One of the world’s oldest and most striking vocal traditions is xöömei (throat-singing), from the Republic of Tuva in Central Asia. Throat-singing is an ancient style of overtone singing in which a single vocalist produces two, three, or even four pitches simultaneously, skillfully shaping a melody from harmonic tones arrayed over a continuous low drone. The music evokes the natural world of Tuva’s nomadic herdsmen: the wind whistling across the steppes, the deep lowing of the yak, and the high trill of birdsong, syncopated by the rhythm of trotting horses. Nothing in western vocal music resembles this ethereal sound.
The three members of Alash began singing in early childhood, forming an ensemble in 1999 while studying in college with the renowned Kongar-ool Ondar. Masters of traditional Tuvan instruments as well, Alash takes a passionate and yet innovative approach to the tradition—they note Jimi Hendrix as an influence, and won a Grammy collaborating with Bela Fleck. Alash’s expansive traditionalism has brought them the highest accolades from international audiences, and at home. Ayan Shirizhik is recognized as a Merited Artist of Tuva, while Bady-Dorzhu Ondar and Ayan-ool Sam were honored with the prestigious Tuvan title of People’s Xöömeizhi.