Google Groups no longer supports new Usenet posts or subscriptions. Historical content remains viewable.

alt.culture.tuva FAQ Version 1.07 [1 of 1]

Skip to first unread message

Kerry Yackoboski

Jul 18, 1994, 8:15:10 PM7/18/94
Archive-name: tuva-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 1994/07/18
Version: 1.07

Anyone wishing to take a shot at improving it should go ahead and
send the edited section along to me. - Kerry,
Thanks to Bernard Greenberg for his numerous additions and edits.

Alt.culture.tuva FAQ Version 1.07 (July 18, 1994)

Table of Contents:

1: How can I get a copy of this Frequently Asked Questions list?
2. Are there any WWW sites for Tuva?
3: What's a Tuva?
4: What is all the fuss about?
5: What's this about two voices from one singer?
6: Where can I find out more? (Friends of Tuva)
7: Any recommended reading?
8: Any audio recordings available?
9: Are there any video tapes about Tuva?
10: Does anyone still collect the old Tuvan stamps?
11: How can I learn to sing khoomei?

Questions and Answers:

1: How can I get a copy of this Frequently Asked Questions list?
A: You're reading it, aren't you? :-) Save it! The FAQ is posted

2. Are there any WWW sites for Tuva?
A: The first one to open is at this URL: There are some pictures of
Tuva and Kyzyl, as well as a HTML version of this FAQ. For
information on the WWW (World Wide Web), check out

3: What's a Tuva?
A: The Republic of Tuva is the former Tannu Tuva, a country in south
Siberia absorbed by the former USSR in 1944. Tuva was at one time
an oblast of Russia, and then the Tuvinskaya ASSR, and is now a
member of the Russian Federation.

Tuva is an area arguably in the centre of Asia, nestled just north
of Mongolia between the Sayan mountains in the north and the Tannu
Ola mountains in the south, with a population of Tuva of 308,000
(about 64 percent Tuvan and about 32 percent Russian). The capital
city of Kyzyl (pronounced stressing the second syllable) (population
75,000) lies at the junction of two rivers that go on to form the
Jenissei River.

Tuva was known under its Mongol name of Uriankhai until 1922 and
deserves interest for the fact that it was twice annexed by Russia
within 30 years without the world paying the slightest attention.
The first annexation came in 1914 when when Russia proclaimed Tuva a
protectorate of Russia, and the second time in 1944 when the
People's Republic of Tuva was transformed into an administrative
unit of the USSR.

4: What is all the fuss about?
A: In 1977 Nobel Laureate (Physics) and raconteur Richard Feynman asked
"What ever happened to Tannu Tuva?" One of his friends, Ralph
Leighton, helped Feynman turn their search for information on this
country into a real adventure, as explained in Leighton's book "Tuva
or Bust". Feynman's interest originated in the 1930's when Tuva, in
a philatelic orgy, issued many oddball stamps memorable for their
shapes (diamonds and triangles) as well as their scenery (men on
camels racing trains, men on horseback hunting with airplanes above
them, etc.).

When they looked Tuva up in the atlas, they saw that the capital was
Kyzyl - arguably a word without a vowel in it! They also soon found
out that a monument near Kyzyl marked the centre of Asia, and that
some Tuvans sang with 2 voices - one voice usually a lower drone and
the second voice a high pitched flute-like sound, both from the same
person. This information piqued their curiosity and things

5: What's this about two voices from one singer?
A: It's called "khoomei", or throat singing, and numerous CD's are
available. This is not unique to Tuva - singers come from Mongolia
as well, and the Tantric Gyuto Monks of Tibet (now living in India),
also practice this two-note singing in their chanting. They also
have several recordings available.

6: Where can I find out more (Friends of Tuva)?
A: Friends of Tuva is an organization headquartered in Pasadena,
California, founded and run by Ralph Leighton. It is a central
clearing-house for information about Tuva and Tuva-related merchandise.

Write to:

Friends of Tuva
Box 70021,
Pasadena, CA 91117, USA
phone or FAX (213) 221-TUVA
No Net address.

By sending two or three self-addressed, stamped envelopes to FoT you
can receive their newsletter. FoT also has a variety of wonderful
things for sale, including many of the recordings and videos listed
here (recordings, books, maps, etc.). The goods are very reasonably
priced, and anyone seeking to learn more about Tuva and things Tuvan
would do well to look at their newsletters.

7: Any recommended reading?
A: Send your suggestions.

1 - Tuva or Bust!
Ralph Leighton.
W.W. Norton, 1991.

The canonical work. Describes Feynman and Leighton's decade-long
struggle to reach Tuva. Semi-related works are ``Surely You're
Joking, Mr. Feynman!'' and ``What Do You Care What Other People
Think?'', both by RP Feynman (with R Leighton).

