Mongolia. Xöömej, or khoomei, or deep throat singing, is a unique vocal technique that will leave you stunned. Those who attend an exhibition tell of magical and hypnotic sounds, able to transport the listener to another world. But what is so special about this difficult vocal technique?
Xöömej, or khoomei, or deep throat singing, is a unique vocal technique that will leave you stunned. Widespread in the Altai mountains, it is based on a specific throat sound emission which allows the singer to simultaneously produce two sounds.
Born with the aim of imitating the sounds of nature, which shaped the entire Mongolian culture, khoomei evolved into a highly respected musical art. The harmonies produced by the Mongolian throat singers are often described as magical and hypnotic sounds, capable of transporting the listener to another world.
On a technical level, Throat Singing exploits the throat and vocal cords to create two distinct harmonic sounds. This happens by vibrating simultaneously the two ventricular folds of the larynx (false vocal cords) and the two below (true vocal cords), so that the sound produced divides into several parts, which are then amplified and modified by the cavities of the throat and mouth.
In practice, the throat singer begins by emitting a basic sound, such as a hum or a low guttural sound, which is produced from the back of the throat. This is then modified through the use of the tongue, lips and cheeks to create a series of superior harmonics, which overlap the basic sound to create the distinctive effect of Mongolian throat singing.
The singer can perform in different ways, depending on the style of throat singing he is referring to. For example, in the “kargyraa” style, the shape of the throat is modified to produce a low and guttural sound similar to an animal roar, while the “sygyt” style uses the mouth to emit a hissing and fluted sound.
Both techniques require a lot of practice and training to be performed correctly.
Khoomei is often accompanied by morin khurr, the horse-head violin. It is an arched instrument with only two strings, characterized by a trapezoidal harmonic case and a bridge that ends with a horse’s head carved in wood.
Traditional Mongolian music is often combined with acrobatic shows, which add even more charm and magic to the musicians’ performances. In Mongolia, it is easy to find musical groups or soloists performing traditional music, both in the villages and in the cities, and many tourist facilities organize singing and dancing performances to keep the tradition alive and help it spread.
During my trip to Mongolia, I attended a performance at the Mongol Khuur Center in Ulaanbaatar, where some students played traditional pieces alternating with reinterpretations of modern ballads (including a song by Ed Sheeran!). I have to admit that the atmosphere has been exciting. If you love music, you can’t visit the Monoglia without giving yourself this experience!
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