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Tyva Kyzy

A group from Tuva, a Russian republic, shares a new approach to singing with vocal harmonies

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Tyva Kyzy

The Daughters of Tuva performed at the Orvis Auditorium on June 16.

Tyva Kyzy, or Daughters of Tuva, is an all-female throat-singing group from Tuva, a Russian republic in southern Siberia. These women have been performing together since 1998 and shared their Tuvan culture with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa community on June 16. 

Choduraa Tuma, the leader of Tyva Kyzy, started the group by uniting women who were passionate about music and Tuvan throat-singing, or xöömei in Tuvan.

Tuma explained xöömei is a special vocal technique that uses your whole body like an instrument, where a person creates three to four pitches at a time to create a melody. 

“Tuvans believe that xöömei has a spirit and the spirit of xöömei will choose the human body, human soul and they chose me … Our life is the life of xöömei,” Tuma said. 

According to Tuma, before xöömei became musical entertainment, it was originally used amongst Tuvan shamans as a language to connect with the gods thousands of years ago. This is why xöömei holds more significance to Tuvans as a spiritual art than just a performing art. 

Performers expressed sounds of nature during their performance, like whistling birds and windy steppes of Central Asia - sounds that represent the climate and life of a Tuvan home. 

“Xöömei is more about nature and energy,” Tuma said. “It came to Tuvans from the imitating of sounds of places: mountains, rivers, sounds of the steppe.”

Historical obstacles 

Tuma is grateful for the support she gets from her country. She explained that women singing xöömei is taboo due to the belief that it can cause infertility. 

“The female body as a mother was very important for Tuvan people,” Tuma said. “They were taking care of the body of women, of mothers.”

She believes that the taboo should not be taken so seriously. 

“We had many brave great grandmothers in our past … We had many good female shammads, very strong shammads, that means that it was not actually a very strict taboo,” Tuma said.

To lessen the stigma surrounding women performing xöömei, Tyva Kyzy has been conducting workshops and lessons to teach young girls and boys the art of xöömei. 

There were also historical obstacles that made performing xöömei difficult, especially during the Soviet era when Western and Soviet culture were being heavily propagandized in Central Asia. 

“Everywhere was propaganda of Soviet and Western culture,” Tuma said. “Forget about Tuvan traditional music, xöömei is a strange part of the old life.”

Things started to improve in the 1980s when the Soviet-era travel restrictions were lifted and traditional Tuvan culture started to be restored in Tuva and other areas of Central Asia. 

Tuma feels lucky to be able to share this ancient Tuvan performing art with people all over the world. She is also happy to see folk art that was once only performed in the countryside make it to a worldwide stage.