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Wednesday, August 19, 1998 Published at 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK

Deep from the throats of Mongolia

By BBC Correspondent Mark Coles:

It may sound like an advert for an antisceptic throat wash, the vocal equivalent of the Australian didgeridoo or the sort of sound you make first thing in the morning after a heavy night of alcohol and cigarettes.

Hear the sounds of Mongolian throat singing
But Mongolian throat singing is a traditional form of folk music from the heart of South Siberia.

One of the most famous band of throat singers, Huun Huur Chu, comes from the tiny Russian republic of Tuva.

It is a land where, according to the band's manager, Aleksandr Cheparukhin, everybody speaks ancient Turk or sings from the bottom of their bronchial system.

He says: "It is the only land where we are so many throat singers and throat singing is practised every day."

A magical art

Mr Cheparukhin also says that the throat singer's skill is to a large extent unexplainable. But one thing is for sure, the throat singers have an extraordinary style of vocal projection.

"They somehow squeeze their body, their throat and not only their throats but something lower, deeper," Mr Cheparukin says.

Listen to the art of kumay
The technique, called kumay, allows singers to produce two or three voices at the same time.

Tests have even been carried out by researchers in New York to discover what sort of physiological activity is going on.

Throats were examined and introscopic videos made. And it was found that throat singers use more elements of their bodies in the production of sound than rock or opera singers do.

Taken from real life

It is not just vacuum cleaner-like vocal gymnastics, the band does tunes too.

The music is based on ancient Tuvan folk songs. They make and play their own instruments - conch shells, horse hooves and even a rattle made from a bull's scrotum and a sheep's knee bone. Nature is always to the fore.

Huun Huur Chu's hit, The Rotting Log
Songs like the Rotting Log reflect everyday Tuvan life. If the tree had not rotted, goes the chorus, it could have been used for a cattle fence or yurt hole.

New wave?

It is a long way from sex, drugs and rock and roll, but bizarrely Huun Huur Chu is developing a cult status in the West.

They have already recorded with string accompaniment and rock guitar with the likes of Frank Zappa, the Kronos Quartet and The Chieftains.

They have toured much of the States and Europe. At the Edinburgh Festival this year, they are playing 20 nights on the trot at a converted city centre church.

Edinburgh's Graffiti Club, which is staging the concerts, admits the Tuvans are a bit of an acquired taste.

The club's spokesman, Simon Stewart, says: "The first time I heard them, I thought "what's that?"

"But Huun Huur Chu have sold out all over the world, they are an international band. I think it is the strangeness, the esotericness, they are just so curious as they are not from our culture."

The road to fame

The band's opening night in Scotland got off to a slow start. Only 10 people turned up and it was the first time in the band's six-year history that they were not asked to play an encore.

But Aleksandr Cheparukhin is confident that things will pick up over the three-week residency. After all, he says, Western youth needs something new to listen to.

"I think there is a certain crisis in western music right now, especially in rock and pop music, because we do not see such powerful, breakthrough musicians as Jimi Hendrix or tje Rolling Stones at their best time," Mr Cheparukhin.

"I think people need a more genuine, sincere and honest approach to music. And what Huun Huur Chu gives people in the West is a pure example of music connected with nature."

The band are also putting together an album in Edinburgh, which may even have a Scottish flavour.

"We have some ideas to look for a guest musician, maybe a piper from Scotland, because it could match," Mr Cheparukhin says.

Mongolia and Scotland united in music
At the moment the Tuvan-Scots fusion is still just a vague idea. If you cannot quite imagine it, here is an experimental mix of what it might just sound like.

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