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Altai Throat Singing (Siberia)

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Altai throat singing is a unique cultural phenomenon that can be enjoyed today as well; it is a special, phenomenal singing technique.

Altai is the highest mountain ridge in Siberia, on the slopes of which is located the Altai Republic (Russia).

The Purpose of Altai Throat Singing

Passing on legends and traditions from generation to generation the people of Altai, like many other nations, accomplishedthrough singing. Altai traditions are passed on as poems in the form of epics.

The epic (“kai”) is performed not just as a story, but as a legend, accompanied by music on Altai folk instruments. Epics are sung with a special, throat singing. Sometimes a kai can be sung for hours or even days –kais reflect cautionary tales oftheir heroes.

With the use of throat singing of epics the people of Altai preserved their cultural traditions and passed them on to next generations.

Usually kais were performed after dark, which added to the performance and the storyteller some magical flare.

Altai throat singing. Performed by Nogon Shumarov

Storytellers were respected, and people shared with them their prey and other necessities.

But epics didn’t remain unchanged. Every performer, every generation of performers added their personal understanding, which made the epic alive and understandable to its contemporaries. Although, among the performers themselves there is a legend that the distortion of the original epic could be fatally dangerous for the artist, because the heroes of the epic would certainly punish him.

Altai throat singing “Lullaby of a Bear.”Performed by Nogon Shumarov, Bulat Gafarov, Inna Lukicheva, Yana Lir and Vasilii.

An Example Ofan Altai Kai

On the website of the Altai Republic, in the “Myths and Legends” section there is a following legend (kai) posted:

“In a group of hunters there was a clairvoyant and a storyteller. When the storyteller started performing a kai, the clairvoyant, unlike the others, could see how around the storytellerdifferent men-spirits and animals with birds were gathering. The clairvoyant thought: “It turns out that the Master of Altai loves listening to legends”. All of a sudden, he saw how one of the female listeners, who was naked, sat on the nose of the storyteller. The clairvoyant broke down and started laughing. Offended, the storyteller interrupted his performance of kai, as expected. The Master of Taiga started scolding the culprit who messed with the performance of kai. The spirits, in order to punish her, decided to give away her red deer to the hunters.

The next morning, the clairvoyant told the storyteller about what he saw,so that he was not offended. That day the hunters really killed one red deer. In the evening, the storyteller continued with his legend. The clairvoyant again saw yesterday’s spirits, animals and birds that were gathering around. The culprit girl from last night, who straddled the nose of the storyteller, was ordered to sit on a cane. The Master of Altai, in addition, condemned her to be walking for two years, like the wind. The clairvoyant continued to observe. The senior spirit of taiga and senior water spirit sat next to each other and began to negotiate: “For the sake of this storyteller we will give them food supplies for several days.” Then, the clairvoyant sees that the Master of Altai points a finger at one of the hunters, and says: “This man is guilty, as he recently shot a sacred Altai red deer and cooked his head without removing his eyes. That is why he can only have half of the prey.” But the spirit of the water said, “When he gets to his mountain, the spirit of the Sebi peak will condemn him.”

Everything happened exactly as the Master of Altai had said. Grateful hunters, laden with prey, went home. On the way back one of the hunters got poked in the eye by a tree branch, and he lost his eye. That is how he was punished by the Master of Altai “- so says one of the legends about kai.”

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To discover Russia with Alexey Gureev

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