the ageless and mysterious community amid which you make your way, enveloped in mist, hunted by shadow, that is the trail through Appalachia. You can find online booklets by the locals with titles like Common Myths about Appalachian Forests — because this place is mythic. As to its stories. As to its trees. (As to its song.)

Trees are mythic. They’ve always been mythic. Weeping Willows, made immortal in countless songs; the noble Oak, grandfatherly, of doors and Druids and calendar stones. Sycamores, as written of in the Egyptian Book of Dead; watchful Birches of winter; the Cedars of nostalgic chests, discovered in dusty houses; Crab Apples and Chokecherries that even a starving squirrel might decline; wild Hemlocks dealing death to ancient philosophers– and the fabled Cherry. Cherry orchards are supposed to be a transition place from this world to the next; but the cherry is also a fruit associated with virtue and purity, good deeds, and virginity. The ultimate myths are the ones whose meaning escapes attempts to define.

If legends preserve the lore of the trees, the trees preserve the lore. Appalachia is where our most ancient and most mysterious songs still sing. Its forests, as with the red-orange, fossilized tree resin embedded in coal seams, embalm music; mummify folksongs; preserve culture that is centuries old, because of the near-impenetrability of the isolation that they themselves create.

But some trees, like the songs that weave airborne around them, tower, ancient-rooted, above the rest — here’s one:

Cherry Tree Carol Lyrics #1:
Cherry Tree Carol Lyrics #2:
Cherry Tree Carol Lyrics #3:
Cherry Tree Carol Lyrics #4:

On Arborea’s (they’re named for ‘Trees’) latest album, Pale Horse Phantasm, there is an eerie, vulnerably beautiful version of The Cherry Tree Carol, an old Celtic or English ballad that has Kentucky roots. Cherry Tree Carol – Arborea

The Carol first popped nationally from Kentucky legend Jean Ritchie (a still-living example folklorist and authentic singer in one), followed by more famed folkies like Peter, Paul & Mary; Joan Baez; Judy Collins. Cherry Tree Carol – Jean Ritchie Cherry Tree Carol – Judy Collins Cherry Tree Carol – Shirley Collins Cherry Tree Carol – Sting

Jean Ritchie is a longtime, frequent poster, under the handle ‘kytrad,’ to the music folklorist site (which is the best site online to find an origin of a particular traditional ballad).

The Carol has come down among Ritchie’s own family traditions (she has posted some very interesting quotes from family elders on the subject), albeit in humble form — she talks about a Granny sitting in a creaking rocking chair, ‘rasping’ out the tune. Ritchie is someone who didn’t need to catch this song — just let it out of its brown-jug bottle (, transform it, and watch it grow). And from those small beginnings it has grown, acorn into oak-tree-like, into a giant among Americana.

Speaking of: tucked away, for nearly 600 years until its death was officially pronounced in the late 1930s, when it was hewn down, just on the border between the (especially) wild WV counties of Logan and Mingo — the legendary Mingo Oak; the largest white oak in the world. Truly a wild tree, that: eight feet in diameter at breast-height; its first limb 66 feet above the ground; 146’ tall; and with a circumference at ground line of 30 feet, 9 inches, it finally succumbed to ‘black lung’ (you know, the fatal and lingering illness coalminers get, only this time a tree actually died of it from an eternally-burning gobpile, of low-grade coal refuse, located nearby).

When it was cut down, they took sections of it, ‘discs,’ out and preserved them in museums around the State, where you can still go and see them (the sections look sort of like huge, wooden LP’s — pictures are online). Always the region has been the favorite, rich, and secret hunting-ground of treasure-hunters after Tales not just Tall, but Taller; after the Largest-Than-Life: freaks of nature, relics of culture, impossible and miraculous things that challenge and inflame imagination.

Jean Ritchie was not the only person whose attention the Cherry Tree of the Carol drew: English musicologist Cecil Sharp was a treasure-seeker to Appalachia, who from 1916-17 recorded and documented old songs of British Isles origin, including TCTC. A William Wooton, from Hindman in Knott County, in Eastern KY, records the first-known documented version – which he collected from Sharp (great name for a musicologist, btw — wonder if he knew Flatt’s family?).

Kentucky writer John Fox went, in 19-aught-8, to Appalachian roots for inspiration for his book about a young KY geologist who traveled East to seek his fortune, intrigued by stories of a legendary tree, On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine.

Here, quoting from Barnes&Noble online, a bit of the blurb about the book’s premise:

“The tree the ‘lonesome pine,’ from which the story takes its name, was a tall tree that stood in solitary splendor on a mountain top. The fame of the tree lured a young engineer through Kentucky to catch the trail, and when he finally climbed to its shelter he found not only the pine but the foot-prints of a girl . . . “

(–and so on, yadda, yadda, yadda — because, in fact — according to Wikipedia on this actual type of tree, the ‘lonesome pine’ — Pinus pungens [‘smelly pine’? — maybe that’s what’s used in PineSol] — is really ‘a tree of modest size (6-12 m).’

So much for ‘a tall tree’ standing ‘in splendor.’ (It’s amazing how these legends can exaggerate things, isn’t it?)

But what is true that the blub says, that does make the smelly-pine remarkable, is its isolation. The table pine (aka ‘table mountain pine,’ aka ‘lonesome pine,’ aka ‘smelly pine’ [so, I guess, no wonder it’s so lonesome — my, how these legends shrink back down to size once you really come to look at them]), is found only in the (isolated) Appalachians — in a northeasterly to southwesterly swathe from S Central PA to the Westernmost tip of NC (and covering the entirety of WV’s Eastern panhandle).

But you don’t have to be a forester or look at a map to see it is an isolated tree: every lonesome pine is found either growing off by itself, or else in little, clumpy groves of smelly-pine — rather than in the larger forests where other pines typically grow. (And as for the picture we are given of its standing silhouetted high on a mountaintop for all to see — it more looks as if it grows in flattish, ‘tabletop’ areas nestled in the hills.)

But the best thing, probably, about the Lonesome Pine’s Appalachian isolation, from its publicist’s, Mr. Fox’, point of view, is that hardly anyone’s ever seen one — so no one’s is in much of a position to contradict you if you want to lie about its impressiveness and size.

I myself kind of think Fox’ idea of this young man who goes off in search of a legendary tree might have been based on Fox’ own experience. Fox himself spent time in the Eastern VA coalmining region where his book takes place (his hero is a young geologist, after all) — and to get there Fox might well have had to travel through Southwestern WV — and have gone to see the famous Mingo Oak. So the great and poignant Lonesome Pine, as we have all come to imagine it, might really have been not a pine at all, but a great white oak; a tree that, had we no means to preserve it, might have survived only in the lore of Appalachians and otherwise written off as myth.

Appalachia is a place that specializes in the creation of legends — of course some true, some not. From its start in Fox’ tale the ‘Lonesome Pine’ grew to fame via numerous, spin-off works, including three films, among them Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West, with the (perhaps annoying?) little song we all know: ‘In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia/On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine.’

But if Fox played a little fast and loose creating legend, and gave credit for his literary inspiration to the wrong tree, he seems to have come by this finger-crossing honestly. He hailed from the little KY town of Paris, in Bourbon County, which boasted some 300 souls at its inception and has around 8,000 now (and, to keep you from confusing the great with the small, Wikipedia does give you a warning that this is not Paris, France). And, speaking of (deliberately conflating the large with the small), one site in Paris, the Shinner Building (vintage 1891), actually made it into Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, as ‘the world’s tallest three-story structure.’ (C’mon.) But they’re not done yet, these Parisians: just six miles east the astonished traveler will come upon the Cane Ridge Meeting House, of exactly a century earlier, which is ‘said’ (note that ‘said’– because how could you prove it?) to be ‘the largest one-room log structure in the country.’ (Take that, Eiffel Tower.)

Now, I can’t say I have much in common with those modern treasure-hunters who go antiquing — but I will admit that I’ll spend half the day chasing a local historical site, no matter how small (or couldn’t you tell?). Human beings have always felt a thrill in doing that sort of thing. So, now that we no longer have to hunt down our food, we invent reasons to go out and road-trip or to head to the mall. At one point in our cultural evolution, and not too far back in the forested fortresses of Appalachia, what people went out ‘hunting’ was trees (sort of as if they were prey that couldn’t run very fast). It was a huge, community-party deal — felling, cutting up, dragging away a mammoth tree, very like when great, white hunters return with big animal kills.

But unlike animals you kill and eat, or previous stones you find, trees uniquely metamorph when they’re cut down. You can take the wood from a tree and make it into other things. You can carve things out of it; if you carve something like a mask, the tree can seem to be coming to life again, in a different form. A single, woodworked tree might live on, scattered around, in many different forms. (It might even become a relic — survive the ages — live to become Big Game, for antiquers, yet again.) (It’s just like the deathless and haunting Red Violin, in the film of the same name, I wrote about last time.)

The Mingo Oak’s transformation, and afterlife, actually began long before it ever even fell ill. From the area’s earliest settlement days it was ‘the church in the wild woods,’ where were set up pulpits and benches for Sunday services. And, in excellent Red Violin tradition, part of the great Oak after its death, in the form of a pulpit, resumed life in a local church.

Great trees and ancient forests go together with outdoor sanctuaries as if they were salt and pepper. The Cherry Tree Carol is a part of sacral music and presents a charming vignette of a miraculous, transformational tree: the story is of Mary and Joseph stopping enroute, on their travels, to rest beneath a cherry-tree — which the unborn Baby Jesus inside Mary then commands to bend down and give some cherries to his mother (and the tree of course complies).

It sounds kind of nursery-tale to us, but in the Middle Ages, Ripley’s B/I/O/N stories like this, of ‘Real Marvel and Miracles That Are TRUE, Honest Injun,’ were taken seriously and held a lot of oo-oo-oo feeling for the people, who were quite gullible in lieu of science . (But even we can experience something of what they did in settings like the heavily forested parts of WV where, once you’re out there alone, it’s easy to start believing anything. The atmosphere will do that to you — and the darkness and deepness of anything that we can go and stand in is not aboriginal forest — that was cut down from Appalachia by timber-hunters starting in the late-18th c. Original, aboriginal forest was apparently something that we now can imagine only with difficulty. It has become for us only a myth.)

What pagan religious influences live on in the Carol are obvious, from when the people of Britain, long before they were Christian, had been Druidic and had invested the trees of their forests with magical numen. That more ancient pagan strain was of course absorbed, very purposefully, by the Christian Church, with the result that a lot of pagan lore, like that surrounding the cherry-tree, found its way into songs that were sung at the newly-Christianized, old pagan festivals, including Christmas.

The Cherry Tree Carol, which is found in numerous variants on both sides of the Atlantic, contains some pretty obscure references going back also to purely Christian sources, of the Middle Ages. It harks back to the Biblical myth of Eden, in its theme of a couple sitting beneath a tree, eating fruit (only in this case of course the Eden experience goes just right).

The fact that it was sung at Christmastime embroiled it in the Church’s calendrical conundrums: its lyrics have the unborn Christ Child say, ‘On the fifth day of January my Birthday shall be/When the stars and the elements shall tremble with fear.’ So we see Medieval astrology playing a role in the song foregrounds predictions and cosmic resonance as among ‘stars,’ ‘elements,’ and divine and worldly events. It seems surprising that Baby Jesus would prophesy that the world would ‘tremble in fear’ on the Happy Day — but that kind of apolcalyptic language is exactly in keeping with astrology-talk of the time.

As among the Age’s many controversies, there was a pretty raging argument over the exact date when Christmas fell, that arose from the discrepancy between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars; Christmas Day (something like in a story by Charles Dickens) actually migrated around for a few centuries, growing later and later, as it advanced through the days of the first week of January a day at a time, ‘gaining a day’ every 50 or 100 years. As a result different versions of The Cherry Tree Carol, as they have come down, will actually have Baby J. giving his coming natal day as the 5th, 6th, or 7th, depending. (Small wonder the Church finally nailed the wandering holiday down to Dec. 25, regardless.)

Not that that made everyone happy. Jean Ritchie did a post, dated 12/15/02, on what she termed ‘a small observation, not provable,’ to the effect that she could remember her old Granny Catty Ritchie (the one who rocked while singing The Cherry Tree Carol) was ‘still quite touchy on the subject of the Christmas date and she ALWAYS observed Old Christmas, telling us in no uncertain terms that December 25th was just “a newfangled notion.” ’

So, contrary to what you might expect — not just did the song come down, in all its Medieval sophistication and complexity, to ‘unsophisticated’ Appalachians, such transplanted lore also brought with it and preserved things like long-forgotten topical debates from those old, old times (so that people here, deep in the Appalachian wilderness, centuries later could still get about them!).

More as one might have expected, the ‘common people’s original source for The CTC was from early English broadside; but, back behind that, there was lurking a source that derived from Biblical Apocrypha — the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, to be exact. Now, that is a bit interesting, and strange, if you think about it: because the Apocrypha of course were those parts of the Bible that go back as far as all the rest of Biblical text, but that the Church Fathers decided to exclude on the basis of their not being ‘genuine’ — that they weren’t really written by the Apostles.

A lot of times the Church decided that because the Apocrypha, which were written by the ‘Pseudo-‘ writers, were often the liveliest, the most controversial, and of course the texts least in keeping with Church C.W. — so from our modern point of view, they are among the most interesting account to read. For anyone who wants to have a look at the sections of the Apocrypha that The Cherry Trail Carol’s lyricist drew on, it can make for some pretty remarkable reading:

The Apocryphal story The CTC drew on shows us a humbly conceived, charmingly dressed-down domestic moment within the divine family; a moment of very humanly sour grapes from Joseph, for various reasons (depending on which source you look at): either because Mary has made one of those impossible requests wives standardly seem to make of their husbands (just to keep us on our toes, I guess, or maybe to test our sincerity), ‘Honey, can you go up there, 40 feet off the ground, now that you’re tired, and get me some cherries? (in response to which Joseph is kind of leery because they are growing so nowhere close to the ground); or because Mary picks just this moment to reveal to him that she is expecting (and his reaction is perhaps understandably less than thrilled: ‘Why don’t you go get the man whose child it is to get you some cherries?’); or because he questions her priorities at time like this (‘Fruit?? How can you expect me to be thinking about fruit when we’ve run out of water?!’).

This unexpected, comic side to medieval sacred song and story fits right in with the Cherry’s ancient mythic associations: there is life in the fruit of a cherry-tree. Its famous ‘stone’ (rhymes with ‘bone’) is an unusual, a strange-looking, an odd and unexpected form for a seed to take. It looks dead — we call it a ‘stone’ — but life is inside it nevertheless, kind of ‘miraculously,’ as it has been inside Mary miraculously conceived; and as life exists, and is seemingly able ‘miraculously’ to transform and resurrect itself, within a tree.

At its center the Carol’s story is also about disagreement between Joseph and Mary as to whether they more need to go about getting some water (from the cherry-tree’s roots, which is what Joseph thinks should happen); or whether they should get some cherries (from the tree itself, which is what Mary wants to do). (Myself, I’d tend more to go along with Joseph, but you know pregnant women, forever eating.) But — in the spirit of ‘Ladies First’ — the Christ Child (who in this song of course has beautiful manners even while still in utero) tells the tree to bend down and give his mother what she wants first — and then, Joseph, the tree-roots can give them all some water.

The comic quality hiding behind the song, that we see so clearly in its ancient Biblical source, actually inspired this wonderful Cherry Tree Carol spoof: (really you should not miss this)

–here a ‘pickle-tree’ (you know, pickles and ladies-in-waiting; pickles and teething babies; the stork mascot on the jar of Vlasic pickles . . .) miraculously appears and rains down pickles on the 2 ½ of them. This little cherry-tree song, for all its age, is a very pregnant mythic source, indeed.

But the person who is responsible for this send-up did it based just on the Cherry-Tree song; they were able to see the humor just by looking at the ‘Tree’ — at the derivative Christmas carol; they didn’t need to go back to the song’s Roots among the Apocrypha.

But wait ! We’re referring now to very old and traditional Cherry Tree Carol not as something that returns us to our Roots — but as a Tree, sprung from Roots that are even older.

Behind and beneath every root-source that one can find one can find another, deeper root. We can start with the fruit of the Tree that’s in front of us — but there is always more — more revivifying liquid, more water, more to drink — at its Root.

You can still go and see the stump of the great Mingo Oak, if you’ve a mind. Even with so little of it left, your imagination will fill in the gaps, and you will find yourself awestruck. With a little ferreting out, and adventurer-like exploring, plus a little faith, you can nearly always manage a return to the Roots and find something; to the Water; to the Source — and be carried along by some new spirit of inspiration.

Ah, Mountain Mama — Appalachia: hunting ground for scholars, the romantic-minded, and those of us with antiquarian turn. There’s more in your music than just the music.

More in you than just trees . . .

More to come.

Music Links: Cherry Tree Carol – Jean Ritchie Cherry Tree Carol – Judy Collins Cherry Tree Carol – Shirley Collins Cherry Tree Carol – Sting Cherry Tree Carol – Arborea

Jul 252013

When the ‘Songcatchers’ (be they musicologist-folklorists like Cecil Sharp, Olive Dame Campbell, or John Lomax, or just curious traveling salesmen like Max Hunter) ventured into the smoky, mysterious Appalachian mountains to capture ancient sounds on (at that time) modern recording equipment almost a hundred years ago, one of the rare birds of melody they caught from among the Celtic (Scotch, Irish, or Welsh) and English ballads, whose habitat the area had long been, was ‘Black Is the Color [of My True Love’s Hair]’ (earliest recording by a Lizzie Roberts in 1916 — cannot locate an original recording — disappointment) — a bit-of-living-legend song that is still sung today.

And so, in that winged and elusive flight trajectory that it seems that only music can describe, a lonely song from a forgotten voice defies all odds and is recorded by a passing stranger with the latest technology; but, the passing stranger being himself but an obscure ‘lore-ophile,’ the song again must defy and beat the odds, and somehow be heard by the right people, who can and will record them commercially, or perform them in high-profile venues, so that the song attains popularity, ultimately widespread recognition and even fame, becoming not a ‘household name’ or ‘household word,’ but a ‘household song’ — and then the song can really take off and soar above the ridgeline, being replicated over time by numerous artists; sung in many different versions and styles, as if it found escape out of the mountains on a bird’s wing.

Such blessed songs survive — they fly free — by being captured.

They then go on to complete the life-cycle of the freeborn song — the ‘Written By . . . (?) Anonymous’ song — by being returned, via breath and vibrating string, back to the archaic, ‘naïve’ fonts of musical and lyrical invention from which such songs so often spring: the singing, the burbling, the spurting forth from plain-folk, dabbling rivulets; first (doubtless), in the form of the heartfelt, or the longed-for, the inescapable human experience of joy or heartbreak; and thence, on their way, to and through other hands, molded more by the imaginary, the sympathy, the resonance that is awakened in the memories and hearts of those hearing the song who catch its spirit — and out of these sensitive hearers who are themselves musicians the song can again be reborn.

But the free song can only can only become immortal if it flies first into the cage of reproduction, repetition, popularization, and for a time sojourns there before escaping back into the ‘wild’ of re-creation.

