Alash are masters of traditional Tuvan instruments as well as the ancient art of throat singing, a remarkable technique for singing multiple pitches at the same time. Believing that traditional music must constantly evolve, the musicians subtly infuse their songs with western elements, creating their own unique style that is fresh and new, yet true to their Tuvan musical heritage.
Representation: Exclusive – North America
Touring Formats: Trio
Educational: Residencies, workshops & school events
ALASH are masters of Tuvan throat singing (xöömei), a remarkable technique for singing multiple pitches at the same time. What distinguishes this gifted trio from earlier generations of Tuvan throat singers is the subtle infusion of modern influences into their traditional music. One can find complex harmonies, western instruments, and contemporary song forms in Alash’s music, but its overall sound and spirit remain decidedly Tuvan.
Trained in traditional Tuvan music since childhood, the Alash musicians studied at Kyzyl Arts College just as Tuva was beginning to open up to the West. They formed a traditional ensemble and won multiple awards for traditional throat singing in international xöömei competitions, both as an ensemble and as individuals. At the same time, they paid close attention to new trends coming out of the West. They have borrowed new ideas that mesh well with the sound and feel of traditional Tuvan music, but they have never sacrificed the integrity of their own heritage in an effort tomake their music more hip.
Alash first toured the U.S. under the sponsorship of the Open World Leadership program of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Arts. Since then they have returned many times, to the delight of American audiences. The Washington Post described their music as “utterly stunning,” quipping that after the performance “audience members picked their jaws up off the floor.”
Alash enjoys collaborating with musicians of all stripes. Since their early partnership with the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra, they have joined forces with musicians across the spectrum—from country to classical to jazz to beatboxing. Alash appeared as guest artists on Béla Fleck & the Flecktones’ Grammy-winning holiday CD Jingle All the Way (2008). They joined Chicago’s innovative Fifth House Ensemble in a groundbreaking concert series called Sonic Meditations. Most recently, they were part of the “global jam band” which recorded the soundtrack for the videogame The Pathless.
Beyond performing, Alash has a passion for teaching and promoting understanding between cultures. Their tours often include workshops in which they introduce Tuvan music to students in primary, middle and high schools, colleges, universities, and music conservatories. Children as young as 8 and 9 have learned to throat-sing. As one student exclaimed, “Alash opened my eyes to a whole new world!”
Alash albums: Alash Live at the Enchanted Garden (2006), Alash (2007), Buura (2011), Achai (2015, re-released on Smithsonian Folkways in 2017), and Meni Mana (2020, digital only). The members of Alash are:
Bady-Dorzhu Ondar: vocals, igil, guitar. Kyzyl Arts College, East Siberia State Academy of Culture and Art. Best soloist, 2005 All-Russian Festival of traditional ensembles and orchestras. Best in Maxim Dakpai xöömei competition, 2006. People’s
Xöömeizhi of Tuva, 2007. Grand prize, International Xöömei Symposium, 2008.
Ayan-ool Sam: vocals, doshpuluur, igil, guitar. Republic School of the Arts, Kyzyl Arts College, Moscow State Pedagogical University. First prize, International Xöömei Symposium, 2008. People’s Xöömeizhi of Tuva, 2015.
Ayan Shirizhik: vocals, kengirge, shyngyrash, shoor, murgu, xomus. Kyzyl Arts College, East Siberia State Academy of Culture and Art. Second prize, International Xöömei Symposium, 2008. Distinguished Artist of Tuva, 2009. People’s Xöömeizhi of Tuva, 2021.
Sean Quirk: interpreter and manager. Studied music in Tuva on a Fulbright fellowship. Distinguished Artist of Tuva, 2008.
Alash @ Prince Albert, Stroud
|Do you sing? Give your lowest note a go, then follow it with your highest. Now imagine what it would sound like if they both came out of your mouth together…
There’s a definite air of anticipation on Rodborough Hill tonight. The gig was only advertised four days ago, and the place is packed – a pretty effective demonstration of both the reach of the Internet and the drawing power and reputation of The Prince Albert for putting on quality live music.
alash3The atmosphere is also enhanced by the collection of exotic and beautiful instruments lined up on the stage, the headstocks of the stringed instruments ornately carved into the shape of horses heads, a free-standing drum with a pile of tiny bells on top – what are they, what sounds do they produce?
Alash are throat singers – xöömeizhi – from Tuva, now a Russian Republic, sandwiched in between Mongolia and Siberia and taking musical influences from both areas and also from neighbouring China.
Their spectacular traditional dress when they arrive onstage delights the eye and when they begin to play, the sound produced is unearthly. They are singing polyphonically, two, three and more notes at once, sometimes producing a low drone and a melody line at the same time.
