New Internationalist

Mother-Earth! Father-Sky!

January 2009

by Huun-Huur-Tu featuring Sainkho

This quartet of Tuvan throat-singers and musicians make music which is entwined with everyday life on the Steppes. Sporting the ethereal sounds of the doshpuluur lute, the two-stringed igil (horsehead fiddle), shamanic drums and (even) hooves – plus a smattering of acoustic guitars – Huun-Huur-Tu could share a sonic affinity with bluegrass were it not for the extraordinary resonances of their sygyt (whistling) and overtone singing. And, if this isn’t enough, there’s Sainkho Namtchylak, too.

The most famous of all Tuva’s overtone singers, Sainkho – as she is usually known – is a force of nature. A musician whose reach extends from folkloric ensembles to the furthest fields of the avant-garde, her singing is marked by an utter clarity of timbre, a musical daring to go that much further. On Mother-Earth! Father-Sky! – the title is inspired by an ancient Tuvan prayer – Huun-Huur-Tu’s tight control provides the grounding over which Sainkho’s voice so effortlessly soars. For this studio album, the Tuvans are all on familiar ground: much of Mother-Earth! Father-Sky! is inspired by folk song, but the musicians’ verve gives them room for making the material their own. With such wealth, it’s hard to single out tracks for special mention, but the windy creakings of ‘Erge Chokka’ (Unneeded) and the clipclop sway of ‘Ergim Saryym’ (Song of Hope) stand out. It’s hard, too, to resist the poetry of Sainkho’s translations of the lyrics, which are both spare and laden with meaning.

Louise Gray

This column was published in the January 2009 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 419

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