These songs, which swoop and swirl and dive, trailing tail-feathers of enchantment in their wake, are not like songs we used to hear and might even still feel nostalgia for (if we do ever hear them again), like ‘Heat Wave’ by (was it?) Martha and the Vandellas — those songs-of-the-moment, famous, briefly hits and ‘Top 40’ — one of those songs that can get unwelcomely ‘stuck’ inside one’s mind for hours (days! even) — or which can evoke for us as individuals a rich assortment of memories and associations from times-gone-by; but which songs, in the end, only ever live a single life, in essentially just one 45 rpm version, sung by one, defining group; remembered by a young generation, yes, for their lifetime — but essentially forgotten, consignable to dust heap, after that.

The songs born unfree are limited by their Martha-and-Vandellas, form; that all-too-memorable, single form we all know them as and know them in — whereas songs like ‘Black Is the Color’ achieve immortality precisely by mutating from one variant, one ‘personality,’ one interpretation to another, as they pass from one voice, one instrument, one recording label to another. They are sort of reincarnated beings, like human Orientalized mysteries, flitting from one of their forms, their ‘lives,’ to another; songs, melodies, lyricism so great (often so simply great) that a single form, a single ‘body,’ is not big enough — not great enough — to contain them. Nor is one artistic mind, by their performer, a single artistic talent, great enough to do justice, to explore, to exploit and exhaust, all the potential for beauty, breadth, and depth that is within them.

Unlike other, more limited species, such magical songs contain a time-defying variety within themselves.

Have you chanced to catch the film The Red Violin? A fairy-tale-like story set in Italy in, perhaps, the 17th c., it is the same idea: a master violin-maker, hard at work on his masterpiece violin, loses his beloved wife; and as his finishing touch, in his overwhelming grief, he stains his greatest Violin with her blood.

The Red Violin’s first owner becomes a violinist possessed; accomplished; perfect both technically and artistically — but dies passionately tragically-young. And the Violin, against the odds, gets passed to another’s hands; same thing. Wherever the Red Violin ends up, genius touches its owner. Claims the very life’s blood of its owner. It becomes the Violin of a little orphan boy with a bad heart, living in a monastery; so great does this boy become, and so quickly, that he is summoned to play before a King. The terrified child performs brilliantly up to the finish — then dies, then and there, of heart attack. The Violin is buried with him — but, of course, somehow escapes the grave and goes on to ‘live’ again — in each case making of its owner and player an artist greater than he ever could have otherwise been.

Songs like ‘Black Is the Color’ appear to be British in origin, which seems unsurprising, considering that the settlers who made their home in the Appalachian foothills were largely from the UK. It was not, however, just the Scotch-Irish who made their home there, but also Welsh, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants — and, if one looks closely, Native American ancestry is also visible in the people of the region. What I notice is that songs like ‘Black Is the Color’ are presumed to be either Scottish, Irish, or English in their derivation — with which one being determined, apparently, by the heritage of the person recording it — but it makes most sense to me that this song would be Highland Scotch, Irish, Scotch-Irish, English, or even Welsh (a very musical culture that is, in the game of assigning musical origins to songs, for some reason often overlooked).

Louisville native John Jacob Niles claimed to have composed the tune that we associate with the song today because the tune originally (or ‘originally’) associated with it was supposedly horrible; the only way to disprove that would be to hear the Lizzie Roberts’ version and other early recordings. However, I did find one recording that was made in the Ozarks during the fifties that did have a horrible tune.

(Here are some: Cat. #0138 (MFH #682) – As sung by Mrs. “Bobbie” Barnes, Eureka Springs, Arkansas on June 21, 1958
[a version that is similar to John Jacob Niles’ tune]; or

Cat. #0242 (MFH #682) – As sung by May Kennedy McCord, Springfield, Missouri on September 23, 1958
[a completely different tune].)

The Appalachian ballad — whether you wish to call it Highland or Lowland Scotch, Irish, Scotch- Irish, English, or Welsh — it doesn’t matter because the tune most likely had its origin in the ‘broadside’ (the first non-musical way to share music — anonymous posters that were sold during the 1500s and later that featured music, news, and music). So a lot of the ‘traditional’ music we associate with Appalachia today actually passed through an earlier phase of commercial publication. (Kind of makes one rethink the idea of songcatchers’ out looking for ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional’ songs.)

Kentucky bard John Jacob Niles’ version is undeniably beautiful; who cares the relatively recent vintage?

Civil rights activist/jazz chanteuse Nina Simone’s version is perhaps the most beautiful of all recordings, but since every melodic touch she sings turns to gold — that is to be expected. Joan Baez’s version is surprisingly not bland hippy-dippy, and is also very beautiful. Jazz vocalist Patty Waters does an avant-garde version in the Appalachian style that is full of disturbed musical notes, pitches, howls, and screams, lasting for thirteen minutes, and which sounds like something local avant-garde Appalachian musician Cynthia Norton, aka Ninnie Novel, might do. And English singer does a Renaissance and Baroque music style that sounds like it came from a Cadfael episode (you know, the 80s TV series, based on the novels of ­Ellis Peters, where a 12th-c English monk played by Derek Jacobi solves mysteries).

The version that got me on this ‘Black Is the Color’ kick is by wife/husband duo Shanti and Buck Curran, aka Arborea, which has played in Louisville two separate dates in July. (Uncle Slayton’s which will be closed by this printing, and Clifton’s Pizza, of all places — O tempora! O mores!) Arborea specializes in resurrecting old, presumed-to-be Celtic/English ballads like ‘The Cherry Tree Carol’ or their version of what we know as ‘The Streets of Laredo’ (retitled ‘I Was on Horseback’).

The best music, I might add, always comes from the musicians who combine old music with original compositions, such that in the end-product you cannot tell which is which; example: Loreena McKennitt — most famous for her Celtic folk and European-inspired music — and of whom Shanti Curran of Arborea (although she swears she is not influenced by) sounds like the next evolution. This same ancient st(r)ain also bleeds into other types of music such as Sixties British Rock: when I first heard Low Cut Connie’s ‘Rio,’ I thought it was a forgotten Stones B-Side, complete with even the recording-sounding, aged garage; and when I first heard Aloe Blacc’s ‘I Need a Dollar,’ an illusion was created in my mind that I had heard the song many times on oldie stations, and I was surprised that the song did not come out of the heady Motown, Civil Rights era, so much did the male vocalist sound very similar to Nina Simone. Arborea has done this as well with ‘Song for Obol’ (an ancient Greek coin that was put in the mouth of the dead as a payment to Charon, Ferryman of the Dead), a song which was written by Shanti Curran but could very easily have been an old or ancient piece. John Jacob Niles Joan Baez Nina Simone Alfred Deller Twilight Singers Ester Ofarim Patty Waters Arborea

Apr 232013

About two months ago I was listening to Pandora and heard a mournful cry in a haunting tune that was labeled Country but didn’t quite sound like Country. It wasn’t Luk Thung – the Thai version of Country Music inspired by Johnny Cash and other American artists – but it may as well have been. It was ‘Let Freedom Ring,’ the ending track of Terry Allen’s Amerasia, an alt- Country album that was part political statement on the botched aftermath of the Vietnam War in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam; part Country album; and part experimental album with World Music. It appears that Allen worked over a decade on the album; he recorded with Laotian musicians in Thailand a decade prior (engineered by Supod Sookkald, Witan Tuwatchhai) – and the album incorporates SE Asian songs with English songs which condemn both the War and war in general.

Country musician and anti-war activist Natalie Maines’ father (Lloyd) and uncles (Kenny and Donnie) backed up Terry Allen on this album as they have done on others – I can see where Natalie gets it from. They not only play traditional Country Music instruments such as guitar and fiddle, but Thai instruments as well, including trupbra (drum) along with other Thai drums, chimes, and various other noisemakers.

While targeting war, the album also strives to demonstrate how friendship can come out of war from the opposing sides and that friendship can unite us in the end – that may seem corny, but this album makes a case that maybe there is truth to it.

Terry Allen’s concept album is worthy of a ciccerone – it starts off with the whirring helicopters of the title Track ‘Amerasia’ (American meets Asia – oh, now I get it) – and a foreboding narration from Terry Allen on how the War in Vietnam has changed Thailand for the worse; has possibly conquered this unique nation in a strange way despite the fact that they were our allies at the time – this ancient land that never been conquered or changed by any outside force prior. It is disturbing to note that Thailand was basically used as an aircraft carrier from which to bomb the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia, and of course Vietnam.

The second track is a couple of seconds of ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,’ which in this context serves to suggest that patriotic violence is not very patriotic in its swath and path of destruction.

The third track, ‘The Burden,’ actually reprises the first musical track – a traditional-sounding Country song – but this time uses it to weave an anti-war, tragedic lament honoring the thousands of nameless fallen, with Thai drums pounding in the background behind Country instruments. It is a far cry from the awful rah, rah, dry, patriotic, pro-Iraqi top-40 Country songs of a decade ago.

‘Back out of the World’ is kind of honky-tonk, about a dissatisfied solider returning home and trying with difficulty to readjust to society. In the background are female Country vocals purposely and intriguingly trying to sound Southern and Oriental at the same time.

‘Swan Lake’ is a gritty instrumental, almost blues-like, that just goes to show you that when you combine good music from two cultures, better music is the result (and the question of what country the music originally came is forgotten). Allen works with Laotian musicians Surachai Janyimathorn (guitar, Singha beer bottle); Mongkol Utog (on Paen, aThai Mandolin); Tong Kran Tanaa (phenomenal acoustic slide guitar); and Veersak Sunitohnsri (guitar, Singhai beer bottle), as he does on a variety of tracks.

‘Display Woman/Displaced Man’ is a lively, action-packed song that sounds like it could have been in a Chuck Norris 80s action movie, about the sex trade created from the Vietnam War (an activity that is world-famous and still thrives today). I should note that because of the kathoey (transsexual woman), the displaced man has become the display woman.

The Cajun-sounding ‘Lucy’s Tiger Den’ is an homage to an infamous bar that was a hangout for former soliders, ex-CIA pilots, construction workers, and assorted other military types, that closed in 1987 and gave Americans a way to spend holidays with each other away from home during the war. Kind of reminiscent of M*A*S*H* in that respect.

Most of the songs to this point sound American with hints of Asian, but the record kind of reverses that starting at an American/Thai amalgam of ‘Chopsticks’ at the album’s midway point.

‘Nobody’s Goin’ Home,’ weighing in as the last American music-dominated number and true to its pessimistic title, is a stark criticism of how the US treated Thailand, who was its ally, by destroying the country in the very act of building its infrastructure – and at the same time betraying its own, American citizens by not valuing its soldiers’ lives.

Songs like ‘Metrapab’ are what make Amerasia an inventive Country album ahead of its time – this song could have easily been just Terry Allen singing in outcry against the Vietnam war; but instead Surachai Janyimathorn sings several songs critical of the War from his point of view. I think Surachai is Laotian, but he sings in the Thai language. Perhaps coincidentally (though perhaps not), both Allen and Janyimathorn share a similarly dry, nasal-sounding voice, so that they almost sound like the same person singing about the same events in the ‘same voice,’ but from two opposite worlds.

‘Metrapab’ represents a complexity of thought regarding Americans during this timeframe, expressed in simple poeticism worthy of Willie Nelson. The message is hard-hitting and laden with irony: Americans have come to Thailand in order to use it as a way to defeat Americanism, killing everyone in their wake, including their Thai allies and their own citizens, heedless that their casualties extend even to children as the mess they leave behind in Thailand for that country to clean up includes children that are ‘left behind’ from either hooking up with or raping local women. But yet, despite all of this, there still somehow remains a transcendent respect for the Americans and a desire to make peace and friendship.

The next three tracks — ‘Church Wall,’ ‘Food Stall,’ and ‘Canal’ — are all instrumental tracks that try to capture the memories of the ex-soldiers who may still be wandering around Thailand. The melodies used in all three are essentially the same, with the mood and instrumentation being tweaked a bit from track to track.

‘Sawahadi’ (‘Christmas Song’) is a short Christmas reflection sung by Terry Allen; and it is lonely – a couple of tracks earlier ‘Lucy’s Tiger Den’ mentioned Thanksgiving. The plaintive situation faced by the individual Americans there for that time is not lost sight of in this deeply human musical work.

In ‘Orphans’ we have a mesmerizing, haunting instrumental (possibly one of the best tracks on the album), from Terry Allen’s Laotian crew; Terry Allen was doing this even a couple of years prior to Ry Cooder’s going to Cuba to record Buena Vista Social Club and to Mali to record sessions with late bluesman Ali Farke Toure.

‘Pataya’ (sic) sounds a note that is almost patriotic and is written and sung by Terry’s Asian vocal ‘double,’ Surachai Janyimathorn. Pattaya was a fishing village that was turned into a resort town by American soldiers and remains a bustling tourist spot today. In this song it sounds like Pataya is being attacked and plundered by American marauders, as if they were fighting them instead of Viet Nam and warns Thailand not let this happen. That the Thais and Americans were allies one would never know, based on these lyrics.

‘Let Freedom Ring,’ the final and perhaps the best track on this album, is a round sung by Terry Allen and Surachai Janyimathorn doing the same lyrics in English and in Thai – here, especially, when I first heard the song, I thought it was the same person. This one is an optimistic tune that sounds something like an ending to a Kurosawa film — you know, where the idea is we must unite and trust each other despite all of the war, chaos, and destruction.

Amerasia, twenty years later, is worthy of a review – and while the Vietnam War is now forgotten and buried, replaced by the events of 9/11 and the decade plus-long war that followed, Terry Allen’s experimentation with world music, which neither at the time nor since was ever really given its full measure of discovery or appreciation, has never rung more true.

Jul 242012

Follow it. Be swayed by the Spirit of Compassion.

Mahee Aziz, a Sydney, Australian, who comes originally from Bangladesh, is at the moment globetrotting and bringing to the charmed eyes of mesmerized audiences the potent exoticism of three traditional and canonical, Subcontinental Indian dance forms: the Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, and the North Indian style of Kathak.

And it is our City’s great good fortune that he is coming to Louisville.

Do, on that occasion, let this Pied Piper lead your heart away; and in the compassionate spirit for which deep and spiritual India is famous, turn out in support of the various charities and causes with which Aziz has involved himself: victims of AIDS, underprivileged children, and widows.

Aziz will be our revving up our cultural scene at a planned performance at Shine Wellness Studios on Saturday, July 28, at 7pm, as a second US stop following his scheduled performance at a medical conference in Washington, DC. At his own personal expense he has chosen Louisville as the venue for a benefit show he is putting on to raise money for the Bangladesh charity ‘Change the Lives,’ which is dedicated to helping underprivileged children in Bangladesh.

Let’s not let him make the pilgrimage to our Kentucky land without the welcome and support both his art and this cause deserve. Let’s not disappoint his anticipation of open hands and hearts, and properly wowed eyes and ears, among all us Louisville residents he has come to enchant. For gosh sakes, let’s not send him away empty-handed!

Even more in Bangladesh than in India, where the caste system remains prevalent, the cause of underprivileged children seems to resonate with special urgency among the more elite and middle-classes. Most professional and successful from Bangladesh know personally or are even related to someone who lives amid a level of poverty that makes our own homegrown variety look lavish by comparison. They seem unable to turn away from what they cannot help but see; and I just feel sure Louisvillians will not turn a blind eye to this ambassador of charity, either, when he comes bringing to our own attention his message of human need.

A lot of people in Louisville still may not suspect the size and strength of the transplanted Indian culture that flourishes here in our own community. I’m not sure whether there’s a Kuchipudi instructor in Louisville yet or not – but one can find out on August 18! – because that is India Day at the Belvedere – an event which will be sponsored by ICF (the India Community Foundation) and that promises to be something special.

For sure there will be displayed to the rapt gaze an evocative sampling of the wealth and variety of the timeless magic of Indian dance. My own impression is that the opportunities to see and learn (about) Subcontinental dance forms here in Louisville are equally rich and vibrant as what is being done by our justly-celebrated local dancers who engage in the teaching and performance of Flamenco and Middle Eastern bellydance. Come see what you think.

The Subcontinental dance forms that are currently on the menu in Louisville, complete with instructors, such that anyone can try their hand (and sinuously willowy arms and torsos) at these most magical and mysterious of artistic traditions, are: (and please to imagine in your mind’s ear at this point that light, bonking-sounding, Indian tympanum drumbeat, instead of a Western drum-roll) — Bharatanatyam; Kathak; and of course the infectiously exuberant, contemporary ‘Bollywood’ style.

Since the Kuchipudi tradition is the least-represented here in LV so far, Aziz’ upcoming visit gives us all a chance to catch it live, on the wing. This South Indian dance, from the State of Andhra Pradesh, is the Subcontinental dance form that perhaps a lot of people most think of when they think of Indian dance.

Bharatanatyam, from Tamil Nadu, which is the most likely traditional form of Indian dance, is not dissimilar — the main difference between Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi being that the former has more sculptured and dramatic poses; while Kuchipudi employs more rounded ones, especially with regard to the legs. The Kuchipudi tradition is known for incorporating dancing with, and on, a metal plate called a Tarangam.

Bharatanatyam dancers can be both female or male, resplendent in multi-colored garb and ornamental facial jewelry, executing dance movement that is demarcated by lots of dramatic pauses. It is also this form that is so marked by those characteristic head, neck , and eye movements – those ‘slidey’ gestures they do from the neck up, that seemingly ‘leave their bodies behind,’ in tandem with those signature snaky, waving arms – surely everyone’s idea of the world’s most exotic form of dance.

In terms of the dances’ cultural subtext of associated meaning, Kuchipudi may have more religious connotations with connections to the earth & God, while Bharatanatyam might be more about expressing the inner fire within the dancer’s body.

But speaking of fiery inner expressiveness – love that Bollywood!, which is of course that most exuberant, contemporary , and fully cosmopolitan expression of modern India in dance. We’ve all (I hope) seen it performed in movies and on TV – where you often see it being done in line-dances, or by large groups of dancers; far and away the most nontraditional Indian dance form, it gets people (whole crowds of dancers) self-expressively ‘jumping,’ in masses of seductively graceful, synchronization — seemingly an urban phenomenon (after all, India is a hugely populous place) – and just that much reminiscent of those Hollywood movie extravaganza dance-productions from about the 1930s.

It is (or seems to me, at least) the most seamless adaptation of ancient cultural modes into up-to-the-minute, international modernity that one could have imagined.

As for Kathak tradition, it’s a real border-hopper: Persian-influenced, it may in turn have had an influence on Flamenco, via Gypsies from Rajastan.

But let’s be a bit more thorough about this: there are eight classical dances in India, of which Bharatanatyam is the oldest. (So old, in fact, I find I can’t dig up any definite date of origin, so far does it go back). It’s agreed, though, that at its center is that expression of the fire element. (And of course the most ancient Indian religious texts center on Vedic Fire Sacrifice.) Kuchipudi, a relative youngster, was only (‘only’) founded in the 7th c. AD, by Brahmins – and can be traced to the village by that name, in the State of Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi dance was originally male-only – and that for the longest time – but somewhere along the line our Subcontinental sisters successfully infiltrated and are now possibly in the majority. There is even a ‘gender-bending’ form of Kuchipudi, in which the men execute the dance’s characteristically feminine forms, and vice versa. Kuchipudi has traditionally been used as an individual way to express oneself spiritually; or it can be used theatrically, to tell a story.

