Choduraa Tumat Interview


Tuvan styles are known in the West thanks to a few traditional groups that had the possibility of travel around the world, beyond the confines of their lands, to carefully disseminate their musical culture. Thanks to the ever-increasing phenomenom of digital music, today it is much easier to reach and discover cultures and musical traditions from all over the world. However, this is not enough to get a precise picture of the historical and correct information. In fact, the web often gives us a fragmented and approximate knowledge of concepts that deserve to be deepened very carefully and with expertise. For exemple, even today the tuvan style is confused by western people with the mongolian one. For those who seriously study these musical cultures, the differences between the two styles are well known. The fundamental difference is that tuvan style has a healtier and cleaner approach, functional to a spiritual connection with the nature's elements; it does not demand virtuosity or excessive vocal effort, like in the mongolian style. Personally, as a representative of an overtone singing school, I have the tendency to prefer the tuvan style and the tuvan culture, perhaps also because I feel strong the resonance with the singing tradition of my land, the sardinian throat singing. Among the artists that better stand out for notoriety there is a woman, a musician that founded the first tradional tuvan ensemble composed of women only: Choduraa Tumat. I chose to interview her, because I'm artistically inspired by her, and I'm really glad to support her in her mission to disseminate tuvan culture. 

Thank you again for your kind concession. Here the questions:

- How did you learn Khöömei (throat singing)? Who did you learn it from? How old were you?

I was just a musician and singer with very simple normal voice when I founded my folk group Tyva Kyzy in 1998, putting together the other female musicians.

I started to try to learn Khöömei in summer 1998, when I was 24 years old. It was right after the first performance of our ensemble in the Khöömei Symposium. As a person who grew up in a family of nomads and where male relatives were singing Khöömei and Sygyt, I started to copy my own sound memories of Khöömei and sygyt. But, after 1 month I started to listen to the recordings of great Tuvan singers, like Ensemble Tuva.

- In your family, which other women sang in Khöömei styles when you were a child?

In my family no other woman sang khöömei stiles, only male relatives.

-Do you have particular memories?

I have a very clear memory of my brother Mihail's singing Sygyt, when I was like 6-7 years old. At that time my family was in our summer place, among the highest mountains of Khor-Taiga. One evening there was heavy rain and strong wind, and my brother came back from hunting. Earlier in the morning of that day my brothers went hunting. After a long, rainy day, they came back late in the evening. Mihail was singing Sygyt while drying clothes, and I remember now the sound of wind, rain, and also the fire of wood burned in our iron stove, in our tent. My Brother Mihail still sings throat singing, not on stages but for his soul and for his family and grandchildren.

 -Let's talk a little bit about Kargyraa style: How long did you take to achieve a clean and stable sound?

After 7 month or 1 year it was OK!

- In Tuva, male and female children were taught at the same time?

If you mean in usual school nowadays - yes, they teach in one class at the same time. Before, in ancient times in Tuva, we used to teach children during everyday life, along with Tuvan traditional culture. At that time girls were learning to do housewife jobs, and boys were copying what fathers and older brothers did.

- On what occasions did you hear your people singing, when you were a child?

It was very common in everyday life.

- A more physiological question about Kargyraa: how do you take care of your voice, to always have a good sound? Do you remember a period of your life where, for health reasons, your sound broke or did not resonate?

I take care of my voice very much, I do not drink cold water, do not eat ice-cream or similar things. Yes, as a human person who lives in a place where winter can reach -40 degrees and summer +40 degrees, sometimes I caught a cold, viruses and had angina or tonsillitis. In the last 7 years I have found that I am allergic to some things. If something is wrong I can get allergic laryngitis. That is the problem for me.

- While you are singing, what is the most important thing for you? (examples: Singing for the listeners, singing for yourself, singing for connecting with spirits or nature?)

While I am singing on the stage for me is important to concentrate to calm down my nerves, to relax and to sing by soul for the listeners. When I am in far places in other foreign countries,singing Khöömei helps me to visualize my homelands, and this makes me happy. It is a kind of homesick, so Khöömei helps me to be OK.

- You were the first Tuvan woman to export this vocal tradition in the world, along with your female bandmates. How do male Tuvan musicians rate this?

Ensemble Tyva Kyzy which I founded and leaded, became the first female folk ensemble in the entire Asia and still the only one in Tuva, who performs Khöömei styles and traditional Tuvan instruments. For over 20 years, we did a hard job to promote traditional Tuvan music with the help of our friends from different places of the world. They loved our music, and it made us really happy while we where performing. I am not a feminist, and neither my bandmates. It just came from our souls. Or we were chosen by the spirit of Tuvan Khöömei. In each of my bandmate's families nobody did say anything against what we were doing. Performing the vocal art that had a taboo for women for long time is not so easy. Of course, because of that taboo, in Tuva there are still some people that do not like, or do not sympathize for the female performers of Khöömei. Anyway, our music and our souls changed it. But I'll tell you it wasn't easy to earn the respect of male performers and musicians.

- Which are your purposes as a musician and singer, for the future?

I have a dream to open my school of traditional music for kids, and I wish that more young talented kids could see the world and travel to show their talent by singing Khöömei, or playing traditional music instruments for people of other countries.

 - Do you want to tell us something else about the Tuvan female singing, in particular?

All the singers or people who can perform Tuvan Khöömei professionaly are very few, today in Tuva, in comparison with the fast-growing singers from Inner Mongolia and Mongolia. For that we need more help to promote tuvan khoomei in the world, doesn't matter female or male. Just help to invite new tuvan singers to the festivals or projects. Just tell about your Tuvan teachers if you had to learn Khöömei from us. Just make an announcement if you are singing Tuvan styles and Tuvan traditional songs.

Thank you Choduraa! 

We don't know well the reasons that led for so long to believe that the Khoomei performed by women was a taboo, it has just been like this for a long time, perhaps until a woman spontaneously with all her heart shattered centuries of limiting beliefs. I tried to focus the interview as much as possible on the subject that seems more revolutionary for me, but Choduraa guided me to a different reflection: man? Woman? What does it matter? We're just singing. What seems really important today for Choduraa is that the tradition lives, no matter who, men or women.

Ilaria Orefice for 2019