Sainkho Namtchylak is an experimental singer, born in 1957 in a secluded village in the south of Tuva, an autonomous Russian state bordering Mongolia. She has an exceptional voice, spanning seven octaves and proficient in overtone singing; her music enmeshes avant-jazz, electronica, modern composition and Tuvan influences. In Tuva numerous cultural influences collide: the Turkic roots it shares with Mongolia, Xinjiang Uighur and the Central Asian states; various Siberian nomadic ethnic groups, principally those of the Tungus-Manchu group; Russian Old Believers; migrant and resettled populations from the Ukraine, Tatarstan and other minority groups west of the Urals. All of these, to extents, impact on Sainkho's voice, although the Siberian influences dominate: her thesis produced while studying voice, first at the University of Kyzyl, then in the Gnesins Institute in Moscow during the 1980s focussed on Lamaistic and cult musics of minority groups across Siberia, and her music frequently shows tendencies towards Tungus-style imitative singing.
After graduating, Sainkho worked with several ensembles: the Moscow State Orchestra; the Moscow- based jazz ensemble 'Tri-O' (since 1989); School of Dramatic Art under the direction of Anatoly Vasiliev (Moscow), various orchestras in Kyzyl although (incongruously) as far as I am aware she has not worked with the Sayaan Ensemble, the Tuvan 'folkloric orchestra'- a far less sanitised example of folk baroque than, say, existed in pre-independence Kazakhstan- that has housed many of Tuva's other important singers. However, for several years Sainkho annually invited foreign musicians to Tuva to promote Tuvan culture. In 1997, Sainkho was horrifically attacked by Tuvinian racketeers which left her in a coma for two weeks. Again, sources regarding this contradict- others maintain that she underwent surgery for a severe malignant brain tumour; regardless, 1997 marked an appreciable change in her life. Since then, she has been resident in exile in Vienna, and has also recorded more prolifically as a solo artist- although she has released over thirty albums in the past twenty years, only seven have been entirely solo. in 2005 Italian publish house Libero di Scrivere released a book of poetry "Karmaland". In 2006 in Petersburg was published a book "Chelo-Vek" (in Russian, "A Human Being") in Russian, Tuvinian and in English.
Sainkho Namtchylak walks on the edges of life. It would be cliché to say she plays music on the border between East and West, past and present. But she is one of those artists that exist outside of categories. The same could be said of any woman who combines Tuvan throatsinging, experimental jazz, classical, electronica, and Buddhism. Then again, she is the only woman on the planet that fits this description.
Her new album Stepmother City—to be released on Ponderosa Music by Harmonia Mundi in October 2002—demands to be seen from a spiritual perspective. The liner notes are the words of a Buddhist monk from the 5th century BCE. The CD is embossed with a maze of roads whose existential names like “Born to Discover” and “Your Inner Eyes” chart a city that lies somewhere between the heart and the mind.
Already known as Tuva’s most celebrated female vocalist, Sainkho takes her unique blend in a new direction. Transfixing audiences with her astounding seven octave range, Sainkho uses songs like “Tuva Blues,” “Let the Sunshine,” and “Lonely Soul” to explore lands that live beyond the confines of the East and the West. Sainkho courses between polar extremes, reflecting love and hostility. With her finely crafted overtone singing, knowledge of Siberian folklore, shamanistic ritual, and history in Russian folklore ensembles and free-jazz acts, Sainkho juxtaposes traditional styles of her Tuvan ancestors with the Western avant-garde, sailing from harmonious serenity to hissing, trilling, and wailing.
Based in Vienna far from her beloved homeland Tuva, Sainkho sculpted Stepmother City to reflect her ambivalent feelings about European metropoli. Calling herself “first and foremost a woman from the Steppes,” Sainkho’s first musical inspiration came from her nomadic grandmother, who would sing lullabies for hours. She grew up in a culture where people just sing when they feel like it—singing when they’re happy and singing when they’re sad. Denied professional credentials from a local college where her explorative nature led her toward forbidden male-dominated styles, Sainkho transferred to Moscow where she discovered Russian improvisation. She also studied vocal techniques of Siberian lamaistic traditions.
Audiences are astounded by the diversity of sounds Sainkho can produce with her voice, from operatic tenor to birdlike squawks, from childlike pleas to soulful crooning; which at various moments elicit comparisons to Zap Mama, Patti Smith, Billie Holiday, and Nina Hagen. Stepmother City blends the sounds of electric guitars and loops with folk instruments like the shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute), doshpuloor (three-stringed banjo), and igil (a Mongolian horse-head fiddle connected with the spirit world), creating a synergistic blend of past and present.
Sainkho claims that music and spirituality are related by desire, or the tension that yells to reawaken people. Eager to take part in the process of remembering what has been forgotten, Stepmother City presents itself like a map, proposing routes to connect Western physicality with Eastern spirituality. Its seductive beats and wild vocals are sure to shock and inspire.
Who Stole the Sky ?
It's easy to understand why Tuvan Sainkho Namtchylak has been an avant-garde icon for a long time; she's remarkable at producing the unexpected. But unlike many in her field, she also possesses a strong ear for melody, which makes her music accessible to a much wider audience. Both those strengths are on display here, along with her feeling for the music and the throat singing of her native land (very notably on the title cut and "Ohm Suhaa"). She can take a traditional piece like "Kaar Deerge" and turn it into something resembling a Celtic ballad, stripped and completely gorgeous. Then she can turn around and make something rhythmically compelling like "Runnin' Tapes" or strange like "Digital Mutation." By exercising the different facets of her personality, Namtchylak builds her typical unusual album with Who Stole the Sky, running from the contemporary to the past easily and naturally, and even venturing into almost jazzy territory on "Electric City." She embraces the idea of taking chances, of using odd juxtapositions and instruments (such as ghaita), and of singing that ranges from the lush to the elemental. This is as much, if not more, of a musical future as all the genre-mixing beats you're likely to find. (Chris Nickson, All Music Guide)
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