And, there is ‘country,’ rural, as opposed to a ‘city’ form of Kuchipudi. The rural: rawer, more primal-looking; the classical (citified) version: cleaner – gentler, more refined. (Sort of the same as if you were to compare the banjo in its ‘city’ and ‘country’ forms, as those were represented in early American musical tradition – if that is not too awful a thing to do – one being Tin Pan Alley, and the other, Dock Boggs). I saw a link to the country version of Kuchipudi in which the male dancer was wearing a mask-cum-head-covering kind-of-a-deal – and out of an adjunct to the whole thing – streamed water. And, in a depiction I saw of the classical version, there was a male dancer dressed as half-man, half-woman: moustachioed on one side of his face; made up with make-up on the other.

And – lest we think that Bollywood style is the only one that puts armies of dancers into the field – there was a world’s record set on December 23, 2010, for the largest number of Kuchipudi dancers ever to perform at the same time: 2,800, at a stadium in Hyderabad, the Andhra Pradesh capital.

The Indian style of music that accompanies these Indian dances in all their forms is uniformly what is termed ‘Carnatic’ (or, simply, Indian) music.

All those people, virtually uncountable numbers, who’ve moved to it and danced to it, through so many centuries.

Follow its drumbeat, and follow your heart. And mark your calendar for July 28th.

Jun 262012

Appalatin is what you might call a gradual, happy accident that’s been happening slowly over roughly the last six years.

It was formed originally by two of its present members, with the others coming in one at a time and adding in their own musical talents and abilities.

Appalatin began as a love of music among people who otherwise would not have known each other or ever played together, starting with Latin music and slowly incorporating the music of Kentucky and surrounding Appalachia.  The Latin music that Appalatin plays is not what we generally think of as ‘Latin music,’ but rather the rural folk music of the Andes and Central America, which blends deftly with the regional music of the rural American, eastern mountain chain.

These musicians’ musical instruments are very ancient:  but the magical thing about them is that there are infinite ways of combining them and creating fresh sounds, all the while trying to capture the same sounds our ancestors listened to — especially when you combine instruments that have not necessarily been together before.  The humble,tiny, peanut-shaped charango of Ecuador; Pan flutes; the mandolin; harmonica; the common guitar; bass; the cowbell, various rattles and shakers; and — those most primitive instruments of all – drum and vocals.

There is literally no one in the world that is creating the sound that Appalatin is and that is Appalatin; however, the members did not set out intentionally to create this sound:  it just happened.  So Appalatin, as a result of its hybrid and serendipitous metamorphosis, has shaped up as some sort of a mellifluous ‘happy-stance,’ if you will.

In preparation for their upcoming, second album, slated to be recorded in August, Appalatin just wrapped up a weekly gig at a local club called Zazoo’s in the St. Matthews area of Louisville, where they had a different musical guest performing with them each week; varying their own style to match, ranging from hosting Andean guests to Appalachian-sounding ones to folksy singer-songwriters to reggae to even a young group of Somali-Kenyan dancers.  The short stint at Zazoo’s allowed Appalatin to keep exploring, honing, expanding, and finding their musical voice.

As an outflow of their unique form of performance-rehearsal, finding out what works and what does not, a song that will be featured on Appalatin’s new CD, one called ‘Down by the Waterside,’ started out as a light Reggae number, the inspiration of a Reggae-influenced member.  While this song strays a bit from the group’s initial roots, it was amiable-sounding enough, until one day, playing outside this year’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs out on the street, they started to play ‘Down by the Waterside’ in an Appalachian-sounding way without really trying to  – and the song just clicked; they suddenly knew they had it right.

So watching Appalatin ‘in process’ is a bit like watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon; and it is something that it is excitingly possible to catch them doing, live.

And speaking of suddenly — Appalatin’s success in Louisville has seemed to be overnight.  Since releasing their first album in March 2011, and they have done everything in Louisville that they set out to do within the next year:  it has all been at remarkable speed.  However, they had actually been working on establishing the foundations of their presence in Louisville four or five years prior to that.  Appalatin is now set to take their music to the next level and toward this end are starting to tour across the rest of Kentucky.  Their plans are to take their music nationally and possibly even internationally at some point; but they will do it at their own signature, gradual, happy-accidentally pace.  They do not rush their music.

But if the energy of their musical development and its dissemination has been tortoise-like by design, the energy of their music in performance is rivetingly in the moment:  always fresh and powerfully with-it, no matter how many times they have played it or you have heard it.

Putting these two dichotomous, dynamic rates of together — theirs seems a perennial spring.

Appalatin will be approaching the recording of their next CD in the same vein and using their second release to platform into their next level.

I am not sure how or where Appalatin will record this next CD; but I am sure that in it will be captured their musical essence — that music-in-the-air, that musical-style-coming-for-the-first-time-ever-to-be, that Appalatin’s members eat, drink, sleep, and breathe in their every available waking moment (and likely while they dream).  That they will capture it like some rare and ephemeral specimen under glass, where all of us can hear and see.

Those of us within the little bubble that is Louisville, many of whom already know them, can all look forward to the next phase of Appalatin’s unfolding evolution – not only in terms of their latest music, but also in terms of their just-budding career.  Lots more magic, lots more to come in the discovery of the happy, infectious, folk-hybrid vibe that is Appalatin – not just for those who are to newly discover them; not just for those who continue along with them for their journey; but also for the members and creators of Appalatin themselves.

Alright, enough of that.

May 192012

The Americana World Fest is coming!! There is another WorldFest in Louisville, and it is held at the Americana Center every June. Here is this years lineup.

AlHamsa/Gypsies of the Nile will be there. They’re a network-ensemble of bellydance performers comprised of women from Southern Indiana and the Louisville, KY area. Performing for this Show, AlHamsa Bellydance (the especially advanced performers) will show us what Fairoza, Raqia, and Zia can do; and we will also be seeing the ensemble’s up-and-coming, new bellydancers, Gypsies of the Nile, directed by Fairoza. Among these performers be on the look-out for Dilara, Mahina, and Dona with her veil fans.

Raqia’s Studio, BellyDance & More, is home for AlHamsa and Friends and is located in downtown New Albany (225 Pearl St.). They dedicate themselves to empowering women through dance – healing body, mind, and spirit. Ladies, of all types, ages, and sizes – y’all come! It’ll be great.

(And if you mistakenly think that you just haven’t got the body-type for it – think again. This group numbers beautiful, beautiful performers, most tastefully and elegantly decked out in costume – I’ve seen them! — from among ladies who shop among the half-sizes.)

Raqia’s annual Toy Drive (last year held at the Grand Theatre in Downtown New Albany) — which donates toys to children of need through charities such as AIM of Kentuckiana, Appalachian Mountains Foster Care, and Brandon House – is a yearly event for belladi bellydancers and Louisvillians alike and gives us all a chance to give back to their community.

Fairoza teaches beginner bellydance at JCPS on Wednesday evenings, concurrent with the school year. The Studio BellyDance & More is dying for every woman in Kentuckiana to come dance with them! For class info, 812-989- 0821.


Self Kuwa (real name Eric Mbrirzi) is a local Conscious/Alternative teen hip/hop performer and former Congolese refugee. He originally hails from the town of Uvira in the South Kivu region of the Congo (Central East, bordering Burundi). He and his courageous family are among the fortunate survivors of the horrific war, genocide, and conflict of that part of the world. This young rap/hip-hop performer has been in the States for five years and speaks English very fluently in addition to his native tongue of Swahili (he raps in both).

SK’s highlights include performing at the Americana Center (where he was mentored by staff member Jared Zarantonello), so this event holds a very important place in his heart. His second album, Swanglish (Swahili+English; released this year), is thirteen tracks of all-original material, which can be downloaded for free (can’t believe how generous this guy is), using this link: — Check it out! (But be sure to come and hear him at Americana as well.)

Self Kuwa will be attending Onondaga Community College in the Fall and hopes to study Computer Technology as a precursor to pursuing a career in Music Production. Watching Self Kuwa’s/Eric’s story blossom is a nothing-short-of-inspiring example of the American Dream unfolding before one’s eyes — he has a bright future ahead of him, and we should be hearing great things about him in years to come.


Nashville-based, Cherokee social-activist singer-songwriter Michael Jacobs advocates a characteristically Native American brand of social change (traditional values, compassion and empathy, peace, environmental concerns, mental/social/spiritual/emotional well-being – human concerns so self-evidently good, so clearly essential, that they shouldn’t need ‘advocacy,’ or require ‘social change,’ but yet do) via his thought-provoking lyrics.

His Cherokee name is ‘Unetlnv Ujeli Dekanogisgo,’ meaning ‘He [Who] Sings for [the] Creator.’ Michael’s latest album, The Art of Peace, was released earlier this year. He tours regularly across the US and Canada: at colleges/universities, festivals, fairs, libraries and museums, and at pow-wows. His debut CD, Sacred Nation, won the 2003 Native American Music Award for Best Independent Recording. His wife, Nicki Jacobs, will perform traditional Native American fancy-shawl dancing.

It’s really going to be a privilege for Louisville to have the Jacobses at Americana Fest this year.


A Musical Passport groove coordinated by percussionist Gary Pahler (Producer of KET’s Louisville Life), Coco Yam offers a cool, relaxed breeze fusion-stew of Afro-Pop/Afro-Beat, Jazz, Salsa, Reggae, and Cha-Cha. Mm. . . mm . . .

Members include KY artist-in-residence Gregory Acker, also the head of the Kyene Drum ensemble (flute/soprano saxophone/percussion/vocals); Kelli Brodersen (Associate Producer for KET’s Louisville Life) (lead vocals); Paul Carney (of Flamenco Louisville) (rhythm guitar); afrobeat educator Jeff Ellis of Frankfort (lead guitar); Yahya Johnson (studied under the great Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji) (percussion/tenor saxophone); Steve Loomis (bass guitar); and Ian Thomas (trombone).

Coco Yam is a (food?) staple at Belvedere’s World Fest; cook! at the World Equestrian Games; and come as a tasty ingredient in the Kentucky Arts Council’s Performing Arts Directory.


There is a rhythmic adage in West Africa that if you dance you drum, and if you drum you dance. So it makes sense that Baba Kenyatta, with his Guinean style drum corps and the recently formed West African Dance Troupe, under the instruction of Christa ‘Twaa’ Whaley, will be joining together.

The invigorating, vibrant sounds of West African drums: djembes, dundunbas, sangbaas, and kenkenis, intermingled with the diaspora of West African dance, will make for a very riveting AmericanaFest performance.

They have performed together before, most recently at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, this past April, as part of Da’Ville Classics.

Both Baba Kenyatta and Christa Twaa Whaley educate local kids in drumming and dancing on a regular basis (in after-school programs, at churches, workshops, at summercamps, etc). For info on the educational programs and performing, please contact Makalani Penman at 502/509-6798 (Sabari Bengoma) and Christá ‘Twaa’ Whaley (accent on the ‘a’) at 240/232-6230 or 240/2DANCE0 (The West African Dance Troupe).


‘CPHR DVN is Hip Hop’s Ascension’: husband and wife (‘Wize Mathematiks’ Cypher and Sultra Diviine) formed CPHR DVN while stationed together in the military, slightly over a decade ago, in Honolulu.

Their metaphysical hip-hop is influenced by sounds of CapeVerde (whence Sultra’s parents hail), Portuguese Ballads, reggae, Trip-Hop (ie., Poritshead), Jamaican Toasting from the late 60s/early 70s, Classical Music, Sounds of Nature, modern rock & hip-hop, avant-garde singers like Bjork, etc.; and funkily interspersed with socio-political, positive, thought-provoking lyrics of a multidimensional nature designed to express love and healing — with a danceable beat.

To summarize in their own words, they ‘are Hip-Hop alchemists, lyrical metaphysicists, and quantum dancers.’


They have released four albums, including last year’s IX KUTZ. . .Return of the Ninja! This album is based on the Nine Levels of Power, or nine cuts (as they are known) of Ninjitsu. Each song symbolizes one of these cuts in sequence, and the audience takes a ‘hip hop, a hippie, a hippie to the hip hip hop,’ following an intro track. And – even beyond – Wize is studying Music Production at UofL and they are about to start work on their next album.

They recently have performed at the JaGa Reggae Fest 2012 in Galveston, TX, and perform as well at a variety of venues around town, such as Solidarity, the Monkey Wrench, and Bearno’s, as well as WorldFest; plus HarvestHoot, Artography (Kenn Parks), ZombieFest, and Metaphysical Rhymes.


‘Nachale’ means ‘Dancing’ in Hindi — Bollywood Dance is not only a style from the movies amalgamated from various folk-styles — it is also a way to exercise and lose weight in India. Nachale imports Bollywood Dance Workout to America (where we sorely need it). But Nachale is not only a workout, it is also a local Bollywood troupe as well — all the brainchild of Bangalore native Vindhya Katta.

Vindhya teaches Nachale at Baptist Milestone East Wellness Center and other locations throughout the City. For more information, contact Vindhya at and 502-767-2116 (phone/text).

Nachale! Naturally!


The mesmerizing guitar of Long Thanh Nguyen — there is nothing like it. He is one of the great electric guitar players in Louisville, but most natives have not yet heard his music since he has been living in relative obscurity since arriving in this country. (Besides guitar, he can also play four traditional instruments, including a one-stringed violin and a sixteen-stringed flattop instrument).

Before coming to the US many decades ago as a Vietnamese War refugee, Mr. Nguyen taught musicians how to play and sing, including people who would later become famous in Saigon. He used to play backup for famous popstars of the day. One of my personal favorite stories about Long Thanh happened last year at the Thanksgiving Vietnamese Pop Variety Concert at the Horseshoe Casino, where he asked a famed Pop singer during a pause if he could come up on stage and join in — and she waved him up with obvious delight. Long Thanh let if riff. Mr. Nguyen has been making fewer appearances lately due to health considerations, but Louisville needs to hear him because Long Thanh plays with all his heart.


Rebabas (a South Sudanese homemade stringed instrument similar to a banjo that with a hypnotic groove), electric guitar, drums, singing, and occasionally keyboard makes up the Rebaba with the core group being co-founder Michael Pac (rebaba, drum), James Malou (drum), David Bior (Rebaba), Jacob Laul (rebaba, singing), Phillip Hakim (Keyboard, Electric Guitar), and occasionally Andrew Evrre (electric guitar), and David Bird (electric guitar).

The topics of the Rebaba music are universal — war & peace, love & women, family, emotions, grief, etc.

The band was formed in 2007 under the mentor-ship of UofI Bloomington Professor Ruth Droppo, although all members — former Sudanese Lost Boys (Dinka Tribe). These true survivors of horrors unimaginable are very fortunate to be living in the US against all odds juggling careers, family, further education, and musical past-time. One of the members without my asking anything about his experience started to be candid about some of his experiences and how it has effected his personality and how it still effects him on day-to-day basis. His and the other members lesson is never underestimate the power of music — the Rebaba, singing, and drumming got them through the horrors of war, being stuck at military camps, during the awkward US adjustment period, and today.

Because the members of the Rebaba all lead busy, healthy, productive lives; it can be difficult for the Rebaba to play — the Rebaba in my opinion of the great bands of any genre that Louisvillians really need to get to know.

One of the Rebaba’s highlights was performing at their first Waterfront WorldFest last year in which they were the favorite performance of Mayor Greg Fischer.

Alright, enough of that!

Mar 032012

Far Eastern Federal District:

# Flag Federal subject Capital/Administrative center
1 Amur Oblast Blagoveshchensk
2 ***Jewish Autonomous Oblast Birobidzhan
3 ***Kamchatka Krai Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
4 Magadan Oblast Magadan
5 Primorsky Krai Vladivostok
6 ***Sakha Republic Yakutsk
7 ***Sakhalin Oblast Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
8 ***Khabarovsk Krai Khabarovsk
9 ***Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Anadyr

***Sakha Republic (Yakutia) (Yakutsk): Sakha, the world’s largest Republic/State/Province, is yet one of the least populous; home of the Yakut people; mostly comprised of permafrost, frozen earth, which if it were to melt via global warming, would render Sakha a vast swampland. The coldest place on earth with the coldest town on earth (Oimyakon),Sakha contains Russia’s abundant diamond reserves and the world’s largest collection of mammoth bones (which doubtless makes the local dog population very happy).  (In Northern Sakha, there is scientific research center dubbed  Plastocene Park which is trying to recreate the WoolyMammoth’s stomping grounds of how it looked millenea ago and hopes to bring back the Wooly Mammoth through cloning.

It’s easy to get stuck in the mire and lost in Sakha; the gravity there pulls you in, making you feel that you can never escape – just like the four geologists in the classic Mikhail Kalatozov film Letter Never Sent or (variously translated) Unsent Letter:  off looking for Russia’s fabled Siberian diamond reserves in a locale that could only be Sakha/Yakutia.

Besides the diamonds and mammoth bones beneath, above the permafrost is a rich musical reserve. There can be a sexism with regard to female musicians, even in our culture, but not in Sakha, where female musicians (including the shamanistic actress/singer Stepanida Borisova, whose voice is supposed to have healed people) at times seems more dominant than those of the men – especially in purely vocal singing and in playing the khomus (which in Altai and Tuva is thought to be a sign of masculinity.

AayarKhaan, a female vocal/khomus trio, is the spitfire with an edge that makes foreign ears (like mine) say WTF. They sing in a traditional style called toyuk, which is a sort of heavy breathing that captures the spirit of sex, birth/motherhood, life, and death, with sharp quick pauses that imitate the sound of bird flight, sounds made by horses (of which they have their own beautiful breed), and other aspects of nature.

Olonkho is what they call the ancient Yakut artform of picturing and meshing together historical faith and spiritual understanding through epic style story-singing, an activity which can last as long as two nights. Dr. Eduard Alekseyev, a famed ethno-musicologist and native Yakut – and one of the musicologists noted for bringing the sounds of Tuvan music to the West — somehow managed to become a Moscow-trained classical musician now living in Boston and associated with Harvard. (Check out his field and video recording links below; if not, I will personally track you down and shoot you for wasting your life).

Diamonds are rock, so you might expect to find rock music there as well; garage bands have ‘surfaced’ in the past twenty years, most notably prog-rock band Cholbon, which seems to be influenced by Pink Floyd and (of course) the Stones. More along the traditional side are the Khatylaev family (headed by Klaydia and German) and Evenk dance and drumming ensemble Gulun.

Dolgans live in the far North, but they are just as impossible to find musical evidence of as they are in Krasnoyarsk. If you play around the links, you will find examples of Western-influenced music (besides rock of course), including techno, pop (MoonGirl), and saccharin (Dups). Sakha has its own musical instruments, including the rustic dramatic fiddle Kyryympa; the Appalachian-sounding stringed Tangsyr; the prominent bass Topsyr; the flat drum Dungur; the rattle Siksiir; the hunting horn Aiaan; and of course the Khomus (or Jew’s Harp).

There is a rising film industry happening in Yakutsk, most notably evident in Andrei Borissov’s By The Will of Genghis Khan, which was shown around the world including the US.

Sakha is the Diamond, musically and culturally, in the Rough – with the emphasis on ‘rough.’

