Alash Ensemble, CSPS Hall, Cedar Rapids, IA. March 18, 2015
Review and picture by Charles “Rain” Black
Tuvan Throat Singing is not very well known in the U.S.A., much less in Cedar Rapids, IA. Alash Ensemble is one of the most famous Tuvan groups, as well as one of the most accomplished. All three members of the Ensemble, Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Ayan-ool Sam and Ayan Shirizhik, are recipients of their country's equivalent to our Presidential Medal of Freedom. So, when Legion Arts brings in a group such as Alash to CSPS Hall, audience members are treated to the very best of that style of music to be found anywhere in the world.
Tuvan Throat Singing is an ancient form of music. According to Alash's manager and interpreter Sean Quirk, anthropologists and music historians believe the most basic form of throat singing may predate the development of human language. The style is so haunting and remarkable in nature that my friend Gayle asked if it really was just a single singer producing the range of tones that a master of throat singing is capable of producing.
The Republic of Tuva is a nation in Siberia with a history of nomadic peoples migrating across vast steppes and deserts, up into mountain grasslands and arctic forests. The singing, together with the instruments they play evoke a sense of the people's history and the land they call home. Horses play a major part in their lives and history, so most of their songs have lilting, pulsing rhythms which musically represent the trot or gallop of horses. The songs are often about the simple things that are loved by the Tuvan people-pristine rivers and herding reindeer, keeping warm in the winter and the love of fast horses and beautiful women.
If you have ever heard Tuvan throat singing, you know that even the faster songs are still relaxing and excite the imagination. If you haven't, then head to Alash's website to hear some samples.
One of my favorite songs from the evening was in fact called “Please Don't Let Me Freeze”. As dire as the title sounds, the song was a pleasant, dance-able tune that had me smiling and swaying the entire length of the song. Another favorite was a song about how two smaller rivers join to form a larger one. It was very much a “tone poem” in that the instruments and vocals started out simply, like water from a spring, growing in depth and intensity until a delightful change in style. I didn't need to understand the words to grasp what the song was communicating, which was the love of the rivers and the admiration as they flowed through the land, eventually joining together to form a great concourse.
From Cedar Rapids, Alash is heading to, of all places, Dollywood for a month long engagement there. Then it may be another couple of years before they return to Cedar Rapids (they appeared here about a year ago). Whenever they return, be sure to look for the date because hearing them is what I would consider a “Bucket List” event