4 min read · May 23, 2022
Music that can express joy and happiness and sadness and sorrow without words, is a great gift to mankind. We can call music a language of human feelings. This language is expressed with musical instruments, and without them. Now let’s talk about the art that produces a kind of musical melody with no instruments.
The legend goes: “In the early time, a little boy who had been left behind by his parents lived for 3 years by himself in the foothill of a canyon that echoed many different sounds. While going alone, the boy expressed himself only to the nature and the earth; and in return, the nature and the earth also helped the boy. One day the boy imitated the sounds from the cleft. Since the time the wind brought the imitating sound to the people, this sound has been called khuumii or throat singing.” Ancient Chinese sources also point out: “On the year 92 of the first Gregorian calendar of Taishi, a few barbarians, who called themselves “chinus” or wolf-nation and considered themselves descendants of wolves, when encountered their enemies bigger than themselves would make chilling, beast-like sounds with their thick voice. After scaring off the enemies, it was still terrifying how they made the same strange sound while dancing around the fire.” This passage is generally considered to be referring to throat singing.
This is how the nation, who takes the inspiration and strength from nature, not only imitated the natural sounds, but also accessed the essence of sound, and created this wonderful art form.
In simple terms, throat singing is the art of making sound by simultaneously creating different pitches or notes through the voice of a single person. When throat singing, two pitches dominate. One is a fundamental bass pitch that makes a deep buzzing sound and another is a fine pitch that whistles. Moreover, echoeing notescan be heard. The art of throat singing is a type of ancient nomadic traditional culture, yet is relatively recent in being accepted into the musical arts.
Various types of throat singing were formed due to the diverse techniques of straining the throat and adjusting tones. Different types can be distinguished by the uniqueness of individual tones. There are two main techniques of throat singing: Kargyraa and Whistling. There is no instrument in the singer’s mouth, his becomes the instrument. Thus, throat singing is indeed a human music.
Throat singing has been passed down through generations, predominantly in the western aimags (provinces) of Mongolia. Since the 1950s, from the nomadic traditional lifestyle it reached performance stage and was broadcast in audio and video. Moreover, since the 1960s, throat singing was featured in concerts performed abroad and became one of the symbols of Mongolian national music.
At the heart of those performances were the people from Chandmanisoum in Khovdaimag (province) of Mongolia. There are not many people like the people of Chandmani soum elsewhere whose family members and soum community can throat sing as if born in the art zodiac sign.
Throat singing is strongly identified with the nomads who reside around the Mongol Altai Mountain Range. It is popular particularly in Mongolia, Altai, and the Khakas, and Tuva republics of the Russian Federation as well as the northern part of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia of China. Researchers have found that throat singing and similar arts have developed in about 15 countries and nations.
The evolution of the traditional art can be seen in the diversification of the methods and styles and compositions as well as the increase in the number of students of throat singing. Today, throat singing is performed not only in Mongolia, but also in other parts of the world.
Although only recently the world started taking notice of throat singing, it took a long time and hard work to achieve this. Founded in 2001, Mongolian Throat Singing Association works closely with about 200 Mongolian artists and about 100 foreign throat singers. The President of Mongolia issued the decree on “Developing the Mongolian art of throat singing” in 2006. Throat singing was registered on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2010.
Throat singing is performed alongside all the types of contemporary music and songs and fits with all the music instruments. Recently, ethnic bands such as “AltanUrag”, ”Husugtun” and “Domog” have made Mongolian throat singing and contemporary music flow and introduced this wonder of Mongolian traditional art to the world. Throat singing is a Mongolian national music; it sounds most beautiful accompanying the Horse-head fiddle.