Yakut Instruments:

(All instruments cited here are being demonstrated by the Khatylaev family) Khomus (Jew’s Harp) Kyryympa (Fiddle) Tangsyr (Banjo-like instrument – sounds a little Appalachian) Topsyr (Bass) Dungur (Drum) Siksiir (Rattle) Aiaan (Hunting Horn) By the Will of Genghis Khan (Trailer) By the Will of Genghis Khan (German Trailer – look for the arrow in the mouth shot) Letter Never Sent (Opening Shot) Letter Never Sent Trailer Letter Never Sent/The Unsent Letter (Get this!:  FULL MOVIE) Beauty of the Dolgan and Northern Tungus Culture (with Native Dolgan Music? – Sounds a little Tuvan.) Evenk Dance by Gulun **Dr. Eduard Alekseyev Interview #1 (life story) **Dr. Eduard Alekseyev Interview #2 (life as a music folklorist/ethnomusicologist, expeditions, and experimental/perhaps controversial ways of recording, frustrations with Melodia) **Dr. Eduard Alekseyev Interview #3-(On Olonkho) Dr. Eduard Alekseyev Interview #4 (Book – In Russian only) Dr. Eduard Alekseyev’s Harvard Collection (in Russian only – with Audio Clip of ‘Song of the Horse’) Eduard Alekeseyevs WebPage with Clips of Compositions ****Eduard Alekseyev’s Field Recordings Online ****Eduard Alekeseyev’s Field Video Recordings Online Beautiful Yakut women with HipHop/Rap **Yakut Song – Дьөһөгөй оҕото. Ysyakh (Yakut New Year)-2010 Yakut wind instrument accompaniment Cuban ensemble! Documentary on the Olonkho Epic Tradition Theater of Olonkho: Kyys Djebeliye, Part I. Theater of Olonkho: Kyys Djebeliye. Part II **Pyotr Reshetnikov – Olonkho Performance (52 minutes) Northern Rainbow Festival Singing (Female in Olonkho – Traditional Epic Style Singing) Northern Rainbow Festival Dances Northern Rainbow Festival Part 1 Northern Rainbow Festival Part 2 Stories & Novels by Sakha Authors Olga Podluzhnaya ft ‘103’ Rock Band – Yakut Warriors. Khomus **** Saham Sire (My Yakutia). By ‘103’. Rock from a little Siberian village of Khatassy. **’103′ Rock Band – Ohuokhai Serge (tethering-post). By the ‘103’ band. Rock from a little Siberian village of Khatassy AayarKhaan – Presentation Video Ayarkhaan Elleyada *** AyarKhaan – Playlist (4 Videos) ( Cuckoo, Devine Young Ladies, Daybir’s Song, Autumn Bird Migration) AyarKhaan – Song at Open World Center\ **Ayarhaan – Fireball on Jew’s Harp Ayarkhaan Jew’s Harp from the Sakha Republic Ayarkhaan Initiation into Sacred Knowledge **Ayarkhaan live at Sfinks 30-07-11 **Ayarkhaan (FMM Sines 2011) AyarKhaan – ‘Awakening’ Ayarkhaan’s Saidyko Fedorova is playing khomus (mouth harp) in Yakutsk, Russia Ayarkhaan’s founder, Albina Degtyareva – The legend of the creation of the world Ayarkhaan’s founder, Albina Degtyareva, at Women In Paradise 2010 Female Khomus player Kulichkina Maria Female Khomus Player Maria Kulichkina Maria Kulchkina in Hungary Female Khomus player Fiodorova Natalia Female Khomus player Savvina Anna Stepanida Borisova & Pavel Fajt (Czech Percussionist) Create Account|Sign In Browse|Movies |Upload Shamanic music of Stepanida Borisova Festival Artico II, concierto de Stepanida Borisova Female Yakut signer Lena Spiridonov with chirping birds. Irina sings Psalm 67 as a toyuk (Style of Sakha singing)!ayarkhaan—female-ethno-group-from-republic-of-sakha AyarKhaan samples Ayarkhaan – Dedication to Kudai Bakhsy, the blacksmiths’ patron (on autoplay) Yakut Song by MoonGirl MoonGirl Juliana (Юлияна) – Uhuktuu (‘Awakening’) Osuokhay, Sakha Round Dance Beyond Time and Space – ‘Mira Maximova’

Yakut Song by Mira Maximova Somewhere Over the Rainbow (cover), Mira Maximova Indigo Song by Umira2 (Mira Maximova) (2003) Original Song by Mira Maximova Mira Maximova & Rose Ushkanova – ‘Regeneration’** ‘We are the Champions!’ Performed by Yakut singers. (Legentei, the Khatylaevs, Albina Degtyareva, AyarKhaan, etc.); dedicated to Vancouver 2010. Haunting Yakut Song w/ pictures of Sakha & its people Kim Borisov (male) playing khomus at Kecskemét: Speed of Time Kim Borisov 7th International Congress Festival 2011 Yakutsk Kim Borisov at 1st Moscow Jew’s Harp Festival Male Khomus Player Spiridon Shishigin playing Maultrommel Jofen spiridon shishigin Спиридон Шишигин Spiridon Shishigin Спиридон Шишигин ‘Waltz’ on Khamus by Spiridon Shishigin, Yakutia Spiridon Shishigin Improv I Da Boogie – Berkakit Rock I Da Boogie – ‘I’m So Tired’ ***A little documentary on Klavdia and German Khatylaev and Sakha music.


***Chukotka Autonomous Okrug (Anadyr)

In Chukotka the world comes full circle, North America and Asia almost touching each other, in a geographic ouroboros — a snake circling around and joining its head to its tail, eating itself:  here, where Asia and the Americas gaze across the waters at each other from their most extreme points of East and West, the two continental landscapes start to look similar, with similar plants, similar animals – and even, with the Inuit, similar people.

This being an inaccessible and therefore exotic region of the globe, one knows so little about it (or that’s been true for me, at least).  We all know about the barren, frozen wilderness the land is locked inside; and we know of gold rushes to Alaska — of the gold locked within the land.

Out of such mythic, empty terrains often pour stories of incalculable wealth that defies both the imagination and what one can see on the surface of poverty and harsh living conditions among the inhabitants.  But any lucky adventurer who is going to be among the first to find gold, and strike it really rich, has to look past the dismal and unpromising surface of the place and brave the elements, the conditions, the heavy odds against surviving (not to mention against finding anything) — and just go out exploring.  There’s simply no other way.

As for gold – well, you know me:  couldn’t care less (or, well, you know what I mean).  What I’M after is a different kind of wealth:  world music, and the stranger and more exotic, the less well-known, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

So – IS there music here?  WILL our search be rewarded?  Who knows.  But I’m game – how about you?

Great!  OK, then, get your traveling gear – and log onto LMN’s website to follow along with sound and audio links at the web-version of this article that are posted there.

And now here we are! in the far reaches of the Northern Arctic, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska.

Our predecessors — explorers and outposters who’ve been here before us — include the famous Captain Cook, who visited Cape Schmidt (a secret bomber base during the Cold War) in 1778.  Cook may have encountered a greater diversity of ethnic groups in his time than we will in ours – but what we will find is that we are in what is home not only to the native Chukchi, but also to the Inuit – a people who have spread from across Chukotka  to the Canadian Arctic and then onward to Greenland.

The Yupik Inuit immigrated to Alaska at least 2000 years prior to the Arctic Inuit we know.  Later, different Inuit came across the Bering Strait a thousand years ago in the form of medieval, iron-clad warriors known as the Thule, who used their harpoons in battle. Genghis Kahn’s defeat in Hungary had dried up the silk-road, leaving the Chukotkan Thule starving and iron-less – but they made it across the Bering Strait – and there met the progenitors of the Native Americans – gentle giants, apparently, who took in the Thule/Inuit and showed them their ways. We often think of the Inuit as being the ancestors of the Native Americans – but that is not true – they have different DNA – and these other, gentle-giant people were the First People in Inuit myth (not the Inuit themselves).

The Inuits treated their Native American benefactors in a fashion similar to how the Europeans later treated the Native Americans:  i.e., swooped in, ‘befriended’ the Natives, learned their ways, took their women – and then either displaced or killed them. And the Thule did this on an even more brutal scale than the Europeans since the First People are essentially extinct in that part of the world – perhaps not completely genetically, but in terms of being an identifiable, separate culture.

Wow.  It’s shaping up to look like the (hi)story was – the Americas ur-natives = gentle losers; the Asian ur-natives = pushy winners.  And in fact the Inuit historically have been one of the few ethnic groups that other cultures could not defeat – they staved off the formidable Russian Cossacks (who settled for intermarrying with local Chukchi when establishing Chukotka as part of the Motherland).  The Norse Vikings, of such fearsome reputation, had been living in Greenland peacefully until the Inuit came and drove them out.

(So — the Norse had been living in Greenland long before the Inuit – really? When studying history, expect the unexpected. All those tales about Europeans coming and driving the Native Americans out from their homes and disturbing their way of life – in Greenland it seems to have been the reverse.  But, again, we know what to expect in regions like this:  a lot of legends and myths it is hard to really know the truth of, one way or the other.)

More recently the fighting has more been done over the native populations by strongman third-parties.  Another ‘Eskimo’-type group, called the Inupiat, who live at this latitude on both sides of the Strait, and who used to live on the Diomedes Islands only 28 miles from the US, were removed during WWII to Chukotka by the Russian Government so they wouldn’t be assimilated by the Americans.

Then Russia had to fight off claims from both the USA and Canada, who tried to get the Island for themselves as late as the 1930s.  From the late 20s/early 30s there was a settlement on Wrangel called Ushakovskoye, that lasted only until 2003. I guess maybe because both the conditions and the people there continue to be pretty harsh: there was a string of grisly rapes and murders during the 30s, where the killer turned out to be the Governor of the Island.

Can’t get far in a wilderness like this without knowing something about the plants we can eat and the animals we’ll have to rely on and for game.  So what’s here?

Great! – there’s an abundance of safe forests; berries of different varieties; surprisingly fertile soil (for anybody who wants to do some farming); lots of little cute forest critters for hunting; and even a wealth of walrus tusks and whale and mammoth bone for carving (if one wants to have something to do) (and even something to sell). Chukotka is actually the walrus tusk-carving capital of the world; Whale Bone Alley is a Yttygran Island tourist destination. (Love the online images of the hundreds upon hundreds of walri resting on top of each other on the Chukotka coastline with their tusks sticking out chaotically everywhere – no wonder they often accidentally kill each other if there is one of those mad dashes into the ocean that they make).

And I’d just be willing to bet there are an abundance of mosquitoes, blackflies, horseflies, and deerflies.  Still – there have been people who headed for Chukotka to try to give peace a chance:  it was the jumping-off place for Russian Hippies during the Sixties to try to escape to the West and raise families (and arctic pot?).

Up here the sun does not set in August, which makes for all-day fishing (if you are any sort of a bass master). And there is one part of Chukotka where all of this great wildlife exists, but without the dangerous animals like polar bear and whale that you get in other areas – sort of an Arctic Shangri-La.

But perhaps most important for us as explorers-without-portfolio, Chukotka is the home address of the Siberian Husky (the ‘official dog’ of the Chukchi).  Now, this was an import we successfully spirited away to the US  – and nearly all of it was their own doing:  the Soviets decided for some reason to kill or imprison the wealthy Chukchi dog owners at the very moment the Americans were discovering the breed – which essentially mostly transferred it wholesale from Russia to the US during the 20th c.

But it’s not as if we’ve never given them anything in return.  There is, now, among the Chukchi and Inuit of Chukotka, as one of their most famous iconic images, a carved impy, grinning man, a symbol of luck, called a billiken – that was (somehow) imported from Kansas City (the creator was a someone named Florence Pretz).

Although the billiken was only introduced into the remote regions of the Arctic slightly over a hundred years ago, it has already become a staple of Chukchi and Inuit culture, with the purpose of absorbing bad karma, and is regarded as if it has been part of these cultures for thousands of years. Billikens are similar to the Kewpie, which was a commercial good luck charm and a common design for American commercial crap a hundred years ago – but which was good luck only for the businessmen who made money off of it.  The (in-this-respect luckless) Chukchi and Inuit of Chukota and Alaska took the design and adopted it into their walrus tusk-carving and whale bone carvings (as practiced in Uelen, in the easternmost, tippy-tip District of Chukotsky) – and claimed it was an ancient, native symbol of luck to gullible tourists.

But this is only one of the two-legged species of fortunehunters that have been known to prowl Chukotka over the years, bringing both good and ill luck.

Chukotka, though undeniably one of the poorest regions in all the Russias, with in the not-too-distant past no roads going into it so that it was almost impassable, has always been famous as a place of wealth, where gold, platinum, and silver could be mined.  As a result its once-isolated Anadyr is, I think, currently one of ex-Russia’s ten richest cities.  And now the Okrug has also struck it rich, mainly thanks to former Governor and multi-gazillionaire Roman Abramovich (born in Saratov, orphaned, and raised by an uncle – who, as luck would have it, is the primary owner of Millhouse Capital and the Chelsea Football Club).  Abramovich put his own money into turning the region from Down on Its Luck and God-Forsaken to Blessed by Fortune in a matter of years. Places that did not have electricity ten or fifteen ago now have Internet; and I would also the roads and infrastructure are also greatly improved.

Whether Roman Abramovich’s motives are pure or if he’s just doing it in order to exploit the area’s natural resources is not clear.  He has been accused of engaging in many illegal activities in connection with his business practices, such as blackmail, bribery, loan fraud, illegal share-dilution, antitrust violations, and even of having ties to the Russian mob.  (He is a typical Russian millionaire in other words.)

Also, it is unclear what the negative environmental impact on the region will be like in ten years’ time. What is clear is that Abramovich is still very popular (almost becoming mythic in local culture):  beloved by the Chukotkan people because, as Governor from 2000-2008, he single-handedly created a better life all-around for a lot of people and took a lot of them out of abject poverty.

The ourobos devours itself and eats its own tail.  Resources are tapped; resources depleted.  Depression goes to Boom . . . then on to Bust.  Already, despite Chukotka’s vastly-improved GDP, there have been boom towns, formerly with large populations, that are now being dismantled and liquidated due to the fact they have exhausted their excavation of mineral wealth.

Only 51 miles from the American shore is Cape Dezhnev — home to one of the most brutal gulags ever to exist – not really. The definitive book about it, As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me, by Austrian WWII soldier Cornelius Rost (as told to author Josef Martin Bauer), chronicles his internment there, his escape and temporary adoption by the Chukchi, and his subsequent odyssey on foot across Russia through Central Asia and Iran, and finally home.  (I would have gone 51 miles in the other direction, but that is just me.)

This epic tale has been turned into two films, so far – but I am not sure but that it might only be a tall tale – a hoax.  By Chukotka-invading golddiggers.  For there was no concentration camp in Cape Dezhnev (ah ha see!) and neither is there any documentation that he was rescued.

But as for us — after all our journeying across all this frigid ice and snow – is there any music here, or is it all just fable?  And if there is any music to be found here — will we get lucky enough to be able to locate and then get some out?

Ergyron: the official State professional music and dance ensemble in Chukotka – a sure-enough vein that we can mine, ongoing.  It is not only dedicated to keeping the musical spirit of the two main ethnic groups – the Chukchi and the Inuit – alive; but also that of the Koryaks, the Chuvans, and the reindeer-herding Lamuts.

The Chukchi have strong female musicians from more than a single generation: Galina Tagriny (whom I would assume is no longer alive); Olga Letykai, a middle-aged woman who travels around the world demonstrating Chukchi music and dance (and then posting her demos on YouTube); and Veronica Usholik (who looks from online to be in her thirties), who not only performs Chukchi traditional music and dance but also incorporates it into her Rock band Gubernator. Usholik has the additional interesting talent of being able to sing ventriloquially while playing the jew’s harp.  Not all of the singers are women – there is elderly throat singerAlbert Ragtuvje.

I almost forgot to talk about the Ergyron ensemble – the official touring ensemble of the Chukchi Okrug.  They not only sing music & dance from the Chukchi and Inuit, but also the lesser known ethnic groups  such ast the Koryaks, the Chuvans, and the reindeer-herding Lamuts, etc.  They have a really haunting song called Nunlingran which is a town in the Providencia District of Chukotka.

Chukchi and Inuit singing/throat-singing incorporates imitations of a widely-varying bunch of sounds:  animals, seagulls and other birds, other kinds of wildlife, various sounds of nature (and what sounds like sex). Very gritty, primal stuff — but Chukchi music can also be very harmonious and melodic. The Inuit use high-pitched-squeals and throaty-deep sounds – I cannot tell the difference when it is a male singer or female singer since they have the same vocal style – although there seems to be more female musicians than men.

There is a well-known Chukchi reindeer-slaughtering festival, held annually in the inland town of Amguema, called Vylgynkoranymat, that features singing and dancing; that sounds pretty fascinating — but I can’t find any video of it.  (So no gold for us this time.  But we’ll keep looking.)

There seems to be a very tiny music scene (one of the bands seems to be called CHE_тыре стула) and some clubs in the town of Provideniya (where the Yupiks, who are among the descendants of the ferocious Thule, live). This local music seems to have sprung up due to the fact that this town became the tourist mecca of choice for American visitors from Alaska after global warming (the political kind) first melted the icy tensions of the Cold War.

In this particular region of Chukotka, around Provideniya, the music seems more Western Russian and American (and the Native Chukchi and Inuit seem to be on a distant glacier). Uh-oh.  Bummer.  Snake-eating-tail here.  All this journey – all this way – all this native tradition, for God’s sake all throughout this huge, magnificent region of the world and it’s in danger of getting devoured by contemporary, same-old, same-old Western stuff from just a few more miles to the East – where we started out. Chukchi Dance (Ergyron) Chukotka “The Ergyron Ensemble” Fribourg 2008 part 2 Chukotka “The Ergyron Ensemble” Fribourg 2008 part 1 **Jewish Songs in the Chukchi (There were Jewish prisoners in the Gulag and more on Jewish Music when we explore Jewish Oblast) Chukchi Lullabies ** Ergyron & Gailna Tagriny, Lullabies, cranes, reindeer, etc. ERGYRON Kuthk & the mice (music: Ergyron) (1985′ animation movie based on the ancient Chukchi legend “Tale about raven Kutkh”. -”who knew that the Chukchi telling of the formation of the world is essentially a Tom & Jerry cartoon?” Chukotka Dance Troop performs at Tchir Tchayan, Part II Chukotka on Internationaal Salland festival Olga Letykai , Alissa Csonka, Ugnugnu (throatsinging (very sexual like and jew harp) Olga Letykai “La danse du feu” Browse|Movies |Upload Olga Letykai Csonka “Pour Toutes Les Mamans” Young Chukchi Throat-singer Колыбельная (beautifully haunting) YouTube Channel of Olga Letykai Olga Letykai (throatsinging & jew harp) Olga Letykai (throatsinging, chanting & drumming) Albert Ragtuvje Enmelen Chukotka Russia (beautiful high and deep throaty)

(Note: Emmelen is a Russian town with both a Chukchi & a Yupik population in the Providencia District) **Enmelen by Larisa Tnanaut Enmelen A. Raqtuwie, Larisa Tnanaut, Olga Letykai ** Olga Letykai Csonka Chukotka chukchi people enmelen 2.MOV Verinica USHOLIK (leader of Gubernator) Verinica USHOLIK @ Art Arktic Festival 2007 Afterparty Female Chukot Throat-singing similar to Native American

Mar 032012

# Flag Federal subject Capital/Administrative center
1 *****Altai Republic Gorno-Altaysk
2 Altai Krai Barnaul
3 ***Buryat Republic Ulan-Ude
4 Zabaykalsky Krai Chita
5 Irkutsk Oblast Irkutsk
6 Kemerovo Oblast Kemerovo
7 ***Krasnoyarsk Krai Krasnoyarsk
8 ***Novosibirsk Oblast Novosibirsk
9 Omsk Oblast Omsk
10 Tomsk Oblast Tomsk
11 ***Tuva Republic Kyzyl
12 ***Republic of Khakassia Abakan

Altai Krai (Baranaul):

Altai is a Region of South Central Siberia comprised of two Federal subjects:  one, a krai (i.e., agricultural territory); and the other, a Republic.  The major ethnic groups of this Region inhabit both; however, there are some major differences between the two Altai:  the Krai contains some of Russia’s most important agricultural lands – and, that being the case, it is flat, very fertile, and steppe-like; while the Republic is almost completely mountainous, sporting two complete mountain ranges, the Altai and the Sayan.

