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Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer (2013)

Desert Dancer 03 Aug 13 - 10:37 PM
Janie 03 Aug 13 - 11:00 PM
ChanteyLass 03 Aug 13 - 11:29 PM
Desert Dancer 04 Aug 13 - 02:24 PM
ChanteyLass 04 Aug 13 - 11:16 PM
open mike 04 Aug 13 - 11:54 PM
Jack Campin 05 Aug 13 - 12:25 AM
RTim 05 Aug 13 - 08:48 AM
Bat Goddess 05 Aug 13 - 10:07 AM
open mike 05 Aug 13 - 12:14 PM
Desert Dancer 05 Aug 13 - 03:51 PM
open mike 05 Aug 13 - 05:12 PM
Bat Goddess 05 Aug 13 - 06:41 PM
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Subject: Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 03 Aug 13 - 10:37 PM

Kongar-ol Ondar, a Master of a Vocal Art, Dies at 51

By Margalit Fox
The New York Times
August 3, 2013

Kongar-ol Ondar, an internationally renowned master of Tuvan throat singing, the Central Asian vocal art in which a singer produces two or more notes simultaneously — and which to the uninitiated sounds like the bewitching, remarkably harmonious marriage of a vacuum cleaner and a bumblebee — died on July 25 in Kyzyl, Tuva's capital. He was 51.

The cause was complications after emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage, said Sean P. Quirk, a longtime friend.

A region in southern Siberia just north of Mongolia, Tuva was an independent country from 1921 until 1944, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union. The region, which has a population of about 300,000, is now part of the Russian Federation.

Small, round and beatific, Mr. Ondar was a superstar in Tuva — "like John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Michael Jordan kind of rolled into one," in the words of "Genghis Blues" (1999), an Oscar-nominated documentary about throat singing in which he figures prominently.

His reach extended far beyond the region. Mr. Ondar performed throughout Europe and the United States, including at the Japan Society in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

He made a memorable appearance, in full traditional regalia, on "Late Show With David Letterman"; sang at three Rose Parades in Pasadena, Calif.; and carried the torch through Georgia for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Known for his captivating stage presence, he was nicknamed "the Groovin' Tuvan" by the Western musicians with whom he played.

Mr. Ondar's gregarious renown — he was also a former member of the Tuvan parliament — was all the more noteworthy in light of his gritty past. As a boy, he experienced domestic violence firsthand. As a youth, he spent nights alone in the subzero Tuvan winter. As a young man, he languished in Soviet prisons for a crime he did not commit.

"When people see him in his beautiful clothing and hear him sing in this incredible refined style, you just assume that this guy has it all together: it's a performance of confidence and courage and beauty," Roko Belic, the director of "Genghis Blues," said in an interview on Thursday. "But the truth is, his youth was very troubled."

Mr. Belic's documentary chronicles the obsession of a blind American blues singer, Paul Pena, with Tuvan throat singing; Mr. Pena's successful efforts to master the art on his own; his travels in Tuva, where he wins a prestigious musical competition in 1995; and his abiding friendship with Mr. Ondar.

On the film's soundtrack album, released in 2000, the two men meld their diverse musical traditions. Over the years, Mr. Ondar also performed or recorded with Frank Zappa, the Kronos Quartet, Willie Nelson, Mickey Hart and the banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck.

At the same time, through his recording, performance and teaching of classic Tuvan throat singing, he helped revitalize a tradition that had been largely extinguished during the Soviet era.

"The whole Tuvan culture was disappearing because it was outmoded, shall we say, under the Soviet system," Ralph Leighton, the author of "Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman's Last Journey," said on Thursday. "They were supposed to build the new Modern Soviet Man, and therefore places like Tuva, which practices shamanism and Buddhism, were seen as backward."

Published in 1991, Mr. Leighton's book is a nonfiction account of his attempt, with his friend Mr. Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, to travel to Tuva, whose curious triangular postage stamps had enchanted Mr. Feynman as a boy. Mr. Feynman died in 1988, before they could make the trip; Mr. Leighton later journeyed there on his behalf.

Throat singing, also called overtone singing, is practiced in only a few parts of the world, mostly in Asia. The Tuvan variety, known as khoomei, is the most famous of all.

Whenever someone sings a note, the column of air in the throat vibrates, producing both a fundamental tone (the note's basic pitch) and a series of higher pitches — the overtones.

In conventional singing, the overtones are largely inaudible, manifesting themselves as timbre. In throat singing, through careful manipulation of the mouth and throat, a vocalist can render certain overtones audible, resulting in two, three and even four pitches sounding at a time.

Properly sung, khoomei sounds as though the singer has ingested a set of bagpipes, with a low drone and a high melody issuing simultaneously from the same mouth.

Khoomei lyrics, in Tuvan (an Altaic language in the same family as Turkish), range over nature, horses and love.

"We're imitating what's around us, the birds, the mountains, the snow, the rivers," Mr. Ondar told The New York Times in 1999. "We sing sad songs, when we reveal what's in our soul. We sing about love. Without love, what is life?"