2 - Journey to Tuva
Otto Ma"nchen-Helfen, extensively annotated and translated from
German to English by Alan Leighton.
Ethnographics Press, University of Southern California, 1931/1992

Available from Friends of Tuva. A great book detailing the visit of
a Westerner in 1929. Contains an appendix about present day Tuva
and a map.

3 - Nomads of Eurasia
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
University of Washington Press, 1989.

This book accompanied the museum exhibit "Nomads: Masters of the
Eurasian Steppe" in 1989-1990. Great pictures and text.

4 - Nomads of South Siberia
Sevyan Vainshtein, translated by Michael Colenso
Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Wow. The detail is impressive as the author examines Tuvan nomadic

5 - In Search of Genghis Khan
Tim Severin, Arrow Books, 1992.

The author joins a horseback expedition to trace the steps of
Genghis Khan from Mongolia to Europe in 1990. An intriguing foray
into the life of the modern Mongolian nomad, with many details that
may frighten prospective visitors to the region.

7 - The Peoples of the Soviet Far East
Walter Kolarz, published by Frederick Praeger of New York, 1954.

8 - The Tuvan Manual
John Krueger, available from the Mongolia Society, 322 Goodbody Hall
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.

An indispensable work that includes a primer on the area and culture,
lessons on how to read and speak Tuvan, a Tuvan to English glossary,
and several samples of Tuvan text. An extremely valuable book
that is worth double the price (about $20). A word of caution; the
only Tuvan I know to have seen the book commented that "no one uses
those words anymore".

9 - Ancient Traditions: Shamanism in Central Asia and the Americas
Edited by Gary Seaman and Jane S. Day.
Published by the Denver Museum of Natural History and the
University Press of Colorado, 1994.

Based on the proceedings from "Nomads: Masters of the Eurasian
Steppe," Volume 4 of the Soviet-American academic symposia in
conjunction with the museum exhibitions. The one chapter devoted to
Tuvan shamanism is by Russian ethnographer Vera P. Diakonova.

8: Any audio recordings available?
A: Glad you asked. I recommend numbers 1, 2, 9, 8, in that order.
Number 1 might turn off some people as it is a sampler of styles
and not a collection of songs. In that case, skip to number 2.
Number 18 is new and readily available and a great intro to the subject.
(Reviews by Kerry Yackoboski except [BSG] by Bernard Greenberg).

1 - Tuva: Voices from the center of Asia.
Smithsonian Folkways CD SF 40017
Distributed by Rounder Records, Cambridge MA.
33 tracks, 41'50, featuring numerous performers recorded in Tuva by
Ted Levin, Eduard Alexeev, Zoya Kirgiz. Khoomei, jew's harp, sigit,
animal imitations. Excellent liner notes. Excellent, scholarly,
musicological liner notes, texts in Tuvan available.

2 - Tuva: Voices from the Land of the Eagles
Pan Records CD 2005CD
P.O. Box 155, 2300 AD Leiden, Netherlands
11 tracks, 46'46, khomus, tyzani, igil, amirga, toshpular. Features
Kongar Ondar, Kaigal-ool Khovalig, Gennadi Tumat, all soloists of
the folk ensemble Tuva. Recorded February 23, 1991. Excellent
liner notes.

3 - Voix de l'Orient Sovietique
Inedit W 260008
Masion des Cultures Du Monde , Paris
Only one Khoomei track, but it is supposedly very good. Other
tracks from other Soviet (now CIS) central Asian republics.
[I don't have this one - Kerry]

4 - Mongolian Folk Music
Selected from the 1967 year's collection by Lajos Vargyas.
Hungaroton HCD 18013-14
[I don't have this one - Kerry]

5 - Mongolie- Musique vocale et instrumentale
Inedit W 460009
[I don't have this one - Kerry]

6 - Sainkho Namtchylak - Lost Rivers
Free Music Productions FMP CD 42
Postbox 100 227, 1000 Berlin 10, Germany
Solo voice. Avante garde singing, with some polyphonic singing. 13
tracks, 74'18.

7 - Sainkho Namtchylak - When the Sun Is Out You Don't See Stars
Free Music Productions FMP CD 38
With Peter Kowald (bass), Werner Ludi (saxes), Butch Morris
(cornet). 20 tracks, 72,50, less avante garde than Lost Rivers.

8 - Sainkho Namtchylak - Out Of Tuva
A collection of traditional songs, some arranged in a new

9 - Sainkho Namtchylak - Letters
Leo CD 190.
Should be available soon.

