David Browne
February 01, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

Tuva: Voices From the Center of Asia

Current Status
In Season
Various Artists

We gave it an A-

If you think Bobby McFerrin is the only artist capable of performing weird and wonderful acts with his voice, you haven’t heard the sheepherders of Tuva. Since you probably haven’t heard them — Tuva is an autonomous Soviet republic located just north of Mongolia — this collection of throat singing (producing two or three different notes at once) will do the trick. Recorded during 1987 and ’88, the music is the Asian equivalent of blues field recordings from the American South. Singing both a cappella and to the sparse, boingy accompaniment of ancient folk instruments, the herders wail, bark, howl, plead, swoop, and imitate deer and owls. Most impressively, they chant in an awesome grunt that lies somewhere between that of an unhappy moose and a suffocating monk. Tuva: Voices From the Center of Asia isn’t merely a sound-effects record, though. Beneath the gnarled voices lies the vast range of human emotions — joy, sadness, longing, exhilaration. A track like the low-grumble ”Tespeng Khoomei” may sound otherworldly, but the lyrics translate as ”When I remember my dark- haired sweetheart/Smiling shyly, she comes to me, sitting down.” At this particularly divisive, tumultuous time in international politics, Tuva reminds us that such basic human catharses as unrequited love make the entire world go round. A-

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