by Gail Dee
“Who would dare perform in Chicago on Sat. March 14 that isn’t Irish?” says my Irish American friend. Happily, “Alash Ensemble” those breathtaking Tuvan throat singers chosen by Old Town School of Folk Music and WYCC to be taped live in concert for the “Musicology” TV series in 2013.
Their music is otherworldly. Tuvan throat singing is the art of creating multi layered tones from one voice simultaneous. Watching them perform, you’ll be startled to realize the high pitched whistling sounding like the mountain wind and deep growling undertone like horses hooves are both coming from one voice. Beyond that extraordinary experience, Alash also paints vivid musical portraits of an exotic land with melodic, cheerful, beautifully engaging songs.
The award winning ensemble (two of the three members have won Tuva’s awards for throat singing) also play ancient stringed instruments, fragile flutes (made from fresh plant stalks),drum and other traditional instruments.
Tuvans are horse riding nomadic animal herders.Tuva lies south of Siberia; north of Mongolia and is now part of the Russian Federation with their cultural ties close to Mongolia. It was formerly part of the Chinese and Mongolian empire. Their ancient multi tonal complex music language developed from their culture being closely attuned to the sounds of nature.
Alash’s musical journey spirits us away on their sturdy steeds across the mountains & steppes as they sing of beautiful women, horses and drinking (not necessarily in that order). The tales are interpreted to us by their manager, Sean Quirk, a Fulbright scholar who studied Tuvan music and who also now lives there.
Comparing Alash to other groups within the genre, I find their music to be more lyrical and pleasing to Western ears than the highly esteemed Huun Huur Tu and the rock n’roll explorations of Yat Kha. (I have seen all of them in live performance). Alash has collaborated with Sun Ra Arkestra, Bella Fleck and the Flecktones and other contemporary musicians. They have managed to incorporate modern influence into their music without compromising any of their traditional authenticity.
You can find out for yourself Saturday night at Old Town School of Folk Music 8pm Szold Hall– http://www.oldtownschool.org
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