But the chief difference between them is that the people of the Republic have kept more in touch with the traditional music and culture of the Altai Region, while the people of the Krai have adhered more to music that is classically and popularly based, drawing on influences from outside.

(So – for the good stuff – get to the Republic!) Konstantin Scherbakov (Classical Pianist) Julia Neigel (German singer born in Altai) Famous Tenor Vladimir Galouzine – Turandot – Nessun dorma Vladimir Galouzine – Pagliacci – Vesti la giubba Alexander Lokshin (soprano) – Symphony #1 ”Requiem’ Cossack Music in the Altai Rap/HipHop in the Atai Krai Baranaul Electric Music Barnaul Musical Salon

    *****Altai Republic (Gorno-Altaysk): (gets two extra asterisks)

    Now, with our arrival here in the enmountained Altai Republic, we are entering upon a REALLY, REALLY, REALLY special cultural area of the world, musically.  And even though one might come to it being already somewhat familiar with the music of neighboring Tuva, the native throat-singing and instrumentation here, in the Altai Region, will still hit one like a ton of bricks.  It is just amazing.

I mean, it is deliciously good.  At the risk of sounding like I am exaggerating, I would have to say that the music of Altai is, above all, ‘necessary.’  By which I mean that – once one has heard it, it starts to cross one’s mind that, if one were to have died without ever having heard it, one would have wasted, if not one’s whole life, then certainly one’s ears.  The listening experience of this Region:  maybe most like, opening a present – great on the outside; but gets even better inside.  Because their songs start off in some exciting direction, and then they change, switching to something very different, wholly unexpected (but musically logical) – a bit like a story by O. Henry, maybe.  Or (one might say) their music is like biting through chocolate candies that have some delectable center of unknown flavor hidden inside.

Tuva, Tuva, Tuva’ – if Tuva is the Brady Bunch ‘Marsha, Marsha, Marsha’ of Central Asia, musically speaking, Altai is the Continental Jan: an oft-overlooked ‘middle child’ sandwiched between two musical ‘star’ Regions on either side – and therefore living in the cultural shadow of its most-recently-discovered-by-American-ears neighbor – though really just as wonderful.

(Truth to tell, much the same could be said of certain other Siberian Republics, such as Khakassia and Sakha [aka Yakutia].)

More specifically, throat-singing is native to Altai, just as it is to Tuva.  But the throat-singing here is called ‘Kai’ and is recognizably different:  if you listen to both Tuvan and Altaian throat-singing styles, they are distinct – you can tell the difference between them pretty readily.  Some of Kai throat-singing is similar to the whistling and deep sounds you hear in Tuvan music, but with Kai you get sounds that try to encompass more of the natives’ natural world – that seem even more expansive in their mimicry – than what is indigenous to Tuva.  For example, Kai treats you to sounds of bird whistles; laughter; people talking, cranes walking, recreated on a Jew’s harp; and raven or crow noises (caw! caw!).  While Tuvan throat-singing comes in a variety of sub-styles, each of which can be found listed as its own category, with Altai throat-singing, there seem also to be various sub-styles – but I cannot find any listing or account of it.

Altai makes a claim to being the home of the khomus, also known as the Jew’s harp — an instrument that can in fact be found all over Asia, parts of Europe, and of course in Appalachia.  But whereas a lot of other places regard the Jew’s harp as kind of a pretty humble cultural fixture, the Altai Republic seems to have really taken the instrument to its heart and to take a special pride in this simple instrument’s being their own special invention.  Whether the Jew’s harp did actually originate in the Region is of course not all that clear, but the people of the Altai do make a good case that indeed it might have.

As among some of the other instruments besides the Jew’s harp you would be likely to come across in the Region (per the links below), the other main one is the two-stringed topshur:  similar to a guitar or banjo, the topshur looks a lot like a lute (and it makes an awful lot of music, given its limitation of only having two strings!).  The Altai has something called an ‘ikili,’ their version of a long-necked fiddle you place on your lap and play.  A shoor, which you also see in Tuvan culture, is a type of end flute (no holes along its length – one one at the end) that is played pointed downward.  The shatra is a type of rattle; a shagur, a woodwind instrument with holes on the side.  (And there is also a clay wind instrument called an ‘ungrek’ – but I don’t know that I can find examples of that.)

There are examples detailed below of the wind instrument made of birch bark that is called an Adishi-marok (which may, or may not, help them out with their bird whistles).  Not to be confused with an Amirgi-marok, which is a wind instrument used to beguile deer.  (Neat, huh?)

The artists from the Altai are not really touring out here among the rest of us, with the exception of Altai Kai and a very few others, but that could change.  (In fact most of the musicians in the Region, both male and female, are not even known, in the sense of having been recorded/Youtubed, but I can list some of them for you: Alexi G. Kalkin (one link below), N. Ulagashev, P. Kutshiyak , Deley, while more modern vocalists include Aleksey Kalkin, S. Aetenov, Shunu Yalatov Tovar Tchetsiyakov,, Tanishpai Shinshin., and female singers Raisa Modorova, and Natalja Yenchinova

The group that seems to be the one that people do know about, and that does tour, is Altai Kai.  As their name might tend to suggest, they favor the use of traditional instruments, and what I am listening to by them right now comes across as almost ‘tribal’:  with a strong, rhythmic beat, and an almost-synthesizer tone, in the bass range – a sophisticated sort of effect they have evidently perfected from getting musically out and about, touring the world, and which leaves them sounding most pleasingly gothic and haunted.  Galloping horses, rivers rushing sound through their music.  They have a song not at all dissimilar from Queens’ ‘We will, we will Rock You’; but traditional, mind you.

They came very nearby and played somewhere in the Blue Ridge of Virginia, being joined in in improvisation by Appalachian musicians (link below – check it!).  Some of Altai Kai’s throat-singers started in singing in the Appi Mountain rhythm – the melded traditions both being deeply rich and at least semi-ancient mountain ones (way cool).

Before Altai Kai, the best-known representative of Altai music was a guy called Nogan Shumarov (who also went by the name Nohon) — a noted throat-singer, playwright, and kamus-player.  I list some links in which he talks about/plays the komus.  The other main musical idol from the Region is the avant-garde Bolot Bayrishev — who goes into a trance when he sings his (rock) music (how mystique is that?).

This music is as rugged and as rough as the mountains that produced it.  Both the Appalachians and the Andes are world-known for their musics; and that of the Altai ought to be classed with them.

(Capital: Gorno-Altaysk) Telengits Tubalars Chelkans Kumandins Shors Nomads Life

(Note there are other ethnic groups in the Altai: the Tubalar (the Tuba-Kizhi), the Tchelkan, the Kumandin, the Shor, the Teleut, the Teles, and the Telengit – found music on some – most are elusive – musicologists get out there!) The Telengits (with Native Music) The Tubalars and the Chelkans (with Native Music – and unique food) Teleuts with Native Singing & Cooking Natalja Yenchinova and **Tandalai (modern female singer) A small part of the Maadai-kara (Great Altai Epic) Altai Epics & Kai Тандалай (Раиса Модорова) Raisa Modorova Raisa Modorova #2 Altai Storyteller #1 Altai Storyteller #2 Group Tala Group Tala Altai Komus (Jew Harp) master Nogon Shumarov Bolot Bayrishev official WS Bolot Bayrishev – Altai Bolot – Wanderer Bolot Bayrishev Male Bass Khomus Player Bezerk – Moscow Duo Turbodzen plays the Altai Khomus Altai Tiaga Festival with Culkin (that’s what the Home Alone kid grew up to be!?!) actually it is Aleksey Kalkin Female Altai Khomus Player -(makes horse sounds) Altai female Khomus player with unusual high-pitched sounds Altai Kai come to the Blue Ridge (@ 4 minute mark – Altai music meets Appalachian music – Altai throat singer starts imitating the Appalachian rhythms & style) Altai Musical instruments website (Translated English Version – Can order from it) Nogan Shumar Bio YouTubes ***Top Tracks for Altai Kai (LISTEN TO EVERY SINGLE SONG – IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE) Altai Kai Playlist #1 (first song is an ancient ‘kai’ song that has the same beat as “We Will Rock You” Altai Kai Playlist #2 (LISTEN TO ALL OF THIS – ONLY 14 VIDEOS- 3rd video is the wonderful, haunting Alkystar – last two videos come from Chukotka and Buryatia) Altai Male Singing & Topshur Playing Male Altai Throat-singing, singing & Topshur Playing Female Altai Singing & Jew Harp Chagat Uryankhai morning.wmv (with Native Altay singing & ‘kai’) ETNIKA.SU’s Altai Music Channel (ONLY 117 VIDEOS!!!)

    ***Buryatia Republic (Ulan-Ude):

(Shasha Baron Cohen likely took-off from its inspiration to coin ‘Borat’ — though of course Borat’s own Eastern European village-provenance (and arguably the entire film) was a social and aesthetic eyesore (did you see it? — talking about the Nude wrestling scene in the hotel of course between Borat & his hairy overweight manager); whereas Buryatia is where people live in harmony, are beautiful, and the rural countryside is correspondingly knock-out gorgeous.). Its magnetic spell will draw you, Orientalizing Pied Pier as it is, to this landlocked, hypnotic Bali-Hai.

So hurry along, Come! Come! Come to Buryatia: then relax, sit back, and enjoy the extreme scenery, the compelling music, and whichever human gender you prefer. (In my case it is the sexy women)

–Here, where Burats, Russians (for, yes, as you can see, here is conclusive evidence that Russians really are ‘Secret Asian Men’), the tribal Evenks, and the rare Soyots have been living in peaceful coexistence for centuries, in this Buddhist, Shamanistic enclave.

The TransSiberian Railway passes through here, of course (being that it is this romantic, it has to) – and over a decade ago I caught a documentary, on PBS, that offered a virtual excursion aboard the TSR. They stopped off in this Oriental-looking city that had dragon prayer-wheels. Turns out that city was Ulan-ude – and Xandu has been beckoning me ever since, with a hypnotic intensity that Coleridge could have instantly related to.

Buryatian Namgar Lhasa Ranova is a phenomenal musical force to be reckoned with. She started out with her folk-rock group Uragsha (not to be confused with the sexy [no, make that very sexy], female Burat quartet Uragshaa). She is now a self-titled ‘group,’ ‘Namgar.’

The Region’s traditional folk instruments are the banjo-like chanza, which sounds very similar to a balalaika, or (perhaps without too much of a stretch) a Spanish guitar; the Mongolian horsehead-fiddle, a morin huur (also with horsehair strings), i.e., a square box emitting plaintively wailing cello-like sounds; and that curious-looking zither, the yatag.

It’s no wonder a Lama died there years ago, sitting in lotus posture, and, instead of falling into decay, self-mummified in situ. That is kind of the effect Buryatia has on your soul: you’ve heard of ‘the city too busy to hate’? Well, this is the Region&people too serene ever to lose their ideal shape.

(An extra bonus – and speaking of Shangri-La – Buryatia is a place where Tantra has been practiced for centuries.)


This is the hidden place that hiders know.

This is where hiders go.

Step softly, the snow that falls here is different snow,

The rain has a different sting.

Step softly, step like a cloud, step softly as the least

Whisper of air against the beating wing,

. . .

Or you will never find in the lost field

. . . the marches of armed wrath . . .

This is where hiders live.

This is the tentative

And outcast corner where hiders steal away

. . .

This is the hiders’ house.

. . .

This is the quiet place.

(– From John Brown’s Body, Stephen Vincent Benet)


Some 200 miles to the Southeast of Lake Baikal, from which this great Region, meaning ‘TransBaikal,’ gets its name — somewhere uncertain, but close by — the the birthplace, the deathplace, the burial ground of the immortal Genghis Khan.

No buildings — no monuments, walls, or tombs — were left behind by his conquering Mongols.  They lived mounted, simply making their way repeatedly back and forth, to and fro between their huts here in the homeland and each new place along their route of conquest; back and forth, forward and back, along ever-lengthening trails that eventually radiated out from Khan’s empty and isolated stronghold in every direction for thousands of miles.

When the time came, the burial of the Great Khan was top-secret and its site forbidden — and spawned tales that 800 horse-soldiers in his funeral train had killed every human and animal they encountered along the way for 40 miles; then trampled the grave to hide its location; then were killed in turn by other soldiers, who did not know the grave’s location; and then that those soldiers were killed by yet a third set – and finally (defeating the purpose perhaps? – but something we know to be historical fact) the area was sealed off – and dubbed Ikh Khorig, ‘the Great Taboo’ — for hundreds of square miles around — and soldiers stationed at the borders to kill any and every intruder – a policy and practice which stood for 800 years.

But that was only the body of Genghis Khan that was lost to history, at that time.  According to Mongol belief, the soul of a dead warrior passed at death into his windblown, horsehair ‘Sulde,’ or Spirit Banner, that in life he always carried and kept with him as his own identifying ‘flag.’  Buddhist monks living by the River of the Moon, beneath the black Shankh Mountains, preserved Genghis Khan’s soul (i.e., spirit banner) until the 1930’s (!) – when Stalin arrived to destroy their monastery.  But supposedly someone secretly managed to rescue the Great Khan’s soul-cum- Sulde (but from that time it disappeared).

But the secrecy of the place wasn’t done yet.  In order to preclude its being used (mythically charged with legend as it was) to inflame nationalist spirit, the Soviet Government made it its own separate, secret, and barricaded ‘Highly Restricted Area,’ controlled directly by Moscow, one million hectares big – and (as if they were killing off successive waves of funeral soldiers) surrounded that with another ‘Restricted Area’ of another million hectares; used it to house an air base of MiG’s plus a nuclear arsenal – and  then, as the piece de resistance, parked a tank base out front.

But, even following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when archaeologists were for the first time being allowed in, the secrecy surrounding this spooky place still wasn’t dead:  the locals objected to their excavating on the grounds that it would disturb huge numbers of ancient Mongol graves. (One archaeologist commented, ‘They speak about more than 800 burial sites.. . . The burial places of Mongolian Khans are sacred and must be hidden in a very secret place.’)  (By the way, have you noticed?  We keep seeing the number ‘800’ here . . . tres mythic.)

So, while here be secrets, of Buddhist monks; secret and forbidden burial grounds; sealed and guarded precincts; dark epicenter of an intangible ancient Empire that dreamed of being as wide as their deity, the Eternal Blue Sky itself; White Heart of Darkness of an-all-too tangible Empire whose dreams were much the same – what we do not find is much of anything else – including music.  (We do find a people known as the Semeisky, ‘Old Believers,’ sort of Russia’s Amish.  Hardly surprising.)

And we find birds. (Trains as well)

The Territory today is basically a giant nature preserve, with some of the best bird-watching in the world.  Those with the proper eagle-eye can see up to six species of crane at once, and a number of the species here are unique to the Region.  It is also a migratory hub, where not just birds of a feather, but birds from all over the world fly to and fro, coming and going across and around the globe, all flocking together like little Russian ‘ethnic groups’ on the wing.  (Or ghostly warrior-herder-horsemen nomads, their Spirit Banners flying, making their baleful, migratory rounds.)

The singer-musicians here are the birds.  The ancient Mongols’ landscape would have resonated everywhere with bird-calls, morning and evening.   Birds as evocative of the primal elements of music itself:  of melody; of rhythm (marking the time of day and the season); of repetition and refrain.   Birds as the progenitors and prototypes of human song in Central Asia; as the most aboriginal of ‘musical influences’ on humankind – since (per my discussion of the Altai Region) birds inspired throat-singing.

And of course frogs inspired throat-singing.  Frogs, that – like this changeless, timeless Eden – are covered up in mystery.  Frogs, who metamorph so dramatically, from tadpole to their adult form, that they must be under enchantment.  Frogs, who therefore could turn into princes; frogs, who might have once been princes.  Frogs, who sit on lily-pads unmoving; see without seeming to look – frogs who appear to be ‘meditating’ like great Eastern wisemen.  Frogs, who can ‘turn to stone’ cryogenically – certain species being able to freeze and then thaw again in springtime – and therefore wielding magical power over death.  (Remember the Buddhist monk whose corpse, caught in ‘lotus-posture’ at the moment of death, spontaneously mummified, that I told you about in an earlier section?)


Less than a hundred years prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, there was a failed coup attempt, known as the Decembrist Revolt, that was staged in St. Petersburg on Tsar Nicholas I’s ascent to the throne following the Heir Apparent, Constantine’s, self-removal. This Revolt was spearheaded by intellectuals with the support to key military and even Russian royalty. When the five leaders were condemned to hanging in the Winter Palace (now the Hermitage Museum), the ropes being used to hang them broke. By Russian tradition, that (and it was an ‘accident’ that had clearly been arranged) should have meant that they were allowed to live. (However, Nicholas broke with tradition and had them re-hanged, anyway.)

The remaining revolutionaries were exiled to Siberia, some to the City of Chita in Zabaykalskyy; the rest to Irkutsk. That fact has meant that those areas were transformed from frozen Siberian wildernesses into cultural and intellectual hot-spots, as that group of exiled intellectuals got the opportunity not only to live out their lives as they chose, in freedom, but to reshape the area politically, economically, and educationally, as its Leading Lights. (They just had to be able to get through the winters.)

As a result, Irkutsk today, nestled near Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest, is a resort area. They have their own Philharmonic, and vacationers to the area can have a therapeutic massage; get comfy in their banya (a Russian spa); go for an invigorating Lake swim and then grill some fresh fish wrapped in leaves over a campfire. They might also spot a freshwater seal (possibly the world’s only variety) swimming around out there.

The area is the natural habitat of the Tofalar people, with their dying Tofa language and shrinking numbers, unfortunately, due to intermarriage with Russians and Buryats and the reluctance of the young people to keep up their native customs – which includes forms of singing and dance.