10- Tuva: Echoes from the Spirit World
Pan Records CD 2013CD
17 tracks, 61'38, khomus, tyzani, igil, amirga, toshpular, dambiraa,
bell, kengirge, byzaanchy, limbi, buree, savag, tung, tenchak,
khirilee. Features 11 performers, includes recordings made on tour
in 1992 as well as older recordings from Soviet radio (1973, 1983,
1986). Superlative liner notes explaining many ideas and terms.

11- Ozum (Sprouts): Young Voices of Ancient Tuva
Window to Europe CD sum 90 008
Jodenbreestraat 24, 1011 NK, Amsterdam, Netherlands
A Dutch-Russian release from Otkun Dostai, Oolak Ondar, and
Stanislav Iril, three young Tuvan musicians who have built on the
traditional style. A strong album that I really like. Khoomei,
khomus, acoustic guitar, and shaman drum. 13 tracks, 42'34.

12- Mongolian Songs
King Record Co CD KICC 5133
2-12-13 Otowa Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 112 Japan
Part of King's World Music Library, this is a Japanese import with
almost no English in the package. 7 performers, 19 songs, 54'52.
The men's khoomei is very good, the women's takes some getting
used to.

13- Mongolian Epic Song (Zhangar)
King Record Co CD KICC 5136
2-12-13 Otowa Bunkyo-ku Tokyo 112 Japan
Male vocal with instrumental accompaniment. Short and long

14- Mongolian Morin Khuur Ci Bulag
King Record Co CD KICC 5135
Sentimental horse-head fiddle solos.

15- Morin Khuur Ci Bulag
JVC World Sounds, VICG-5212
More Sentimental horse-head fiddle solos.

16- Mongolie Ensemble Mandukhai
Playa Sound, PS 65115
Large variety with some khoomei.

17- Mongolie Chants Kazakh et tradition epique de l'Ouest
Ocora - Radio France, C 580051
25 songs, with tobsuur accompaniment, recorded in Mongolia in 1984
and 1990. Twenty songs of Kazakh music, some of it actually
danceable! Minimal khoomei, although the voices do make good use of
changing timbres. The final five songs are labelled ``epic
tradition of the West'' and the lyrics are fragments of lengthy epic

18- Huun-Huur-Tu: Sixty Horses In My Herd - Old Songs and Tunes of Tuva
Shanachie Records CD SH 64050 CD/MC
37 E. Clinton St., Newton NJ 40017

Master khoomigch Kaigal-ool Khovalyg and his new group, which has
toured all over the US. 12 tracks of all natures of top-notch
khoomei, other singing, igil (Tuvan viol) playing. Its being
studio-produced, which although lending a slight inauthenticity,
makes for an eminently listenable album. Decent liner notes and
text. [BSG]

19- Uzlyau: Guttural Singing of the People of the Sayan, Altai, and
Ural Mountains
PAN 2019CD (PAN Records Ethnic Series) - see #2 for address.
(1993) 37 recordings from Russian archives form a catalog of all known
styles of overtone singing from Tuva (12), Altai (2), and Baskhiria (23),
collected, produced, (partially) recorded, and documented in encyclopaedic,
scholarly liner notes by Vyacheslav Shchurov. Studio and field recordings,
featuring master khoomigch Oorzhak Khunashtaar-ool in some awesome 1977
performances recored by Radio Moscow. Some doshpuluur and khomus, but
almost all vocal. Some absolute knockout kargyraa. A must. [BSG]

20- Tales of Tuva
Kira Van Deusen recites three Tuvan stories (in English) with
musical accompaniment by Kongar-ool Ondar, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg,
and Anatoli Kuular.

21- Shu-De: Voices from the Distant Steppe
Realworld/WOMAD Productions (Real World Records Ltd)
(In US): Carol 2339-2
Caroline Records, Inc
111 West 26th St.,
New York NY 10001

16 tracks by the Tuvan ensemble Shu-De (M. Mongush, L. Oorzhak, N.
Shoigu, B. Salchak, O. Kuular), including all varieties of
khoomei, igil, doshpuluur, & limbi (flute) playing, plus a wide
variety of styles from Buddhist Chant to Tuvan tonguetwisters to
Western-style choral harmony. A shamanic ritual ends out the CD. A
magnificent kargyraa cut by Leonid Oorzhak is a highlight.
Eminently listenable. (Spring 1994). Weak liner notes. [BSG]

The Melodiya record that Feynman had is apparently unavailable,
although the vaults of recording agencies in the former USSR have
been opened to interested entrepreneurs. Latest reports say that
the masters have been lost.

9: Are there any video tapes about Tuva?

