Round the World in 80 Sounds: Five Tuvan Throat Singing Videos

Musicians like rapper T-Pain might have popularized the use of auto-tune in pop music, but he’s actually not the first to alter his voice in pursuit of a good tune. In fact, a tribe of nomadic herdsmen from Tuva, a province in the furthest wilds of Russia, have been practicing a curious form of vocal chord manipulation called throat singing as far back as anyone can remember.

This unique style of crooning, also known as overtone singing, is a practice in which the singer plays with the vocal chords, resulting in a sound that covers as many as four distinct notes at the same time. To put this in perspective, your average pop star can only sing in one. How’s that for amazing? This style of singing is actually used by a variety of cultures around the world, from Sardinia in Italy to the Inuit tribes of Canada to peoples of South Africa. But it is the people of Tuva, a small province in Southern Siberia, who have gained the greatest fame for their talent with this one-of-a-kind vocal skill.

Why did this strange form of music develop? And what does it sound like? Join us as Gadling’s new music feature Round the World in 80 Sounds takes a look at five of the best Tuvan Throat Singing videos. Keep reading below…

What is Tuvan Throat Singing?
It’s believed that the strange singing style of the Tuvans is a result of their land’s unique geography. The vast windswept terrain of Southern Siberia is endless in its size and its beauty. Thus Tuvan Throat Singing is the product of these two unique factors. On one hand, the residents of this environment needed their voices to carry long distances – the singing accomplishes this, providing the greatest possible reach.

One the other hand, the Tuvans are believers in Animism, a belief system strongly rooted in nature as the source of religion. Throat Singing draws inspiration from these Animist beliefs, using voices to symbolize the forces of nature, from the winds to the water to the animals that inhabit the Tuvans’ wild homeland.

What does it sound like?
Tuvan throat singing is composed of four main sounds: the Khorekteer (chest voice), the Khoomeii (wind swirling among rocks), Sygyt (birds whistling) and Kargyraa (howling winds). Rather than trying to explain what they sound like, the best way to understand is watch. Here’s five of our favorite Tuvan Throat Singers in action.

#1 – TV feature on Throat Singing

The following travel segment provides a good video introduction to the background, history and sounds of Throat Singing.

#2 – Kongar-ol Ondar on David Letterman
Singer Kongar-ol Ondar is regarded as one of the style’s most famous practitioners, often appearing on Western TV shows to perform. Here’s a clip of Ondar from 1999 on David Letterman:

#3 – The many tones of Throat Singing
Watch as this Throat Singer performs a few of the many different tones involved in the practice. You’ll hear the remarkable range of highs, lows and growls that this style can encompass:

#4 – Live performance of “Sygyt
In this live performance of Throat Singing from the Philadelphia Folk Festival, we see artist Huun Huur Tu as he demonstrates the style Sygyt, or “whistling,” mentioned above. The rhythm and tone is hypnotic and mesmerizing to hear:

#5 – Two Throat Singers Along an Icy River
Watch these two Tuvans as they howl away, set against the backdrop of an swift-moving river choked with chunks of ice. Much like the art of Tuvan Throat Singing it’s at once starkly beautiful, and wildly exotic:

Round the World in 80 Sounds: What’s World Music?

What is World Music? How has such a bland, vague term come to describe the rich and divergent music of thousands of cultures, from sub-Saharan Gnawa to Colombian Cumbia and Tuvan Throat Singing? For too long, it’s been the descriptor anywhere we buy or hear international music, from record stores to digital outlets like iTunes, relegating hundreds of diverse artists to a single heap because of their “otherness.” In fact, World Music is a Western term describing music outside the traditional “pop music canon:” the familiar American and European bands that long-dominated our radios and laptops. But World Music is on its way out: a hunger for the varied sounds from around the globe is rising to take its place.

The term “World Music” is a relatively recent phenomenon. Coined by a musicologist by the name of Robert E. Brown in the 1960’s, it was created to describe styles of ethnic or folk music found in more remote corners of the globe. World Music actually worked OK for much of the last 50 years, as long as the Western World remained the center of economic, political and cultural force. In the 20th Century, the West dominated the global airwaves, with icons like Michael Jackson and The Beatles winning hearts and record players from Bogota to Beijing. But by the end of the 90’s, it was clear the term was increasingly irrelevant.

As we push into the 21st Century, the Western dominance of the global music scene has waned. A new global musical consciousness springs up in its place, driven by the power of a global economy and music distribution systems where digital files and streaming videos are the norm. The hot sounds of 2010 don’t just come from New York and London – instead, rhythms ricochet across the globe, from Angola to Argentina and to Angkor Wat, finding eager listeners and receptive audiences in the farthest corners of our planet. It’s not just that music lovers are just discovering new global favorites, it’s also having a profound impact on what we listen to at home. The DNA of this global music phenomenon has worked its way into the music of our favorite singers and bands, from M.I.A. to Shakira to Vampire Weekend.

The global phenomenon of music is also tied to travel. Wherever we go, music permeates our consciousness, buzzing from tinny taxi radios, echoing off the chambers of metro tunnels and pumping from giant speakers. But alluring as it may be, discovering global music can also be confusing and intimidating. There are enough countries, artists and weird musical genres to make your head spin. What’s a traveling music-lover to do?

Today we’re unveiling a new feature here at Gadling called “Round the World in 80 Sounds.” The phenomena of global travel and music are inextricably intertwined. Each Thursday over the course of the coming weeks and months we’ll be taking a look at some of the world’s most fascinating music personalities, emerging musical trends and musically inclined destinations. We’ll introduce you to new styles of music you haven’t heard, and help you to take a fresh look at some of your old favorites with a global eye. What qualifies as World Music in 2010? Everything and nothing, it seems, all at once. Prepare to take a journey into the fascinating world of music today as we head Round the World in 80 Sounds.

Curious about the sounds of the world? Read future Round the World in 80 Sounds posts HERE.