The most notable musicians in the area ar a classical-folk-jazz duo that goes by three different names: Bely Ostrog; its English translation of ‘White Fort’; and ‘Two Siberians.’ It’s like these two guys are their own orchestra. I can definitely identify them playing, respectively, electric guitar and a strange kind of violin (also electric, it would appear) that is new to me. Good sound, beautiful, in fact.

This is also the place of origin of Leonid Kharitonov, a prominent soloist for the Red Army Choir, and the filmmaker who did Russian Ark, whom I mentioned when I covered St. Petersburg. (His films are available online.) White Fort aka Two Siberians aka Bely Ostrog – Bernarda Alba White Fort aka Two Siberians aka Bely Ostrog – Searching for Power *** White Fort aka Two Siberians aka Bely Ostrog is one of the performers in this exciting compilation of Russian music White Fort Channel Lydia Bolxoeva, a last speaker of Tofa sings Lukeria Yakovlevna sings a Tofa song Varvara and Galina Adamova, last speakers of Tofa Tofa speaker Prokopij recites song lyrics ‘irgak kuuday’ [There is a cliff on the Volga (1965)] – Red Army Choir (soloist Leonid Kharitonov Leonid Kharitonov & Alexandrov Choir – The Long-range Guns Keep Silent Leonid Kharitonov: Ivan Susanin aria (1988) Irkutsk Philharmonic Orchestra Irkutsk Philharmonic Orchestra – Della vendetta alfin giunge l’instante Full Films of Alexander Sokurov online.


    Kemerovo Oblast (Capital:  Kemerovo)

    Kemerovo Oblast is the West Virginia/Appalachia of Russia – at least in certain respects.  Now, I do realize if you’re not acquainted with the maverick, only-semi-visible State of West-By-God, that may not tell you a lot.  But, if one looks at the thing, the City of Kemerovo, one of Russia’s main coal capitals, looks like Charleston, WV, from an aerial view, and its Tom River is very similar-looking to the Kanawha (which flows past Charleston):  they both have a bridge across the river into downtown, with an island off sitting to the right.

    And, continuing the analogy, in the Southern part of the ‘State,’where this Russian Region is the most hilly and isolated, there is a ‘hillbilly’-like tribe called the Shors, or, as they are also known, the ‘Blacksmith Tatars’ – descendants of the Turks (as, OK, West Virginians are not); but who are (like West Virginians) a people quite musical; and who, like the people of the Mountain State, are mostly doing their best to preserve their music, traditions, customs, and culture despite the incursion of pressures and influences from outside.

    Unlike their Appalachian spiritual brethren, who have been recorded to the fullest extent, the Shors have hardly been documented.  I was only able to find one ‘click’ for them online, featuring a young woman singing and plucking a stringed instrument (banjo?) and a young man playing a drum.  We need to get these people recorded before it’s too late.  (Ironically, the to-us-Oriental-looking Burats think that the Shors resemble the Chinese.)

    Both areas are kind of either prehistoric relics of the Bronze Age or else ‘Lithic remnants (you know, Neolothic – Paleolithic – all those ‘Lithics’), surviving ragtag into the modern age.  And where you get places like that, it’s like the Writing on the Wall:  you kind of pretty well know what sorts of cultural expressions and outcroppings to expect.

    Which is appropriate since Bronze Age peoples are typically into ‘Signs’ of what to expect:  you know, like in meteorology or farming, ‘When you hear lots and lots of frogs, or the saber-toothed tiger ranges far, it’ll be a bad winter’ – stuff like that.  ‘When you enter a Bronze Age-ish area, you are reprising the world of the beginning of things, and there will be a lot of writing on rocks along the roadside saying things like, “Jesus Saves,” “The Lord Is Risen,” “Hell Is Real,” and (not the Beginning but) “The End Is Near.”   True, you see.

    West Virginia had North America’s oldest Neolithic stone walls, built along the ridge across the river above Rt. 60 East of Charleston –all the way up until 19-something-quite-recent (when they were summarily strip-mined without notice).  There forever – then gone in a twinkling.

    A fossilized saber-toothed tiger could still be seen imprinted on the underside of a shelf of rock in Marmet, WV, near Charleston, until they put the ‘new road’ (i.e., Corridor G) through, preserved from a time when that area of Appalachia — not too far from us — was Siberia-like.  Of course Siberia is still quite Siberia-like.  In Kemerovo there is some o the oldest cave art in Russia – and caves are something else that Oblast shares in common with Southeastern West Virginia and Kentucky.

    West Virginia’s natural landscape includes the deep, deep, deep ‘New River’ (an ironic name, given that either it or the Amazon in South America is the oldest river in the world), along steep, steep, steep riverbanks that support an ecological miniverse inclusive of numerous plant and animal forms that are either unique holdovers from high ancient or are simply unique – not to be found anywhere else in the world.  (Another bizarrely archaic freak of nature in West Virginia is to be found in the form of its Cranberry Glade area.)

    Such mythic places tend to foster legends and mythmaking – some of them true, some not, but predictable as a cultural feature.  Also pretty predictably, Kemerovo and WV are both trying as hard as they can to capitalize on all this and be tourist meccas but are having trouble.  So they fictionalize:   Kemerovo’s latest ploy is to parlay the tourist appeal of non-existent monsters into visits, specifically by capitalizing on the supposed Yeti sightings in the area.  (I met a dog by that name in West Virginia once.)  As an improbably neatness, the Yeti is of course supposed to make its home and appearances in the same cave that has all the Bronze Age markings.  Now we know:  yetis can be assumed to have an archaeological, anthropological, and artistic bent.

    Compare our sister State to the East, with its mythic ‘Mothman’ (a Parkersburg un-phenomenon) and ‘Flatwoods Monster’ (which I am myself convinced, after reading about it, were just a couple of innocent radio towers as viewed by two teenage boys camping out and high on grain alcohol).  UFO sightings in the Mountain State have been legion since Rod Serling was on TV and being snared, with difficulty given the mountains, after prolonged futzing with housetop aerials.

    A tourism strategy perhaps more sound lies in the renting out of offroad, exploration vehicles in the hilly South of Kemerovo to its visitors – again, much like the ATV trails, such as the ‘Hatfield,’ popular in Southern West Virginia.

    If Charleston, WV could be twinned with the City of Kemerovo, the Region’s City of Novokuznetsk might be not unlike Ironton, OH, across the River from WV, and formerly one of the pig-iron capitals of the world.  And, like Appalachians, citizens of Kemerovo are very into sport; but, instead of basketball or football, this Region is the ‘bandy’ capital of the world (bandy being a cross between hockey and rugby; i.e., hockey, only even more violent).  (How can that be? you ask.  Easy:  you just make tackling legal.)

    I mean, how many parallels can one come across here?  Biscuits (for God’s sake) are big in both regions, although those in Kemerovo are more of the chocolaty, wafery kind.  (‘Tudor’s Biscuit World’ is the definitive WV chain for cuisine centered around this indispensable and omnipresent staple – I mean, wow! a whole ‘World’ in biscuits! – those little suckers being impressed into service as the [inexpensive] cornerstone of three square a day.)

    Not surprising, then, given all these common denominators, big and small, as between Kemerovo and the Mountain State, is that they both produce, as among their many people who are musically inclined, not only those who are very tradition-oriented, but, in extreme contrast, those who try to distance themselves from their roots as totally and completely as they can — on the theory that, the further from what they have come from they can get, the better the artistic result is going to be.  Which leaves them (to my mind at least) not just rootless – but heavily plasticized, in fact.  ‘Heavily plasticized’ precisely describes their pop singer Masha Rasputina (and by ‘heavily plasticized’ I mean sterilized in the full, Michael Jackson sense; i.e., actual surgery).

    But nothing to apologize for are the Region’s famous Russian vocal bass Boris Shtokolov and its operatic mezzo-soprano Marina Domashenko.

    The raven is a bird associated with both death and Appalachia; and like West Virginia, Kemerovo has seen its share of horrific mine (and other types of) disasters.  But one can spot a raven in the form of a statue in the town of Yurga, where he’s happily playing a guitar.

  The Shors of Kemerovo (with Throat-singing, stringed instrument, & Drum) Teleuts Part 1 (with singing) Teleuts Part 2 “Masha Rasputin”Filip Kirkorov i Masha Rasputina- Roza chainaya Filipp Kirkorov-Mechta (i Masha Rasputina) Masha Rasputina. Otpustite Menya v Gimalai 1991.flv Georges Bizet – Carmen – habanera – Marina Domashenko Marina Domashenko – The Queen of Spades – I’ll sing for you Boris Shtokolov – Song of the Volga Boatmen Boris Shtokolov- Prince Gremin’s aria Boris Shtokolov- Alone I Pass A Lonely Road Boris Shtokolov – A Letter To Mother

Krasnoyarsk Krai (Krasnoyarsk): Krasnoyarsk Krai:  the epitome of Siberia; and even though Siberia is considered anything East of the Urals, when you are talking about Siberia (or thinking about ‘Siberia’), chances are you discussing/thinking of Krasnoyarsk, because it is so massive – and is the ‘Heart’ of Siberia. (Much in the same way West Virginia is the Heart of Appalachia).

Krasnoyarsk is the second-largest Federal Subject of Russia, encompassing 903,400 sq mi – 13% of Russia’s total territory (Sakha [Yakutia] being the largest). That is massive, Man! Much of the land seems to be inhospitable (except to the multitude of mosquitoes, horseflies, and reindeer that live there); certainly it is enormous — hard for one to get one’s mind around. The Krai is composed of some of Russia’s most beautiful wonders, such as the Putorana Plateau in the Northwest, the Sayan Mountains in the South, and a multitude of lakes and rivers.  It is a land that has not changed in millions of years but for some reason struck the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen as the Land of the Future (and he had the idea to start a mini-empire there, at a spot which is now near Yeniseysk – an attempt at a canal to China was even partly built).

What we do find here of Modernist ‘futurism,’ in the ‘Russian’ parts of the territory, is the former USSR ‘secret town’ of Zelengorosk – secret because uranium enrichment/bomb-producing; the ‘capital’ of bleak and hazardous mining towns of enormous deposits of coal, uranium, and nickel; or of former Gulag prison camps or places of exile.

The Heart of Siberia, capable in the 20th c. of spawning global cataclysm, has always been regarded as the End of the World.  Nobody really ever went to Krasnoyarsk on purpose, so there are things here, remarkable things, that have gone un(der)investigated.

In a veritable early 20th-c. science fiction scenario, the Tunguska Event, or ‘Blast,’ of 1908 sent shock waves around the world, as a gigantic either meteorite or comet, the largest ever to strike Earth, hit here. (Had it landed in New York or LA, the City would have been totaled – but it landing here, where it did, luckily no one was killed.)  Stil, this scientific landmark explosion was only reported in some scant number of Central Siberian newspapers, escaping any real scientific notice until twenty years later, when Leonid Kulik discovered the area near the settlement of Vanvara in Evenkia.

Italian scientists believe that a fragment of that ‘asteroid’ created Lake Cheko – a landscape feature which didn’t appear to exist a hundred years ago. Spinning theories less sound than that of Italian scientists, some loonies believe that this occurrence was caused by aliens, and it is on this that some science fiction stories, TV Shows (like The X-Files), and video games have based Russia’s Roswell mythos.

But, far from being exclusively and surreally science-fiction‘futuristic,’ this land is also something of a sci fi throw-back in time — a portal to the Unknown Lands of ‘unknown’ and genetically unique human enclaves. Native populations found especially in the Taymyr Peninsula (whose largest town is Dudinka); the Arctic town of Krasnoyarsk; and Eastern Krasnoyarsk may be almost as elusive as the ancient Pazyryk, Afanasevo, and Tagars who used t roam the Krai.  These areas in fact used to be their own autonomous Okrugs (of Taymyr and Evenkia) until as recently as 2007, when they were absorbed into Krasnoyarsk. As a result of these exotic peoples’ antique and extended isolation, a lot of their culture, way of life, and music have not really been recorded (except in just a few areas).

Here are some of them:

Kets – The Ket people are one of the smallest ethnic groups in the world, with a rich language (which might die out in the next generation), especially in its description of their natural world’s flora/fauna/hunting/fishing, has much to tell the experts about how we are all related. The Kets look like a hybrid of Finns and Mongols, with Shamanistic beliefs similar to those of Turks and our Native Americans; whose language has similarities to that of both the Vietnamese and the Athabaskans of Western Canada and Alaska; and whose DNA shows similarities to that of the Tibetans, Burmese, and others from Nowhere Close. Where could such a mix, a people so unlikely and unprecedented, possibly have come from?  Living south of the Taymyr and west of Evenkia (north of the Sun and the Moon), Turukhansk, famous as the location of exile of Josef Stalin and other Russian notables, is their nearest town . . ..

Evenks (not Ewoks) – live primarily in the large Eastern district of Evenkia:  below the Taymyr (the largest town is Tura), but are not exclusive to Russia. These are the most adorable, forest-dwelling reindeer-herders imaginable, responsible for some of the world’s cutest babies, and living in chums (tepees), while carving some really interesting folk art. I guess they are a little Ewok-like after all. Found mostly in Russia, but also in Mongolia and China, they seem to have been culturally ‘adopted’ by the Chinese as one of their own Native Peoples. For that reason it is more common to find recordings of Evenk music and dance in China than in Russia.

The elusive Dolgans, Enets, and the Nganasans (along with Nenets, and the Polar Bears) make up most of residents of the Taymyr. Like the Kets, these folk are not really documented musically – but the Nganasans are the most filmed simply because their Shamanistic culture, chanting, convulsions, and drumming seem to provide a link between Turkic Shamanism (‘shaman’ taking its origins from the Turkish word ‘šamán’) and Native American culture. The Nganasan Shaman’s heavy-metal-bejewelled clothing, and beaded-hanging-over-eyes helmet-with-metallic-reindeer-on-top, kicks ass. Even with the Internet, it is so hard to find even a picture of the Enets, or (especially the) Turkic-Oriental-like Dolgans.

So the Heart of Siberia – the vast, snowy-whiten fortress of All the Russias – is a secret place.  We started out our journey on a quest to dispel the conceptual ‘blankness’ with which we mostly tend to envision its unending impasse (in those famous words of Al Stewart, ‘And the steely Russian skies go on . . . Forever’); only to have those vaporous dreams themselves melt away, grown even more fully evanescent, as (if we don’t hurry and document and get to know) we find them largely coalescing back once more into those eternally aporetic impressions in which they have always been shrouded . . ..

Modern musicologists really need to do some serious recordings of the native peoples of Krasnoyarsk Krai because for the moment they are still largely an enigma. . . on their mystic way to vanishing from the planet altogether.

Krasnoyarsk has produced two of the world’s greatest male opera singers: Pyotr Slovtsov aka the Krasnoyarsk Nightingale (1886-1934); and the silver-haired, elfin, Days-of-Our-Lives-ready-looking Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who made the People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People list and incorporates Russian folk music into his Opera.

The Sayan Ring Festival is held annually, Siberia’s – possibly Russia’s – largest ethnic music festival, in the village of Shushenskoe. Otamay is a great, ethnic-based Khakas rock band from the Region – their lead singer kind of reminds me of Bjork. Aidym (Otamay) Oyim (Otamay) Enets people and photos. Ket People description by Dr. Edward Vajda (w/ Ket people) Beauty of the Dolgan and Northern Tungus Culture (w/ Native Dolgan Music? – Sounds a little Tuvan.) Nganasan Shaman Demnime (1913-1980) and family in tent w/ drumming & chanting – filmed in 1977. Old Documentary of Nganasan Shaman (with some music, drumming, etc) Tajmyr song Nganasan song of the Taymyr Russian Documentary on the Taymyr and the Nganasan (drumming & chanting) (in Russian) Evenk Child Singing (And Lots of Reindeer & Tale) Pjotr Starkov -(Evenk Singing & Drumming) (Russian but sounds a little Chinese) Evenki Song – The Sun Girl (Chinese Evenki) Evenki Song (Chinese Evenki) Evenki Song – Memories with The Evenki (9 parts) (Evenki way of life) Evenki Art & Dwellings Not Traditional Evenk Music. A tribute to the City of Dudinka, Russian band Shanson A Tribute to the Taymyr Peninsula by Shanson Another tribute to the Taymyr by Shanson 1908 Mystery in Tunguska, Russia. Meteorite, caretakers, star ship intervention? (w/ some Evenki dancing & music) X Files Tunguska Outtake Part 1 Secret Files of Tunguska Videogame PlaylistП.И._Словцов_радиопередача_2008_года.ogg – Radio Documentary and music recordings of Piotr Slovtslov ***Very Rare. Russian tenor Piotr Slovtsov Pyotr Slovtsov – Romance of the Young Gypsy Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Russian Folk Song (Nočenka) Dmitri Hvorostovsky: I Walk Onto The Path Alone Dmitri Hvorostovsky – Eugene Onegin Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings Dark Eyes Olga Martynova Playlist (Classical musician born in Dudinka in the Taymyr) (Conceptual Artist Andrey Bartenev) ‘Evgeni Plushenko’ – Sex Bomb (male figure skater) ‘Alexei Rogonov’ (male figure skater) Minusinsk Techno DJ Sips Helene Fischer (German Pop Singer born in Krasnoyarsk) Sayan Ring Festival WS *** Central Siberian Hare Krishna Song @ Sayan Ring Sayan Ring Festival Web Search

***Novosibirsk Oblast (Novosibirsk): Kind of like something out of Dostoevsky, I feel at this moment the need to confess a deep, dark secret I have been harboring, for the good of my soul.  And it is: that there is something about Moscow, after studying and cogitating upon it, that (almost) scares me.  And I am somewhat confirmed in this impression after comparing it to other parts of Russia such as Novosibirsk. I have passed on to you all my very strong impression that in the past nobody really wanted to go to Siberia – a former place of exile and forced labor; or just some necessary evil because it was a place where you could go and find some way to make a living, either mining or in the oil fields.

All that about Siberia notwithstanding – how come citizens of other parts of Russia, including Siberia, somehow seem ‘freer’ to me, regardless of ethnic group, than people are in Moscow? Though ‘freer’ is the term that comes to mind when I try to figure out how to express what I mean, I do realize that that raises the question, ‘free from what’?  And, again, words elude, but possibly it would be something like, ‘free from what people and society were like in the Victorian era, with the exception of being sexually repressed.’ Now, admittedly, I have never been to Moscow, and am only basing my impressions on its music – whether it is Muscovite Russian Classical, music of the Soviet era, or music of today (and as to the last category, I am speaking generally – what I’m saying doesn’t apply to Moscow’s contemporary music scene in all cases) – but Moscovite music seems to be about marching to conformity – to a disturbing, even gutturally frightening degree. Perhaps I am wrong; Russia is democratic – after all one can see how Russia loves Putin. (ie: 2000-2004, 2004-2008, ‘prime minister’ Dmitry Medvedev; just ‘re-elected’ recently.

Why am I rehashing the music of Moscow in Novosibirsk? Because even when it incorporates the Western musical styles, the music of Novosibirsk seems altogether free, artistic, and individual, and doesn’t try to conform to any certain performance style just to please the audience – rather, it sticks to trying to please the artist.

