The performance of khoomei by Tuvan women has given rise to a variety of thoughts and feelings among its people including admiration, surprise, mistrust and aversion to hearing it. Tuvan khoomei differs from the throat singing of other Central Asian regions with its variety of styles, technique, accuracy and unique performance qualities. It is known that male and female singers in Tuva perform the same styles of khoomei. The question “When did women in Tuva begin to perform khoomei?” has many contradictory answers among scientists, musical researches and male performers.
According to some Tuvan traditions women were forbidden to perform khoomei because it could diminish the vitality of her male relatives and lead to difficulties during her childbirth. The taboos around female khoomei often suppressed the few women who were talented by nature and if they didn’t follow them their relatives could force them not to sing.
Throughout the history of Tuvan music we see that women have long performed khoomei. To cite the thoughts of Khunashtaar-ool Oorzhak (“the Tuvan People’s khoomeizhi” 1932-1993) on the subject from the magazine “Khoomei” (1995), “We also have female performers of khoomei. If they ask me what I think about them I will answer that I think about them positively and I support them. There is no bad thing in this because this voice comes from nature and from a mother. There is a legend that long time ago it was a woman not a man who performed khoomei. Perhaps this is true. However years have been passing, times have been changing, gradually the role of a woman has been increasing, men stopped to listen to her opinion. Then women stopped to perform khoomei…As for me, I personally give them consultations. Girls’ voices are special, beautiful and unique in their own way”. (14)
Some of these women have kept their talents private and sing only in nature and for themselves. However there are facts in our history, which tell us about female singers who were not ashamed or afraid to perform. They sang the styles of khoomei, sygyt and kargyraa to the Tuvan people who listened and accepted them positively. It has also been proven that females can perform this art without harm to themselves or complicating the birth of children. One of these brave and gifted women is Choldak-Kara Oyun who has remained a living legend. She is the mother of the famous throat singer Soruktu Kyrgys from the early 1900s who was adopted by another family. Choldak-Kara Oyun was the wife of a blacksmith and mother of his children. She sang khoomei throughout her life while milking her cows, singing lullaby’s to her children and sometimes while she was drinking Tuvan araga. Kara-Kys Namzatovna Munzuk, a famous Tuvan actress, remembered this woman, who was a grandmother o f her husband.
In those times a Tuvan woman had many things to do. She had to keep her house clean and tidy, raise many children, make clothes and shoes from the skin of small horned cattle, feed her family, raise wheat and oats and look after her cattle. It was very difficult to find free time for singing khoomei and playing musical instruments but now women can do anything as long as it doesn’t bring harm to others. From ancient times to present the performance of khoomei has given people a feeling of calm and good energy wheather it was performed by women or men.
In the Soviet era it was rare for women to perform on stage, an exception was during Republican festivals. Valentina Chuldum from Mongun-Taiga, (1960- Autumn 2002, died at age 42) overcame such a difficult path. She toured musically to European countries in the early 1990s and with this opened a path for other young female musicians. With the start of the International Symposiums of Khoomei women could finally sing publicly.
The group Tyva kyzy (Daughters of Tuva) was established in 1998. The idea of creating a female ensemble was also published in the article of the magazine “Khoomei” (1995), by Khunashtaar-ool Oorzhak. Not knowing this at the time, Choduraa Tumat together with Damyran Ailanmaa, had set the goal of establishing a female group with khoomei performers. They assembled the all women group consisting of Valentina Chuldum, Shonchalai Oorzhak, Tatiana Saaya, Ailanmaa Damyran, Choduraa Tumat, Azimaa Kuzhuget and Ailan Ondar. They called the group Tyva Kyzy as Khunashtaar-ool Oorzhak had wished and as Shonchalai Oorzhak suggested. In July 1998 Tyva Kyzy performed as a group at the International Symposium of Khoomei in Kyzyl after which people said that their appearance on the stage was a brave step of delicate women. With the managing leadership of Otkun Dostai, the hard work on repertoire of artistic leader Choduraa Tumat and the enthusiastic attitude of the female musicians themselves the prestige of female throat singers has increased.
For some the formation of Tyva Kyzy has become one of the most interesting developments in Tuvan khoomei. The group has been valued for the originality of its repertoire and instrumentation. They have recently been recognized as the best players of national instruments in the Ustu-Hure Festival in Chadan, Tyva.
The musicians of Tyva Kyzy are currently all working in different cultural institutions in Kyzyl, playing music and getting together in their free time. Under leadership of Choduraa Tumat they are gathering and teaching young girls who are interested in khoomei and folklore. During the 2004 Regional festival “Raduga of Druzhby” Tyva Kyzy presented their program in an expanded form by bringing together adult and young female musicians to sing khoomei, kargyraa and play traditional instruments.