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Preserving Mongolian throat singing

2014-09-23 09:16:57

(China Daily) By Chen Nan


Naranbadrakh, a well-known khoomei singer from Mongolia, offers professional training in the genre in Beijing.[Photo by Zou Hong/China Daily]

A traditional throat-singing skill is being imparted in Beijing by Mongolian masters eager to preserve the countryside art form. Chen Nan reports. Chen Nan

At 7 am daily, lawyer Kui Jiliang puts on his designer suit to head to work in downtown Beijing. But before that, for about 15 minutes, he practices khoomei, an ancient throat-singing technique of the ethnic Mongolians and Tuvans, in which the vocalist is able to sing in two voices simultaneously.

After lunch, he also practices for a while in a corner of his office.

The 53-year-old attended a series of training classes organized by the Beijing Exchange Center of the Odsuren School of Khoomei Art in the city's 798 art zone earlier this month.

He describes the sounds of khoomei as both mysterious and touching, and says that he became obsessed with the art about five years ago when he first heard it on TV. Since then, he had been looking for khoomei lessons and performances in Beijing. Like Kui, many from China's different ethnic groups are drawn to khoomei.

But because the art form largely caters to a minority taste, Kui couldn't find any training classes until the school he attends was launched earlier this year.

"It's a rare chance to undergo professional khoomei training in Beijing. When I got the news, I applied to the class immediately," says Kui, who's a Beijing native. "It was very hard to produce the sounds. When I finally had my voice quivering and droning in the right way, I was excited."

His excitement was shared by Tian Huilan, a 50-year-old Beijing-based soprano from China Coal Mine Art Troupe, who also attended the classes. Tian first listened to khoomei from a tape of Sainkho Namtchylak, a famous singer from the Tuva Republic in the Russian Federation, and was captivated by it.

"Since the skill was taught only to male students, female performers were almost unheard of in olden times. But now a few outstanding female khoomei singers can be seen on the international stage," Tian says.

It has been quite a challenge for her to learn khoomei as throat singing breaks all the rules she has learned as a soprano.

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