(BTW:  Moscow & Chicago are sister cities: both are politically corrupt and sooner or later everyone will end up in prison — note: foreshadowing Putin’s end-life)

Novosibirsk – which is Russia’s 3rd-largest city and the capital of Siberia, and a major manufacturing and industrial center, is the first huge Russian city I have come across that I would like to visit – I think it’s the Spirit of the town (which may be comparable to our Wild West).  I have heard of ‘smiles’ in the Gulag — a concept so idealistically out-there it seems to me far-fetched — but perhaps, ironically, there is something cathartically free about the people and land of untamed Siberia – which takes you (in a good sense this time) far away from Moscow.

To get an idea of what I mean, take a look at the ethnic Siberian Russian folk music played at the Novosibirsk Festival (marked in asterisks).  If you do, you will find that Siberian ethnic Russians are altogether different from Western/European ethnic Russians – I don’t know quite how to put my finger on it except to say that it is their version of the differing regional Spirits in the US that give us New Englanders, Southerners, Midwesterners, ‘hillbillies,’ Westerners, Californians, Alaskans, Puerto Ricans & Virgin Islanders, Hawaiians . . ..

Bugotak (aka ‘Bull Mountain’), from Altai, is the standout band from Novosibirsk – as one Russian fan online describes it, ‘It like big sticky orgasm.’ Bugotak – part Altai, part Russian — is comprised of three members: the larger-than-life stage presence (who oftentimes seems like the sole member) George Andriyanov (aka ‘Father Gorry’), who seems to be half Altai-half Russian and dresses in traditional Altai costume. George mixes the altogether better than fifteen differing styles of Altai and Tuvan throat-singing (including the obscure Altai dzarin) into one big, guttural ‘kargyraa moan.’ The other two members are Tanya Romanova — doing vocals, khomus, guitar; and Dmitry Shvetsov – in charge of tungur and percussion. Bugotak takes all the Central Siberian folk musics (Altai, Tuvan, Nanai, Evenki, and even others) and insinuates it into Western-style Rock and Metal.  Repeat: ‘It like one big sticky orgasm.’

Pelageya is the female Bugotak – the main stage presence that combines various Central Siberian folk styles with Western-style rock.

No conformity – just good music in Novosibirsk. Bugotak – Come Together Bugotak – Nothing Else Matters Kozhung Of The Rising Sun bugotak – Bahat’dzarin (kind of Altai Folk Singing) Bugotak – Nirvana’s ‘Rape Me’ Bugotak – Thunder Dance My Name Is Agdam Ynal – Bugotak Bugotak on ProSvet Show (w/ Dmitry Dibrov) Interview and Evenki Song Pelageya (Playlist) Pelageya WS Yanka Dyagileva (haunted, depressed folk-punk artist who died in the River Inya under mysterious circumstances) – Na Cherniy Den’ Yanka Dyagileva – Domoi Yanka Dyagileva – Polkorolevstva Yanka Dyagileva – Prodano Kalinov Most (rock band) – Rodnaya ‘Белое движение’ Kalinov Most Kalinov Most – Kamchatka Hot Zex (English Speaking Alternative band) – Planets Insecure – Hot Zex Supersonic Future & Hot Zex ‘Falling’ Hi-Fi (Backdoor Boys like band, but still artistic) – Don’t Give Up HI FI – Chorny Voron ‘Ne maneken’ Kristina Orsa & Mitya Fomin (Mitya formerly of Hi-Fi) Eduard Artemyev (Hollywood Film Composer) (Burnt by the Sun Score) Eduard Artemyev (Solaris Film Score) Konstantin Shamray (Pianist) Pilbeam Theatre Friday 30 April, 2010 Anton Mordasov (Pianist) – Liebesfreud by Kreisler/Rachmaninoff Maxim Vengerov (Violinist) – ‘Playing by Heart’ Vadim Repin (Violinist as Boy) Evgeny Zarafiants – Scriabin 6 Preludes, Op. 13 – #1 Maestoso Mikhail Simonyan – Two Souls (moved to US as kid) Irene Nelson (Russian-born German pop artist) – Sunrise Stoyan si konche izvede (feat. Roman Stolyar – Jazz artist) **Central Siberian Horn at Novosibirsk Festival **Sandal Song at Novosibirsk Festival

    Omsk Oblast (Omsk): Here, at the threshold of Omsk Oblast, we’re entering Russia’s really Dark Dark – as to the mood of the whole territory as well as of its music. 

    You may find yourself at something of a cultural disadvantage here – because probably you’re reasonably happy. It’ll take me a few minutes to drag your spirits down to the proper level, so that you can relate effectively to the place. But if you’ll just bear with me, I can think we can fix you up in a jiffy.

    It provides us a great way in to the spirit of the Region if we just turn our attention to the fact that Omsk is best known as the place where the author Fyodor Dostoevsky endured four years in a hard-labor camp for refusing to spy or give information on his fellow writer, Belinsky, as well as for his association with the Socialistic Petrashevsky Circle, which the Monarchy at that time (even 60-70 years before the Russian Revolution) deemed a political threat.

    Dostoevsky: whom we all think of as a renowned novelist (as of course he was). But whom we might not so much think of as (as he was) an alcoholic. An addicted gambler. Epileptic. Hypochondriac. Childhood victim of his father’s physical abuse. (See, you’re starting to feel more depressed already. And — though I would not want anyone to think I am sinking here into Schadenfreude — we’re just getting started.)

    Fyodor’s problems started getting really bad when was arrested in 1849, at the age of twenty-seven, and, precisely eight months later, subjected to a mock execution that was designed to fuck him up psychologically (they stood him up against a wall; guns pointed at him, drums rolling; then everything brought to a halt while, amid appropriate fanfare, a decree was unfurled that condemned to hard labor in Siberia instead. Oh, joy).

    He responded in a novel (forgive pun) way, devising as psychological defense-mechanism something along the lines of ‘. . . So if you can’t be with the one you love,//Love the one you’re with. Love the one you’re with. Love the one you’re with. (Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo-doot! doo-doot!) . . .’ (a song that, speaking personally, I always thought was inane).

    Dostoevsky’s particular wrinkle on this concept was to decide not (as one might expect from his having lived in a labor camp) that Arbeit Macht Frei, but that suffering – the only prospect available to him — makes for happiness. (Yeah, I know — Go figure.) And, rightly or wrongly, he ascribed this to all the other Russians, as being their bent and lot in life, too.

    As for Russia’s best hope for the future, Dostoevsky became persuaded, as a result both of his experiences in prison – where the guards were notable chiefly for their brutality and a lot of the ‘common criminals’ managed to exhibit a phenomenal degree of humanity — but also because of his epilepsy-induced religious visions, that Russia’s best bet lay not in overthrowing the monarchy and embracing Socialism in a strictly economic sense, but rather in all Russians’ uniting in a great brotherhood (so Socialism in a more strictly social sense).

    So this universal banding-together he attempted, in his writings, to bring about. And did well with it: by the time of his death, at the age of fifty-nine, in 1881, he was at the peak of his popularity.

    None of this is to say that he was not very deeply compassionate toward others’ suffering. He was. But he also thought that great good could somehow come out of all that pain in the end. Dostoevsky was a walking set of contradictions in this and in other ways. Despite his deep human understanding, he at the same time lived like his darkest characters. (Both his wives, for example, were really long-suffering.) He spoke out in his writings against militarism; his private diaries say different, and, once living free in Siberia, he joined up. And – anticipating, or perhaps paralleling, Nietzsche’s direction in philosophy (Birth of Tragedy did not come out until 1872), some people are of the opinion that little doubt that he did find murderers who were able to kill without guilt or remorse fascinating, and to a degree even sort of maybe kind of, in a way, admired them.

    During his free years in Siberia Dostoevsky had access to books other than the Bible, the works he loved the most being those of Charles Dickens. Dickens had a profound effect on his writing; The Old Curiosity Shop,which provided Dostoevsky with numerous ideas for his work cheerfully entitled Humiliated and Insulted, was not only a special favorite but struck some chords near home. Borrowing from OCS, H&I has a heroine named Nellie, a thirteen-year-old orphan, whom a man named Vanya saves from an abusive household by taking her to live with him.

    On a deeper level, Dostoevsky seemed to be the real-life mirror-image of Dicken’s character of the grandfather in Old Curiosity Shop. Both were addicted to gambling, and bad at it. Dostoevsky forced his second wife, a woman half his age, like Little Nell’s grandfather forced her, to travel around with him like a gypsy or a tramp.

    Of course Victorians generally were deep into the cathartic rush of emotional intensities – Melodrama Is Fun kind-of-a-thing – and Dickens kept them weeping crocodile tears, month after month, as Little Nell suffered and wept and clung piteously to life and hung onto cliff-edges during the serialized installments of The Old Curiosity Shop. This taste of the times would have gone a long way to accounting for Dostoevsky’s entrenched belief that suffering not only ennobles – as well as toward helping him justify to himself how unhappy he kept his own family members.

    But prison life blighted not just Dostoevsky’s family, but many from this area. So it is not surprising that the music of Omsk (no, that’s ‘Omsk,’ not ‘Angst’) reflects the psychological darkness of their prison labor-camp experiences. The songs of the Siberian Folk Chorus, a couple of whose titles are ‘I Was Making a Shirt’ and ‘What Is Burning, Burning’ and which was in fullest voice around fifty years ago, are darker and rougher than those of folk choruses for other areas of Russia.

    So, in answer to a musician friend from LV who asked me if I thought the Gulag had affected the music and the musicians of Russia, I would have to say the answer is a half-yes. We see such effect here; more when we arrive in Magadan Oblast (Section VIII, coming up) – whose music and culture is the most terror-ridden and infamous of them all. There seems to be a harsh, altogether grim quality to the music from this part of the world that should make the Region a delight to Goth fans (see if you don’t agree); as if, among people who have been pushed to the brink, there is an I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, when it comes to expressing themselves. Another reason why, ironically, the music from Western Russia seems more ‘repressed’ than that of the people of black, White Siberia.

    Grazhdanskaya Oborona, an 80’s punk band from Omsk, at times sounds almost Death Metal, spent their tour evading the KGB. Yegor Leteov (dead young, at 43), the band’s front man, was a case in point when it comes to free thinking within Russia – his attitude seemed to be, ‘We’re patriots, but not Nazis; all totalitarians, right, left, of all colors and stripes – fuck you.’ Something like Dostoevsky, he seemed to want there to be a united Russia, but was skeptical of all the methods that were being employed to try to run it.

    I would conclude by saying that there seems to be a character of resilience, determination, and individualism that is unique to Siberia and differs very plainly from that of Western Russia. In certain ways Siberia even seems to be closer to the unbridled (Kentucky and) American spirit than what perhaps characterizes other parts of Europe or Asia (I could be wrong here). (Could it be all those horses?)

    But while there is a kinship among all Russians that, I think, one intuitively senses, at the same time there does seem to be something of a gulf between Eastern and Western Russia. Those Russians with their roots in political exile may have never fully recovered or may never have reconciled themselves to the frustration of their original ideals.

    And, despite the parallels that there might seem be between the Siberian and the American spirits, how starkly the two can be differentiated is evidenced, perhaps, in the fact that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when we were producing Abe Lincoln and Mark Twain and Will Rogers — humorists – they were producing Dostoevsky. Siberian Russian Folk Chorus sings “I Was Making a Shirt” “Siberian Russian Folk Chorus” – What is Burning, Burning Nyet bez lyesa – Siberian Folk Choir Siberian Russian Folk Chorus sings “Age Old Pines” “Siberian Russian Folk Chorus” – Taiga **Siberian Russian Folk Choir – The Bear Dance

Crime & Punishment Documentary Part 2 of 8 (turn on CC ‘English AutoTranscribe and go to 5:54) Dostoevsky – Biography, History, Impact (Russian source) clip from Russian Film on Dostoyevsky being saved from his execution at the last second. Siberian Russian Folk Chorus sings “I Was Making a Shirt” Omsk-Dostoyevsky Charity Ball Waltz (you can’t make this stuff up – am sure that Dostoevsky participated in many balls while he was in the Omsk Labor Camps). (Czech Composer Leoš Janáček) From The House of the Dead. Requiem for a Dream.Mikhail Vrubel`s Paintings (Painter form Omsk) (who sometimes combined European & Asian styles) Eduard Kunz (Classical Musician) Cliburn SemiFinal 2009 Performance Eduard Kunz, Scarlatti: Sonata in B minor, K. 197 Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Mertvye Grazhdanskaya Oborona Dezertir Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Nekrofiliya Grazhdanskaya Oborona-Vpered! (original) Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Horosho Grazhdanskaya Oborona – Bespolezen (1985) Grazhdanskaya Oborona – zoopark (based on American 50s doowop) Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Гражданская Оборона) – Chelovek cheloveku volk Grazhdanskaya Oborona-Zombi 1986 (Siberian Omsk-Punk) (almost death metal)

Tomsk Oblast (Tomsk): Convicts, intellectuals, Decembrists, Bolsheviks and other Revolutionary-types, Polish rebels, 17th-c. Jesuits – the list goes on and on. Since 1638 the City of Tomsk (and the City of Narym – where Stalin was sent and sent people of his own) and Tomsk Oblast has been a place of exile, and that has only stopped in the last twenty to forty years (or has it?). In an odd twist, the raison d’etre of the place has imparted to this University town its flavor – from the building the City and the establishment of its institutions, much as in Irkutsk, in a sort of subterranean, unintended, and unacknowledged brain-drain out of Moscow.

What else is found in Tomsk, besides peat bogs, wetlands, and marshes? A.: Oil and gas reserves – plus another formerly-closed city, Seversk, got reclosed again in 1992, just a year after it was declared open by Yeltsin, because another really bad nuke disaster occurred there. Seversk, the former site of the USSR’s plutonium- and uranium-enrichment (read, ‘nuclear weapons’) facility, is the only place left in Russia, possibly, where one must still get permission and go through checkpoints to get in or out.

Still, I found a Youtube clip which had been uploaded by some of the City’s teenagers that shows them dancing around happily in the streets. (Ironically, one of the top ten nuclear disasters occurred in the City a year after it was no longer considered a secret City after a tank exploded after being cleaned nitric acid releasing a cloud of radioactive gas – also ironic since Chelyabinsk was made secret by the USSR after its explosion. The media under-reported this event anyway for whatever reason).

Further relevant to local levity, there are two statues in the Region that caught my eye: the first one of a cartoon wolf, which is unofficially titled ‘A Monument to Happiness.’ The wolf it depicts is a character from a 1982 short film called Once upon a Dog. The dog and the wolf form an unusual partnership in which each makes sure the other is OK; the dog because he has been thrown out for being clumsy and in-the-way. Starving in the woods, he meets the wolf, who takes pity on him, and they hatch a plan whereby the wolf kidnaps the dog’s former masters’ baby, so that the dog can make a show of rescuing the kid and come off a hero.

Then, in the dead of winter, while residents are making Christmastime merry, the wolf comes cold and hungry to the dog (who is now well-fed and warm). The dog sneaks the wolf into a Yuletide banquet and positions him under the table, where the wolf feed contentedly under he is discovered (whereupon the dog pretends to chase him out).

In the end these two bosom pals must part, and the wolf return to his forest solitude. But we are now in a position to appreciate that the film, and its title, are allegorical for life in Siberia: ‘Happiness Is’ when freezing exiles arrive and are befriended by the up-against-it-but-surviving locals, so that, courtesy the locals, everyone survives, but, returning the favor, the local scene gets massively improved by the new arrivals, and then both are now equipped to go their separate ways again, now happy . . .

There is a well-known composer, Anatoly Alexandrov, who comes from here. But the high-tone intellectualism of the place, and its strong scientific focus, appear to have qualified these folks more as enlightened enjoyers of music than as innovative musicians themselves. So, possibly ironically, if the exiles hadn’t come, we might see more of a signature music scene here, as we do in Novosibirsk, where the wolf and the dog don’t part at the end, but more thoroughly intermarry.

The Region’s other light-in-tone statue that seems especially worth mentioning is of a buffoonish, cartoonish, effete-snobbish, pompous caricature of (of all people) Anton Chekhov. It was erected in response to the fact that, when Chekhov visited the town, eh wrote that all the residents were dullard drunkards (the intellectuals included). You may or may not be aware that the City of Louisville had a parallel episode transpire, in which a famous other, than other than the celebrated Charles Dickens, visit our fair City and then publicly wrote disparaging comments about the Derby City and its residents. Instead of erecting a statue of Dickens, Louisville elected to put up a plaque honoring the asshole.

Also from the Region is Edison Denisov (the area’s descendants of exile name their children after Western inventors and other notables), a mid-20th-c. avant-garde composer who retains melodic elements – and in whose work giant pauses are so dramatically effective as to be like ‘notes’ in themselves. Some of his pieces would fit well in a horror-film score. My favorite composition of his is one in which he took a variety of sounds from live birdsong and edited them in such a way that the birds themselves were making classical music (no instruments added). It is entirely fitting that this should come from this hyper-lovely Region. Edison Denisov: Birds Singing Edison Denisov Requiem I (belongs in a 60s/70s/80s psychological horror thriller) Edison Denisov: Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano Edison Denisov Sonata for Clarinet Solo 2 mvt. Narek Arutyunian Clarinet Once Upon A Dog (1982) – Animated Cartoon Alexandrov – Six Preludes Anatoly Alexandrov – Obsession passee Op. 6: I. Longing, Languido Teenage Russia Dance From Seversk City


*****Tuva (aka Tyva) Republic (Capital, Kyzyl): Tuva is a ‘Rootin-Tuvan’ musical goldmine – a multitude of Scythian riches (the ancient Persian culture left some of the greatest archeological finds of gold and other treasures). I have given Tuva two extra asterisks for that reason (along with Altai Republic & Khakassia) (and as a result will be handling the links differently compared to those for the other Federal subjects: paragraphs and the multitude of links will be interconnected).  Have known about Tuvan music since the days of the documentary ‘Genghis Blues.’ If the musical riches of Tuva are only started to be discovered and promoted, what other well-kept secrets might be hidden in this vast, musically-ignored, but prominent country?

One of the few prominent outsiders who did think of Tuva (the official geographical center of Asia) as his own country and did not want to conquer it was, ironically, Genghis Khan. In fact, his second-in-command, who was responsible for the sacking of Europe, was a Tuvan. Tuvans do not see themselves as Mongolians, although there is of course some relation; nor do they see themselves as Chinese, nor even as Turks (to whom they are also related – always those back-and-forth invasions from Europe to Asia to Europe . . .), but rather do they see themselves as their own separate culture/people, despite their having been tossed back and forth among Chinese, Mongolian, and Russian rule from one time to another.  (Tuva was supposed to have been its own country from 1921 to 1944, but it was really controlled by the Russians.)

(Interesting that each of these cultures that has been mentioned has a real passion for the Horse.)

Speaking of passions, theoretical physicist Richard Feynman (with his best friend Ralph Leighton) was obsessed all his life with going to Tuva — Leighton wrote a book about their exploits in 1991 called Tuva or Bust (about the time Tuvan recordings were starting to reach our shores – and Feynman’s papers, giving him clearance to go from the USSR, arrived in the mail a day or two after his death). Feynman asked, essentially, ‘Tuva or not Tuva; that is the question.’ (Ironically, it would have been so much easier after the collapse – and especially today). In retrospect, Feynman’s infatuation over an isolated Russian Republic has resulted, over a twenty-year period, in turning it into a tourist destination and almost making its music mainstream.


