May 1999

Tuva
Among the Spirits: Sound, Music and Nature in Sakha and Tuva
Smithsonian Folkways

Tuvan music has made it to western shores, and back, with regularity in the past several years, producing music of varying indigenous purity. Without broaching a loaded topic with dizzying socio-political ramifications, the west has a way of putting its mark on things, however much it professes to revere the distant land in question. It's a two-way seduction, and a cross-filtration process is perhaps inevitable.

But here, with Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music and Nature in Sakha and Tuva (Smithsonian Folkways 40452; 48:51) is Tuvan project that goes straight to the heart of the people, the music, and the land on which it coheres. We know the album is off the beaten path, and literally "in the field" as it opens, with the sound of the field, the wind, flowing water, the insects, and the galloping of Tuvan horses. It is into that environment, rather than in the studio, that singers were captured: you hear them "harmonizing" and/or conversing with ambient natural sounds, or singing on horseback, interacting with the rhythm of their jostled bodies.

Recorded between 1995-98, it is a fascinating portrait of the symbiosis between daily life and musical instincts. It's all about context-the natural context, not the one reshaped by the arrival of tape recorder- and record contract-wielding westerners.

Originally published in May 1999
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