Mr. Ondar typically performed in traditional dress: peaked silk hat, flowing silk robe and boots with upturned toes. So attired, he accompanied Mr. Belic to the Academy Awards ceremony in 2000.

"He actually sang for Joan Rivers on the red carpet," Mr. Belic recalled. "Joan noticed his amazing outfit, and her interest in fashion compelled her to bring him over, and he immediately sang in his traditional style."

Kongar-ol Ondar was born in Iyme, in western Tuva, in 1962. He was reared partly by a stepfather who, he said, beat him often.

"If a cow would get lost or something, Kongar-ol wouldn't come home all night, because if he came home without the cow he'd catch hell," said Mr. Quirk, an American who has lived in Tuva for a decade and who manages the Tuvan musical group Alash. "He'd be staying out all night in a haystack in 40-below weather."

After a series of freezing nights on his own, Kongar-ol made his way to the yurts of his grandparents and uncles. There, he was exposed to khoomei.

"That became a thread that he could hold onto," Mr. Belic said. "And it then became a string and then a rope that he could pull himself out of his situation with."

Mr. Ondar began singing professionally as a young man and also worked as a Russian language teacher. Then in 1985, he attended a party at which a fight broke out and a guest was cut with a broken bottle. When the police arrived, they learned that the young man who had wielded the bottle was the son of a high Communist Party official. Mr. Ondar took the fall.

He served about four years in brutal Soviet penal colonies in Tuva. His skill in singing khoomei accorded him a measure of safety from prison officials and fellow inmates.

In 1992, after his release, Mr. Ondar won Tuva's international throat singing competition — the same contest Mr. Pena would win three years later.

Mr. Pena died in 2005, at 55. Information on Mr. Ondar's survivors could not be confirmed.

Mr. Ondar's other recordings include "Echoes of Tuva" and "Back Tuva Future," a world music album that includes the numbers "Tuva Groove" and "Little Yurt on the Prairie."

Mr. Ondar, who was named a People's Artist of Tuva and a National Artist of Russia, gave command performances before the three men — Boris N. Yeltsin, Vladimir V. Putin and Dmitri A. Medvedev — who have held the Russian presidency since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

In 1994, singing for Mr. Yeltsin, he experienced a moment of panic.

"Suddenly Boris Nikolayevich jumps off the chair and runs up to me," Mr. Ondar said in a 2012 interview, which appears in English translation on the Web site Tuva Online. "I am not a big guy, and there was this big president hanging over me."

But Mr. Yeltsin, it transpired, wanted only to peer into his mouth. He was looking for a hidden device of some kind, which, he felt certain, was letting Mr. Ondar make those remarkable sounds.

So sorry to see this. A very sad loss.

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: Janie
Date: 03 Aug 13 - 11:00 PM

Sad indeed, Becky. And so very young.

A sample of his music, in his tradition.

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: ChanteyLass
Date: 03 Aug 13 - 11:29 PM

Oh, my. Sad news. As practitioners of an art die, i worry that the art will die. It is already marginalized. it is especially worrisome when a practitioner of note dies.

A few years ago after the Mystic Seaport Symposium a presenter taught those of us who were interested how to throat sing. I was able to do this briefly but quickly lost the ability.

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 02:24 PM

ChanteyLass, my son and I have explored resources on the web and I'm encouraged that it looks like there is a fair amount of interest out there from young Tuvans and westerners.

This young American's skills are quite impressive.

My son's working on it. :-)

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: ChanteyLass
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 11:16 PM

As I clicked on your link, I wondered if it was the man who had come to Mystic, but it wasn't.

After my previous post I realized that someone might wonder what Tuvan throat singing had to do with the seaport. The presenter had filmed three work songs being sung while the work was being done. Each song was done in a different part of the world with a different type of work. One song was sung by fisherman which was the part of the film presented at the symposium. Those of us who were interested had a chance to view the whole film later in the Sea Music Festival, and that's when the young man helped us learn to throat sing.

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: open mike
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 11:54 PM

Steve Sklar teaches Khoomei

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: Jack Campin
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 12:25 AM

Folklore about throat singing is that it's so strenuous it takes at least a decade off your life expectancy. Maybe folklore had a point.

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: RTim
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 08:48 AM

Yesterday I played the CD of his that I have in memory!!

Tim Radford

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 10:07 AM

I saw the Tuvan throat-singers in 1995 at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Ultimately, all their songs were "cowboy" songs, about herding their camels and sheep and loving their horses. The accompaniment even sounded like jangling harness. I loved the horse head scrolls on the tops of the stringed instruments...and the drums like oversized bodhrans. And when I saw the ceremonial gear, etc., I said, "These are the guys who came over the land bridge..."


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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: open mike
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 12:14 PM

i don't think there are camels in the steppes....yaks, horses, yes. I could be wrong....

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 03:51 PM

There are domestic camels up there, but apparently there are many fewer than there used to be due to brucellosis (and fear of brucellosis).