That doing for an intro, I want to get right to the music. (Who wouldn’t?)  If you find yourself clicking on every single link, I wouldn’t be surprised (for Paragraph on Tuvan Instruments – see after first set of links): Scythian Archeology in Tuva Tuvan Postage Stamp Richard Feynman – Quest for Tannu Tuva Playlist (Five Parts) Tuva or Bust Play Tuvan Shamanistic religious ritual Tuvan epic tale of the f-to-m transgendered hero epic Boktu Kirish

The Region of Tuva is of course famous for its distinctive throat-singing, which often overshadows their wonderful musical instruments, integral to Tuvan music. So, let’s explore them first. Many of the instruments, like throat-singing, are designed to imitate the natural music we all like, meaning, nature, birds, brooks, wind, and horseback riding. Their basic musical instruments are no different than in any other culture: guitar/banjo-like instruments, fiddles, drums, zithers, and simple noise-making instruments like bells. Best way to explain each one is through a brief description and links: Doshpuluur (three-stringed, plucked, square instrument comparable to the banjo – their guitar) (single- or double-necked) Chanzy — video only (guitar which is similar to ours) Chanzy — description only

Bichii chanzy (a mini-Chanzy with a higher sound – no link found) Igil (horsehead fiddle) – info & audio example Byzaanchy (bullshead fiddle) (a type of fiddle whose playing is described as milking a cow; the word ‘Byzaanchy’ is rooted in the Tuvan word for calf ) Chadagan (zither)

Yat-kha (a long. Korean. gayageum-like zither – no link found) (Yat Kha is also the name of a throat-singing rock group) Kengirge (large frame drum) and Shyngyrash (bells placed on top of drum) Dungur (Native American-like drum used for Shamanistic purposes) Xomus or Khomus (Jew’s Harp) Tuvan Wind Instruments (murgu [end-blown flute with no holes], shoor (long, end-blown flute similar to a quray), limbi (side-blown flute with holes), amyrga (hunting horn that imitates Siberian red deer) – Shoor Flute video

Ediski (birchwood bird imitator)

Xapchyk (dried bull’s scrotum rattle with knuckle bones from sheep – wonder how on earth that sounds?  but, no luck — no links found)

The instruments with no individual audio or visual representation probably feature in some of the music links below – and, um,– there is plenty of it!)

And I’ve dug up this really intriguing tidbit on just how demanding throat-singing really is, technically: while a regular singer sings only one, the Tuvan throat-singer is singing a multitude of tonal styles simultaneously, which could well be in opposite ranges (one deep, one high-pitched, in other words), with whistling or humming added to the mix. Impressive, right? Or is ‘I would have thought such a thing was flatly impossible, never EVEN could have envisioned it, let alone TRIED it,’ more like it?

Beyond that, what do you want me to say regarding the different styles of Tuvan throat-singing – it is fucking bad-ass! Just read the descriptions and watch the links below – rather than my attempting a lame description of the various styles that cannot possibly convey, I would rather want the uninitiated reader to be ‘hit’ with this music and to experience it as I did when I first heard (of) it. If you still do have your throat-singing cherry, what an experience you’re now in for !  You’ll never be sorry you clicked on these links: Ensemble Tuva – The 5 styles of throat-singing

Khorekteer (hardest to find example of –  term could also be used to refer all styles)

Khomeii (the most common style; the raspy, froggy drone – the backbone of throat-singing) (done here by an American, by the way, who appeared on one of those awful reality talent shows – and was shamelessly ridiculed by the shameless producers [no, not Americans this time], who, unbeknownst to themselves, were only demonstrating their own cultural gaucherie)

Sygyt (the famous quavering, whistling sound)

Kargyraa (deep, earthquake sound with high-pitched, whistling undertones – singing very deep and very high at the same time) two types – the deeper mountain Kargyraa and the raspier, higher-pitched steppe Kargyraa

Borbangnadyr mimics streams/brooks – recorded with a stream in the background.

Ezengileer-style singing (with doshpuluur accompaniment) mimics the sound of horseback riding

Chylandyk mixes Karyraa and Sygyt simultaneously

Dumchuktaar (mixed in with other styles) throat humming Opera singing & Tuvan throat-singing

(Wow!  It’s all here!  Can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp . . .)

And, finally: Tuvan throat-singing (referred to in another link, above) on ‘The English (and One Canadian) Judging/Humiliating Americans For Their Own Financial Gain On American TV’

Before I get into the musicians themselves, I want to briefly describe the three periods of Tuvan throat-singing which have so mightily impacted worldbeat music in the past 20 years – there is:  1/ pre-collapse of Soviet Union; 2/ late 80s to Genghis Blues; 3/ after Genghis Blues. In the days of postage stamps and ‘Tuva or Bust,’ when Tuvan throat-singing was only a figment of one’s imagination, a musical unicorn heard only by a lucky few who were picking up USSR radio stations occasionally, perhaps rarely, that were playing the music on ham/short-wave radios (blind bluesman Paul Pena discovered it this way, but am not sure of the time period – he seems to be the first non-Tuvan or American to imitate the music out of love and sincerity). In Tuva itself, there really weren’t any groups that I am aware of – except for Oktay, a children’s ensemble, which still exists, founded in 1985 and dedicated to singing ‘Russian’ music.

All that dearth  of exposure started to change with the first well-known group to tour the West, which was known as the Tuvan Ensemble and was founded one year before the collapse. The 90s marked the first boom-wave of Tuvan music; there was an explosion of groups and individual performers making recordings in this time-period, not only traditional groups, but also the first Smithsonian folkways recordings, as well as groups who wanted to incorporate Western-style music.  And it happened all it once. This period also marked the first time Westerners got to see Tuvan musicians perform – it is when the first wave of touring artists came through. (This is how Paul Pena first met the master Kongar-ol Ondar in San Francisco, who invited him out to Kyzyl to perform in the annual symposium talent show – Tuva’s Got Talent!?!). Every single, known superstar of Tuvan throat-singing came from this period: Kongar-ol Ondar, Sainkho Namtchylak, Chirgilchin, Huun-Huur-Tu, Yhat-Ka, et al., as well as recordings from masters like Tumat Kara-ol, the controversial Vladimir Oidupaa Oiun, aka Oidupaa, and others.

When Paul Pena, dubbed ‘Earthquake’ by his friend Ondar, first performed in the symposium and won his style-division’s ‘Kargyraa’ (the prize was – right — a horse; just the thing for a blind American), with a documentary crew filming him, he and the crew were the first Americans many Tuvans had seen – (and this was almost a decade after Richard Feynman passed away). What struck me about the documentary was how sincere the Tuvans seemed to appreciate that an American would be fascinated enough to imitate Tuvan music and go to the trouble of participating in their national contest. Pena was self-taught, and he was the first non-Tuvan that Ondar heard sing Tuvan music (I believe). (Now there are Westerners every year participating in the Symposium.) The film was released in 1999 and has since acquired a cult following (especially among white males, who started imitating it – most notably Sean Quirk, who moved to Tuva, married a Tuvan, and now manages Alash).  The film release, coupled with the fact that Tuvan throat-singing took off via YouTube, as well with the availability of all of these CDs on Amazon, has made Tuvan throat-singing so now kind of mainstream that it gets mentioned on TV shows like Big Bang Theory and True Blood. Twenty years after Feynman, it is much easier for an American to travel to Tuva (and vice-versa) than it was for him – and both cultures can ‘trade’ via exposure to the Internet.

I think that Tuvan music will continue to evolve and will handsomely repay those who continue to watch it. We have yet to see what might develop as Tuvan music undergoes continuing exposure to other cultures and as other ethnic groups (mostly us) start to incorporate the Tuvan style into their music (as the Asylum Street Spankers have). Tuvans have always have been able to keep their culture intact (thanks to their former relative isolation), but at the same time their musicians have been not afraid to experiment with other styles, which they have managed to do without losing their musical identity. What I hope doesn’t happen is that Pop erodes/weakens the Tuvan cultural music as it has elsewhere.

Too bad Feynman didn’t get to live to see Tuva (Leighton did) and the wealth of info about Tuva that has emerged to the world in the past two decades. Even in the 80s, travel books on Central Siberia avoided talking about the place, whereas now one can see an aerial view of the country anytime one wishes via Google Earth.

(Paragraphs on individual artists and corresponding links come after these links): PTASHKA -Oktay!oktay—russian-old-believers-children%27s-choir Oktay samples Tuva Ensemble – Performance by Gennadi Tumat Throat Singing – Tuva Ensemble – Ögbeler Tuva Ensemble – Vancouver Folk Festival – Performance – 1992 Throat Singing – Tuva Ensemble – Ögbeler Tuva Ensemble – Khomus Performance by Anatoli Kuular 1992 *** Genghis Blues (Full Movie) w/ Paul ‘Earthquake’ Pena and Kongar-ol Ondar Genghis Blues Full Transcript Tuvan throat-singer with Guitar and possibly Western folk-influenced (Paul Pena perhaps) Tuvan throat-singing by the Asylum Street Spankers on Bob & Tom Tuvan Throat Singing on Big Bang Theory Tuvan Throat Singing in True Blood multitude of videos of White Dudes giving Tuvan throat-singing lessons (WTF!??! – boy, aren’t we arrogant – most Tuvans hone their skills through childhood & adult life, like practitioners of flamenco and other similarly demanding art forms) Japanese man doing Tuvan throat-singing

Here are the first guys who were played on Russian radio or were released on the first Tuvan recordings. These guys should be regarded as legends of throat-singing in the West, as I am sure they are remembered in Tuva – but names like Tumat Kara-ol, Oleg Kuular (the first Tuvan to sing in the US), and others are already starting to be forgotten – probably due to lack of internet, touring, and recording presence. The one possible exception, ironically, is black-sheep Oidupaa, whose style of singing was banned from the symposium for many years. He spent more than half his life in the prison work camps (33 yrs.) and was considered to be a rabble rouser by the Soviets and was not really liked by his own people. He is the Leadbelly of Tuvan music, in other words, and, much like Leadbelly, he lived in his world, playing in his own style with the accordion. He took his native art’s traditional form and made it personal, unique, and artistic. (More musicians after links): Tuva / Voices from the Center of Asia ***Oidupaa Vladimir Oiun Playlist (Divine Music from Jail)

Tumat Kara-ol – the forgotten legend (no links – but is featured in Genghis Blues – was Paul Pena’s idol along with Oidupaa) Sygyt — Mergen Mongush Anatoli Kuular: Borbangnadyr Steppe Kargiraa – ‘Fedor Tau’ & Mergen Mongush’ Oleg Kuular Balgan Kuzhuget’s Jew’s harp set to a woman on a toilet!?! Oleg Kuular Igor Koshkendey — Dingildai Oidupaa – Only You


Kongar ol-Ondar: this venerable dude is the Modern Master of Tuvan throat-singing and educator – his personal goal is not only to be an ambassador of Tuva and throat-singing around the world, but also to teach young children so they can have the same opportunities he has had. He is the one responsible for bringing his American friend Paul Pena and the documentary crew of Genghis Blues to Tuva. His impact on Tuvan music cannot be understated. He has performed with a variety of musicians, ranging from Bela Fleck to Willie Nelson to Randy Scruggs to Native American singer Bill Miller (whose singing style resembles Tuvan Shaman) – and has performed on Letterman! (More musicians after links): ***Different Styles of Tuvan Throat Singing with Kongar ol-Ondar (& Bela Fleck) ‘Kongar-ol Ondar’ on David Letterman Tuvan Jingle Bells – Kongar-ol-Ondar & Bela Fleck Where Has My Country Gone? – Kongar ol’Ondar & Willie Nelson. Kongar-Ol Ondar and Bill Miller (Native American type Shamanistic singing) – Alash Khem – Back Tuva Future Kongar-ol-Ondar Playlist

Sainkho Namtchylak – This lady is the Diva of Tuvan throat-singing and, like Madonna, she rises from the ashes. Very successful since the early 90s, she was beaten (and raped?) into a coma in 1997 (which lasted for several weeks) by jealous thugs on a return trip to Tuva (there is some sexism directed toward women with regard to throat-singing though attitudes have greatly improved in recent years – thank God).  Doing Tuvan throat-singing set against music against modern pop, electronic music, and experimental jazz – this Vienna-based artist infuses nature, traditional, and her own style – and at times reminds me of Yoko Ono, but I love her anyway. Personally, she was one of my all-time favorite musicians regardless of genre and location. Sainkho surpasses boundaries both personally and creatively. Boundaries are nothing to Siankho. ***Sainkho Namtchylak Playlist ***Sainkho Namtchylak Playlist #2

Tyva Kyzy (headed by Choduraa Tumat) is an all-female throat-singing ensemble, and of course they have toured the world. Despite a lot of people’s preference for the male singers, and despite the fact that men can perform a lot of throat-singing technical feats the ladies can’t, female Tuvan throat-singing has always had an edge over the men’s to my ear. Tyva Kyzy Playlist Choduraa Tumat

Chirgilchin! This touring group features one of my favorite Tuvan performances of all time – they are notable for having a female throat-singer who sings along with the males, making a bold (in their culture) statement against sexism. Chirgilchin has performed with Laurie Anderson. Chirgilchin Darlaashkyn – Freedom Song.wmv Chirgilchin – Mongun-ool Solo Chirgilchin – Goats Chirgilchin – Lonely Man *** Chirgilchin – Chirgilchin Chirgilchin & Laurie Anderson Chirgilchin – Khoomeige Yoreel Dembildey – Rock Version – Chirgilchin Chirgilchin 8-minute long, fantastic performance ***Chirgilchin – Daglarym (one of my favorite throat-singing performances of all time) Chirgilchin throat-singing with peacocks Chirgilchin in Wales


Alash Ensemble, a popular touring group, now managed by American-Tuvan transplant Sean Quirk, are, like K. Ondar, traditional but not afraid to perform with other Western musicians of other styles.  They have performed with Western performers ranging from Sun Ra Arkestra to Bela Fleck. Alash-Ensemble, Ene-Sie ‘Shaman’s Prayer’ Alash Ensemble w/ Bela Fleck – Jingle Bells Alash Ensemble & Sun Ra Arkestra – ‘Amazing Grace’ Alash Ensemble ‘Dyngyldai’ – Arts Council of Princeton Bela Fleck and Flecktones, Alash, and Casey Driessen – ‘What Child Is This?’/Dyngyldai Alash Ensemble ‘The Reindeer Herder’s Song’

Olchey is a newer touring group which appears to have either European or American members:

Yat-Kha (named after the zither) was formed at around the same time as these other, more traditonal groups, and in some cases earlier (1991). Despite their being mostly Tuvan, they formed in Moscow, and they mix Western-style music (rock & metal) into their music and kick ass. They have their original songs but are more known for their covers ranging from Joy Division to Motorhead. I love them: they are like a musical bad-ass teddy-bear. Yat-Kha – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover) Yat Kha – Black Magic Woman (Santana cover) Yat-Kha – When the Levee Breaks (Led Zepplin cover) Yat Kha – Orgasmatron (Motorhead Cover) Yat Kha – In A Gadda Da Vida (Iron Butterfly cover) Yat Kha – Ahoi Yat Kha – Eki Attar Yat Kha – Coming Bhudda Yat Kha: Yenisei Punk Yat Kha – Kaa-Khem Yat Kha – Toccata Yat Kha Playlist

Of all the Tuvan bands that have gained a cult following here and helped to make the Region’s music famous was Huun-Huur-Tu – and I think the reason why may be because they brought a sense of fun to their music. They performed with a variety of different performers, perhaps more than any other Tuvan artist, anyway: Frank Zappa, Angelite (the all-female Bulgarian choir), Kronos Quartet, Moscow Trio, Carmen Rizzo, The Chieftans, bluesman Johnny Watson, the Japanese Kodo drummers, and Hazmat Modine). Huun Huur Tu – Chiraa-Khoor Huun Huur tu – Kongurei Huun Huur Tu & Hazmat Modine Angelite (Bulgarian Female Choir) & Huun-Huur-Tu – Fly, Fly My Sadness Angelite & Huun-Huur-Tu w/ Moscow Art Trio

Khakassia Republic (Abkhan):

The music of Khakassia has always been traditional but inventive and blends well with modern music. How to wrap the mind around Khakassian music? The first thing I notice is that there are a lot of female musicians. And, although there is throat-singing, it is not the main aspect of the Region’s music. Its two principal traditional instruments are the homys, which is a two-stringed banjo with two giant tuning pegs that look like they belong on a weaving apparatus of some kind; and the chathan, which is a kind of lap zither.

You may have heard about music-writer Nick Tosches (Where Dead Voices Gather, et al.), who was also the biographer of the legendary Emmett Miller: the minstrel-cum-falsetto-yodeler-cum-jazz artist from Macon, who was at the height of his career in the 1920’s. Tosches had wanted to write about Miller all his life, but when the moment came – what he found was that there was almost nothing to be found, in terms of Miller’s personal history and early life. So instead he had to cover just Miller’s plethora of styles and the mega-giants he influenced: people like Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Merle Haggard, Van Halen, Bob Wills, and Leon Redbone. (As for the mark he made on jazz, he gave Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Gene Krupa their training in his backup band.) So Miller was sort of a musical Yeti: big footprint – but little ‘Miller’ to be found to go with it.

If he wanted to, Tosches could have a field-day in Khakassia: enigmatic emergences of musical figures, effecting startling new musical hybrids, but who subsequently disappear – but NOT leaving no trace. Leaving big trace. One such figure of Khakas music would be the rock group Kaigji (from some decades past). Another is the mysterious Tom Sibday, who first materialized on the scene – then dissipated, like mist – after first Russian-musically inscribing ‘Kilroy Was Here’ for all those coming after to find.

I also love modern Irenek Khan. (It’s great to know garage bands exist everywhere.)

I don’t know if any Khakas folk groups or bands have toured the US as of yet, but hopefully that will change, and some will come to our shores so we can sight them. One possible contender here is Ulger, author of Khakas folk music and traditional dance that strikes me much like modern (rock). And, as if that weren’t enough, Western-style Valdiswar Nadischana appears on the surface to be ethnically Russian but grew up four hours away from Abakan. He is an amazing man who invented the dzuddahord, a three-in-one, combinatory instrument: mandola, guitar, and gusli all in one. This now Berlin-based artist plays over a hundred instruments, in fact, especially the folk instruments of vast Siberia – a land so big (5.1 million sq. mi.) that, were it independent, it would be the largest country on earth. (So I guess they need over 100 instruments, to fill all that space.)

Ah, immense tracts, originating at points now invisible, stretching to infinity and leading us who-knows-where along the way! Kakash culture, music, and people are as heaven. Nadishana WS Nadishana’s Personal Playlist. Ulger Ulger Siberian shamans: ancient magic in the modern world Russian Esoteric Academy of Happiness (Siberian Shamanism)

Khakas Anna Burnakova, Sergey Charkov, Slava Kuchenov, Aleksandr Samozhikov, Yevgeniy Ulugbashev. Folk music ensembles include Aylanys, Sabjilar, Ulgher, Khyrkhaas.!sabjilar—folk-music-from-khakassia Sabjiilar samples Russia Music on a Khakassian Bus