THE Alash Ensemble, from Tuva on the southern edge of Siberia, are masters of Tuvan throat singing, a remarkable technique for singing multiple pitches at the same time. They are Ayan Shirizhik, Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Aian-ool Sam and Sean Quirk (manager and interpreter).
They will perform in De Barra’s of Clonakilty next Thursday night, September 19th, as part of this year’s Clonakilty International Guitar Festival. Niall O’Driscoll of The Southern Star spoke to them recently.
‘Our music comes from Tuvan people’s deep relationship with the sounds of nature around them, and the sounds of our nomadic way of life. We really don’t like the term “throat singing” because in Tuvan language we don’t have a single word for what you call “throat singing” in English. We have Khöömei, Sygyt, Kargyraa, and other words that each describe a different vocal ‘instrument’ that for us allows us to express our soul and connect with the world around us. It’s just one, important part of the music we play.’
Masters of traditional Tuvan instruments as well as the art of throat singing, Alash are deeply committed to traditional Tuvan music and culture. At the same time, they are fans of western music.
Believing that traditional music must constantly evolve, the musicians subtly infuse their songs with western elements, creating their own unique style that is fresh and new, yet true to their Tuvan musical heritage.
‘This year is our 20th year performing together as a band. We formed in 1999 in our first year of college in the Kyzyl Arts School. Two of us had been students of Kongar-ol Ondar since we were kids, and we got together a group of other students who were interested in Tuvan tradi-tional music. There were a lot of people at first but by the time we graduated there were four of us, and we’ve been a trio since 2011.’
‘We use traditional Tuvan instruments such as Igil, a bowed instrument; Doshpuluur, a plucked stringed instrument; Shoor, a flute; Kengirge, a big drum; and Khomus, a Tuvan jaw harp. We also use western instruments such as acoustic guitar and Bayan, a Russian accordion. These instruments, especially the Tuvan ones, are a very big part of our sound, as you can hear when you listen to the recordings.’
They are very much looking forward to their first visit, not only to West Cork, but to Ireland.
‘It’s our first visit to Ireland and we are really, really, excited to be there. In Tuva most people know about Ireland either from movies or from Conor McGregor, so we are very happy to see it first hand and report back to our friends what Ireland is actually like!’
In addition to the movies and McGregor, they have a good knowledge of Irish music.
‘We are aware of Irish traditional music, thanks mostly to our manager. We listen to a lot of different kinds of music in the van while we are driving on tour, and we have heard bands like Altan and Solas rotate through the playlist. Of course, we are also aware of the first and perhaps most famous Irish-Tuvan collaboration, when our teacher Kongar-ol Ondar and some other Tuvans jammed with the Chieftains at Frank Zappa’s house in 1992 or thereabouts. A lot our listeners find similarities in some of the melodies and rhythms to Irish traditional music. We have gotten these comments a lot, perhaps because both types of music tend to favor pentatonic melodies'.
So what can the West Cork audience expect at the show next week?
‘A balance of sweeping, deeply moving songs with lots of songs about horses and good times, very tight arrangements of traditional tunes utilising the bands musical skills to the utmost along with very traditional solo pieces that really show off the power of Tuva’s unique instruments and of course, our fas-cinating vocal music.’
Alash Ensemble perform in De Barra’s of Clonakilty on Thursday, September 19th as part of the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival which runs from September 16th to 22nd. For further information, bookings and full programme of gigs and events, see www.clonguitarfest.com