Also from Tuva-Online:

Kongar-ool Ondar died. Tuva in moan (sic)

World star in Tuvan khoomei,ambassador of Tuvan culture Kongar-ool Ondar died in hospital Thursday, 25th of July. He was taken to hospital on the eve with a very high blood pressure. 'He never paid attention to his health, never complained of headaches or heart pain he was often suffering from', - sais Nachyn Shalyk, deputy director of the Center for the development of Tuvan traditional culture which was initiated and constructed by Kongar-ool Ondar. 'It is a tremendous loss for all Tuva, - Tuvan head Sholban Kara-ool said in a special message to people.- We would feel it more and more with every passing day'

Dozens of people come to the Center of Tuvan Culture unwilling to realize that this sad news is true. Only a year ago he celebrated on a very large scale his 50th anniversary, gathering in Tuva world stars, a fortnight ago commented a wrestle competition in khuresh…

Kongar-ool opened his life ups and downs in a very sincere interview on the eve of his jubilee. Since he is 30 he turns onto a Bashky and begins to teach khoomei to children, picking talented boys on his trips to very remote places. Almost all of his pupils turned into prominent khoomei-singers, three of them – Igor Koshkendei, Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Evgeni Saryglar have become the youngest People's Khoomeizhis.

Due to Kongar-ool's charm and persistence Tuvan khoomei performers can now retire earlier like ballet-dancers. He touched this subject during the meeting of the Russian President and suddenly to the surprise of all those present sang khoomei. The question was quickly solved afterwards.

He was among the creators of the documentary film "Genghis Blues" about blind musician Paul Pena who learned khoomei from discs. The movie was nominated for an 'Oscar" and promoted Tuvan khoomei around the world.

Tuvan people are in moan.

Farewell ceremony with People Khoomeizhi Kongar-ool Ondar will take place on Monday, July, 29, at 10 a.m. at the Centre for Tuvan culture (Russia, 667000, Tuva, Kyzyl str, 7)


Tuvan Throat Singer Kongar-ool Ondar Dead at 51

(reprinted from the Moscow Times)

Kongar-ool Ondar, a Tuvan throat singer credited with popularizing the centuries-old musical tradition of his homeland to Western audiences, has died after emergency surgery to treat a brain hemorrhage, friends said. He was 51.

Ondar died Thursday at a hospital in Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva, a Russian republic that borders Mongolia, said Sean Quirk, a longtime friend of the singer and manager of the Tuvan throat-singing ensemble Alash.

"He is not replaceable," Quirk said by phone from his home in Tuva. "There's so much of Tuvan culture that's concentrated in him and who he was. He was the ambassador of Tuva."

Throat singing involves simultaneously vocalizing one or more notes over a fundamental pitch, producing a distinct sound that can take years to attain. It is traditionally done by horse herders on the Tuvan and Mongolian steppes, where the music can carry great distances.If it wasn't for him, two-thirds of the band that I work with might be out in the steppes throat singing and herding horses," Quirk said. "Throat singing would still be around without him. But it would not be nearly as widespread or as popular in Tuva or the world."

Ondar first came to the attention of Western audiences in 1993, when he was a last-minute addition to a group of Tuvan throat singers and horse herders invited to participate in that year's Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.

At the time, Tuvan throat singing was unknown in the U.S. to all but a tiny group of devoted fans, said Ralph Leighton, founder of the newsletter-turned-website Friends of Tuva, who made the invitation.

On his initial trip to the U.S., Leighton said, Ondar performed for Frank Zappa, the Kronos Quartet and Ry Cooder, who was moved to include Tuvan throat singing in his score for the 1993 film "Geronimo."

"He was a showman but was true to his Tuvan roots," Leighton said. "He was able to bring Tuvan culture out to a big appreciative audience while also nurturing it at home."

Ondar was featured in the 1999 documentary film "Genghis Blues," which told the story of a blind California blues musician who traveled to Tuva to learn about throat singing.
In addition to his exploits abroad, Ondar both trained and paved the way for the next generation of throat singers in Tuva, Quirk said.

"In the 1990s, he was the only one formally teaching throat singing to young people," Quirk said. "You can see the results of it now. A big chunk of the best singers are his students."

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: open mike
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 05:12 PM

yes, i stand corrected, there are camels there.

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Subject: RE: 2013 Obit: Kongar-ol Ondar, Tuvan throat singer
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 06:41 PM

Bactrian camels, open mike. And they appear on the postage stamps of Tannu Tuva as well. I've been fascinated with Tuva since I was about 5 years old (back in the '50s) and starting my first worldwide stamp collection. Wonderful stamps! Tuva has also been called the land "where reindeer meets the camel".

As they explained what each song was about, they all seemed to be about the poor orphan who owned a beautiful stallion that all the rich men were trying to take away from him. When they came out on stage in ceremonial gear, they looked American Plains Indians.

I'd like to see Genghis Blues again -- I do have the soundtrack CD, though. And I should reread Ralph Leighton's book, Tuva or Bust!


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