Throat singing is Mongolia's invaluable contribution to world. Although this type of unique singing developed in Mongolia in its classical form, it is also performed in India, Bashkir, and Tuva. But what exactly is throat singing? It is a special sound made in unison with the tongue, teeth, larynx and palate. To put it simply, it is a replacement of musical instruments with all aspects of vocal organs. To hear it for the first time is a wonder. It is said that there is no other nation in the world that can combine such human physical capacity in place of musical instruments, than the felt walled nation* The famous Russian Scientist, P. Chukot measured throat singing with sensitive sound equipment and discovered that it was formed from converging tunes of different scale octaves between lower tone (which incidentally makes up the primary tone) and a combination of high peaks.
The technique of throat singing may be easy to write about- but it is almost impossible to actually try to perform. To perform the higher tune, the singer should bend (or fold) the tongue, and tap skilled sounds with the tongue point and whisper through the front teeth. At the same time the converged melody is made by making lips conical. As the basic tune resonates, a melodic buzzing sound also reverberates.
Because of the unique skills needed to master this type of venerated singing is rigorous, there are not very many throat singers. The mother land of throat singing is considered to be in Khovd aimag, (in western Mongolia,). It is said that almost everyone there can throat sing. But although almost everyone can throat sing, very few actually can perform it professionally. It is estimated that only one out of two hundred children eventually master this demanding skill. Mr. Zulsar is one such gifted vocalist. He has traveled with the National Folk Song and Dance Ensemble to roughly fifty countries presenting the wonders of throat singing. Mr. Zulsar firmly believes in order to be a throat singer, one must not only have a capacious throat, but more importantly- the ability to refine through hard work and demonstrate a real patience for the continuous development of it.
“It is difficult to pinpoint the period when throat singing actually started, but as an art it started to develop during the 19th century. Khoomii is not studied well. Shorter forms of Khoomii was sang. In 1954 Tsedee, a singer from Chamdmani soum, Khovd aimag sang, Eulogy of Altai Kaan (long song about Altai mountain) in the throat singing form during the Khovd aimags Arts Days in Ulaanbaatar- That song was a revolution in the Khoomii art!" Zulsar asserts.
In Mongolia, this creative sound is at its’ zenith largely due to the performers imaginative aesthetic impressions of nature in which he/she is a part of. For instance, songs from Khovd aimag sound eerily similar to wind whistling over rocks and crevices, as they impersonate their aimag surroundings, which is windy and rocky.
There are three genres of Khoomii: Khoomii from chest or lower tune buz; cascading Khoomii, devided into two-cascading and rapids; whistling or thin Khoomii. This is believed to be suitable for songs concerning legends and epic poems.
The other place, where khoomii is popular: Tuva ( there is even a widely acclaimed movie, Chinggis Blues about a throat singer from Tuva, joining talents with a blues singer and developing a special style of music as they travel and perform). Tuva also has its’ unique own sound. In Tuva, epic poems and legends cascade into a vocalized rhythmic melody. Whereas generally in Mongolia, the cascading is more similar to instrumental sounds. For a foreigner hearing khoomii for the first time is unforgettable, and practically impossible to understand how such a unique sound can come from the mouth. "I was even asked to show what I had in my mouth, or was asked to bring my arms in front instead of keeping them hiding behind my back" smiles Mr. Zulsar.
Although khoomii is rarely studied by dedicated artists, there is the Mongolian Khoomii Association, which has been established by several throat singers, in order to ensure that it is not lost in Mongolia.
* Nomads often refer to their country as the felt walled nation. The term is related to the felt covering their gers which dot the expansive landscape.