History of developing female throat singing in Tuva
Tyva Kyzy (Daughters of Tuva) is recognized as first and, to date, the only group of women performing throat-singing in Central-Asia. Kh mei, or throat-singing in Tuvan, is still considered to be a domain of male singers. This type of overtone singing is typical for nomadic people of Central Asia. In Tuva it has reached the level of true refinement with a large range of variety in styles.
Amongst the bright colors of the male kh mei voices in folk groups, the ensemble “Tyva Kyzy” is still the only female folk group performing kh mei.
From the beginning of 1990s till the 2000s the performance of kh mei 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. Nowadays it has been changed by the ensemble Tyva Kyzy and other women who have been performing kh mei for public not only in Tuva but abroad as well.
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 kh mei. The question “When did women in Tuva begin to perform kh mei?” has many contradictory answers among scientists, musical researches and performers.
According to some Tuvan traditions women were forbidden to perform kh mei because it could diminish the health of her male relatives and lead to difficulties during childbirth. The taboos around female kh mei 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 kh mei. Some of these women have kept their talents private and sung 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 kh mei, 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 kh mei throughout her life while milking her cows, singing lullabys 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 of 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 kh mei and playing musical instruments, but now women can do anything. From ancient times to present, the performance of kh mei has given people a feeling of calm and good energy whether it has been performed by women or men.
In the Soviet era it was rare for women to perform on stage, an exception being during Republican festivals. Valentina Chuldum, from Mongun-Taiga, 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 Kh mei women could finally sing publicly.
To cite the thoughts of Khunashtaar-ool Oorzhak (“the Tuvan People s kh meizhi” 1932-1993) on the subject from the magazine “Kh mei” (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. As for me, I personally give them consultations. Girls voices are special, beautiful and unique in their own way.” This opinion about the possibility of organizing a female ensemble of khoomei singers was published in the same article, by Khunashtaar-ool Oorzhak.
Not knowing his opinion at the time, in May of 1998, lead by Choduraa Tumat, some women assembled an all-female group of throat-singers 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. In July 1998 Tyva Kyzy Ensemble performed for the first time as a group at the III International Symposium of Khoomei in Kyzyl. After their premiere contest performance several newspapers reported that this women s appearance on the stage was a “brave step of delicate women.”
The group has been valued for the originality of its repertoire and instrumentation. The repertoire is dominated by folk songs, performed to the accompaniment of traditional instruments. Folk songs are arranged so that they are traditional and authentically ‘Tuvan . Since 1999, Tyva Kyzy have successfully participated in various international festivals and given concerts in many different countries of the world.
The unexplainable timbres of the voice and throat-singing of the two main soloists of Tyva Kyzy are used to complement, rather than copying or repeating each other. The leading personalities in the history of the development of women performing kh mei, Choduraa Tumat and Aylanmaa Damyran, are carriers of the traditional style of performance of folk songs, and are able to accompany themselves on national instruments. They perform the different styles of Tuvan throat-singing (sygyt, kargyraa, khoomei, borbannadyr and ezengileer). The ensemble is accompanied by traditional instruments: igil, byzaanchy, doshpuluur, chadagan, khomus, shoor, and dungur by the young musicians and kh meizhi Sholbana Belek-ool (Chaa-Khol region), Ayzaana Khovalyg (Baryyn-Khemchik region), Olcha Tumat (Choon-Khemchik), Alltynai Khuurak (Kyzyl region), Ailang Ondar (Kyzyl). The aforementioned musicians of Tyva Kyzy successfully participated and won prizes in the International Festival of Music and Crafts “MIR SIBIRI” in 2012. In 2013, they won prizes in the Republican contest “Kh mei”, and Winner of the II degree in the Sixth International Ethno musicological Symposium “Khoomei is a Cultural Phenomenon of the Peoples of Central Asia”. The phenomenon of female throat-singing in Tuva is continuing to develop, but without the hard work of the members of Tyva Kyzy, female throat-singing may not exist in Tuva or in greater Central Asia. There is a growing body of scientists and ethnomusicologists from around the world who are interested in this musical art form and wanting to create a specialized body of literature devoted to the history and analysis of women s throat-singing.
Today we can say that due to the hard work on repertoire and the enthusiastic attitude of the female musicians themselves, the prestige of female throat singers in the republic of Tuva has increased. Now the world of ethnic music and the world of throat singing knows that the formation of Tyva kyzy has become one of the most interesting developments in Tuvan kh mei culture.