After wasting an afternoon watching the first season of Marco Polo on Netflix, I became fascinated with a unique style of singing known as throat (or overtone) singing. Throat singing is the act of producing two distinct notes simultaneously, creating blends of harmonic tones. Over the past week I’ve been studying up on this art form and its significance to the Mongolian culture.
Throat singing consists of combining two tones, a fundamental and an overtone, to produce this unique harmony. Throat singers have the ability to control both the fundamental and overtone independently of one another. This is what gives throat singers their ability to produce harmonic tones. An example and demonstration of throat singing is below.
Mongolia lies on the steppe of central Asia. Traditionally, this area is known to be home to nomadic people. Throat singing was a practice used to connect these people to both the natural and supernatural worlds. However, Mongolia’s relations with the Soviet Union during the 20th century led to communist ideals and a purging of “backward” practices. It would not be until the 1980 that a revitalization of throat singing would be undertaken (Pegg, 2013).
Mongolia is said to be one of the most active sites for throat singing (Sklar, 2005). The form of throat singing most commonly practiced in Mongolia is Khoomei (Хөөмий). Khoomei’s cultural influence is so significant that it has allowed throat singing to permeate Mongolian pop culture. One such example can be found below. It has also permeated the world music scene, increasing the practice of throat singing in neighboring regions.
Whether a traditional chant or a modern spin on cultural traditions, throat singing is a fascinating practice of those living within the steppes of central Asia. Efforts to revitalize and enhance the practice of this traditional art form helps to preserve and spread the technique of throat singing. Thanks to Marco Polo, I am glad that I stumbled upon this unique and fascinating cultural tradition.
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