Folk and Great Tunes from Siberia and Far East
Review by Mike Adcock
This double album compilation brings together tracks from artists across the enormous Russian region of Siberia, including rarely heard material from the far north and east. There is singing, both solo and in groups, as well as instrumental music and there is music traditionally played and also traditional music re-interpreted for a modern audience. The release has been curated by Daryana Antipova who writes in the sleeve notes that to represent the great musical diversity of Siberian ethnic culture and indigenous peoples in one compilation is an impossible task, but while that may be the case it nevertheless makes for a very impressive collection.
In the recent book, The Lost Pianos of Siberia, English journalist Sophy Roberts wrote of a trip she made across Siberia in search of a good piano for a friend in Mongolia. Apparently, when liberally-minded well-to-do folk were exiled to Siberia in the Tsarist years they were often allowed to live in fine houses, along with the worldly goods they took with them, sometimes including grand pianos. Consequently there remain a number of old Bechsteins and Steinways scattered around Siberia in various stages of disrepair. I read the book last year and although I didn't learn much about Siberian music from the book, it did bring home to me the vastness of Siberia, the Ural mountains separating it from western Russia as it stretches north to the Arctic Ocean and east to the Pacific, with only a strait separating it from Japan. It also demonstrated how culturally isolated the bulk of Siberia has remained from Moscow, something this album illustrates perfectly, as well as the musical variety to be found there.
"Ny Kargyraa" (exceprt)
Several tracks here feature Tuvan throat-singing, a technique perhaps more often associated with Mongolia, though the Republic of Tuva lies within Siberia and there are examples from there and other regions represented. In addition to the traditional way of doing things, we are also treated to some very enjoyable efforts to update the style as demonstrated by Khartyga. I was reminded of blues-singer Paul Pena in the documentary film “Ghengis Blues” who, listening to short wave radio at home in Massachusetts. stumbled across Tuvan throat-singing, a technique he proceeded to learn and use. It reminded him of the growl of the old blues singers, in particular Howling Wolf. But here we can hear things going full circle: true Tuvan singing by a Howling Wolf sound-alike but backed by a wailing fuzz guitar playing blues licks along with a funky rhythm section.
"Legend about ancient fight" (exceprt)
The jaw's harp is played in different parts of Siberia and it makes several appearances here, played on two tracks by the wonderful Olena Uutai, who also demonstrates her prowess at imitating both a whinnying horse and a howling wolf (the lower case version as found in the natural world.)
"Palan Chants" (exceprt)
Olena Uutai (pictured above) is from the remote Yakutia area in the Republic of Sakha in the Arctic north-east of Siberia. Further east still is Chukotka, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska and as far from Moscow as you can get in Russia. There Lydia Chechulina helps to maintain the craft traditions of the Koryak people and is heard on the album singing traditional chants accompanied by a frame drum.
"Village dances" (exceprt)
Of course this offers only a sample of what can be heard in Siberia and doesn't claim to be more than that, but a serious attempt has been made to cover as broad a range as possible, including material from the far east of the region, close to the Pacific coast, which is not heard so widely. Significantly or not, it is within these tracks, emanating not so very far from Japan, where we find a more modern Asian sensibility, essentially pop music with a heavy dependence on technology.
This double album is a fine showcase of music from just one region of the Russian Federation. But what an extraordinary region Siberia is and this release is a valuable indication of just how a range of music can flourish amongst people in exile, and in this case exile within their own country.