A: One TV show that many people identify with was a NOVA episode about
Richard Feynman, titled "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out". It,
as well as "Fun to Imagine", and "Last Journey of a Genius" are
about Feynman, although the set of Tuva-heads and the set of
Feynman-fans has a large intersection. FoT has a scheme through
which the first two tapes may be rented in the USA; the third may be
purchased. that. Last winter the BBC aired a 2-part special on
Feynman (sorry, no Tuva) that was whittled down to one episode for
broadcast in the USA under the title "The Best Mind Since Einstein".
The longer English version is great.

Also available from FoT are "They Who Know: Shamans of Tuva", a
Belgian production in English featuring "45-snowy-I" Ondar Daryma,
and over 7 hours of broadcasts from Tuva TV, all in colour, with a
written guide to describe the action. A new 30-minute documentary,
"Throat Singing in Tuva", features footage from the 1950's to the
present, including Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, the 9-year old boy seen on the
Chevy Chase TV show in the USA in October, 1993.

Alt.culture.tuva's own Jeff Cook had a large hand in the recently
released "The Tuvans Invade America", an informal documentary on the
visit of 3 extraordinary Tuvan performers to California for the Rose
Bowl Parade on January 1, 1993.

Another famous video is the PBS show "Lost Land of Tannu Tuva",
narrated by Hal Holbrook.

Jeff Cook has also made available a Quicktime movie of a short video
news release that was made for the 1993 Rose Bowl Parade visit by
Tuvan singers. FTP to, login as anonymous with your
own ID as a password, type "cd /pub/access/jcook", list files with
"ls", and do a "get TUVA_MooV.sea". This file can be viewed using
Apple's Quicktime utility on a MacIntosh.

CBC TV also featured singing Tuvans on "What In the World" and I'd
like a copy if anyone taped that.

10: Does anyone still collect the old Tuvan stamps?
A: Yes, there is a group of stamp collectors devoted to the old
diamond-shaped and triangular stamps of Tuva from the 1920's and
1930's. These stamps feature many fanciful images of people,
animals, machinery, and nature (sometimes all on the same stamp!).

You can contact them at the Tannu Touva Collectors Society:

In North America: Ken Simon, 513-6th Ave. S., Lake Worth, FL

In Europe: David Maddock, 49 Dinorbean Ave., Fleet, Hants,
GU13 9SQ, UK

In Asia: Wilson Lin, No. 74 Section 1 Anhe Road, Annan
District, Taiwan City, Taiwan, 709 R.O.China

11: How can I learn to sing khoomei?
A: It's not easy; the best singers begin their training before they can
walk. However, it's not impossible to learn later. Dan Bennett has
volunteered his advice, seen below. I also recommend an excellent
pamphlet, "Khoomei - How To's and Why's" by Michael Emory, PO Box
648, Westbury, NY, USA, 11590. Michael's illustrations, while not
exactly helpful, are fantastic. His text is quite useful.

The absolute best advice was offered by Ralph Leighton, namely,
listen to masters and imitate.

How to Sing Khoomei (by Dan Bennett,

Khoomiy is easiest for men. I *have* heard a recording of a Mongolian
Kazakh women singing khoomiy, but it's simply not so easy or
spectacular, because of the higher pitch of the female voice.
(Sainkho Namchylak can sing khoomiy too.)

1. Sing a steady note while saying "aah" (to start with). Pitch it in
the middle of your range, where you can give it plenty of energy,
i.e. - Sing it loudly.

2. Aim to make the sound as bright - not to say *brash* - as you can.
The more energy there is in the harmonics, the louder and clearer
they'll be when you start singing khoomiy. Practise this for a

3. OK, with this as a basis for the sound generation, you've got to
arrange your mouth to become a highly resonant acoustic filter. My
style (self- taught, but verified for me by a professional
Mongolian khoomiy singer I had a lesson with in Ulaanbaatar) is as

Divide the mouth into two similar-sized compartments by raising
your tongue so that it meets the roof of your mouth, a bit like
you're saying "L". Spread your tongue a bit so that it makes a
seal all the way round. At this point, you won't be able to pass
air through your mouth. Then (my technique), break the seal on the
left (or right) side of the mouth, simply to provide a route for
the air to get through.

Then (here's the most difficult bit to describe over the net - or
even in person, for that matter!), push your lips forward a bit,
and by carefully (and intuitively) adjusting the position of your
lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw, etc, you can sing Mongolian khoomiy!

Put it this way: the *aim* of the khoomiy singer ("khoomigch") is
to emphasize ONE of the harmonics which are already present in the
sound generated by the throat. This is achieved because he is
forming a resonant cavity, which (a) is tuned to the chosen
harmonic (overtone), and (b) has a high resonance, or "Q" factor.
By adjusting the geometry and tension of your mouth you can choose
which harmonic you're emphasizing, and thus sing a tune.

0 new messages