Not only the technique, but the contrast between notes is extraordinary. The lowest notes sound like a Heavy Metal death grunt, whereas the highest are like birdsong. You also have to look very closely as to which one of this trio is actually singing, as some of the sounds are produced with little or no mouth movement at all.alash2
These are folk songs primarily, speaking of nature (the country spans deserts and mountains right through to rain forest and frozen tundra) and of animals – yak, camels, reindeer and above all, horses – prized and revered. In this Shamanistic culture, there’s plenty of mysticism and folklore in there, too – beautiful women, spirits and magical creatures inhabit landscapes of breath-taking loveliness. One song about the confluence of two rivers is exquisite, slow and dreamlike but there’s also stomping up-tempo numbers of riding and herding and a rocking protest song by an imprisoned dissident writer.
We have an MC tonight as well – Sean Quirk, an American from Milwaukee who went to Tuva more than ten years ago to study and stayed on. He acts as interpreter, as tour guide to Tuva and as musical historian and he does it with great good humour and obvious affection for his adopted country.
The instruments are used primarily to create a rhythm or a drone over which the voices are projected. The two-stringed igil, made of wood and covered in goatskin with horsehair strings is played by both Bady-Dorzhu Ondar and Ayan-ool Sam and is held and bowed, like a cello. The same artists also take it in turn to play the doshpuluur which looks like a cigar box guitar and is plucked and strummed like a banjo. Ayan Shirizhik takes up percussion duties on the large drum, a kengirge with the pile of bells, the shyngyrash producing a delicate rustling sound or invoking the sound of a horse’s harness when hit hard – there’s also a pair of ornately decorated horse’s hooves, used like giant castanets. He also plays a delicate, end-blown wooden flute called a shoor, the haunting sound of which is responsible for more than one cold shiver up my spine during the evening.
alash1Each of the artists takes a solo spot and arguably the highlight of those is Sam’s turn on a Jew’s Harp – he not only alters his mouth shape to create different notes, but actually sings through the blade – the sound is quite amazing.
They play more than 90 minutes, in two sets and my goodness, does the time go quickly.
Sometimes you see a performance so singular, so extraordinary, that you know the experience is going to live with you forever.
This was such a performance.
Alash Ensemble, CSPS Hall, Cedar Rapids, IA. March 18, 2015
|Tuvan Throat Singing is not very well known in the U.S.A., much less in Cedar Rapids, IA. Alash Ensemble is one of the most famous Tuvan groups, as well as one of the most accomplished. All three members of the Ensemble, Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Ayan-ool Sam and Ayan Shirizhik, are recipients of their country’s equivalent to our Presidential Medal of Freedom. So, when Legion Arts brings in a group such as Alash to CSPS Hall, audience members are treated to the very best of that style of music to be found anywhere in the world.
Tuvan Throat Singing is an ancient form of music. According to Alash’s manager and interpreter Sean Quirk, anthropologists and music historians believe the most basic form of throat singing may predate the development of human language. The style is so haunting and remarkable in nature that my friend Gayle asked if it really was just a single singer producing the range of tones that a master of throat singing is capable of producing.
|Charles “Rain” Black|
Washington Post Review
|Washington Post review, June 21, 2007
Alash Ensemble, Marshall Allen
If you weren’t at Warehouse Theater on Tuesday, you missed one of the most surprising and breathtaking double-bills to blow through Washington this year. Tuvan throat singers the Alash Ensemble and legendary avant-jazz saxophonist Marshall Allen offered so many feats-of-breath, the gig should have been sponsored by the American Lung Association.
The Alash Ensemble’s opening set was utterly stunning. The young quartet specializes in an ancient vocal style cultivated by the shepherds and horsemen of central Asia who discovered ways of singing three or four notes simultaneously. Imagine a subsonic growl, a bullfrog’s croak, some electric barber’s clippers and a high-frequency whistle — all reverberating out of a single larynx at once.
With a single, sustained breath, each member’s voice would glide over the music’s loping rhythms as they plucked and bowed an array of stringed instruments, one of which was made from a horse’s skull. There are plenty of recordings of Tuvan throat singing out there, but they can’t compare to witnessing such sonic magic in real time.
Once audience members picked their jaws up off the floor, 83-year-old Allen shuffled onstage and led his quintet into a righteous racket. Clad in a shiny gold baseball cap, the octogenarian — who spent most of his career performing alongside the late jazz pioneer Sun Ra — swiped at the keys of his sax like a petulant teenager slashing away at a guitar. He blew his horn into a soulful frenzy, then seemed to delight in slowing things to a crawl before erupting into another fit of squeals and squawks.
The two groups crammed onto the stage for a final set, but Alash’s steady gallop didn’t leave much room for Allen and company to find their footing. Maybe that was for the better — it gave everyone in the audience a chance to catch their breath.
|Reviewers say . . .
“When Alash Ensemble sings, the world listens.”—Kalamazoo Gazette
“Alash … pretty much knocked everybody’s socks off, receiving a standing ovation after their final song.”— Pegasus News, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX
“This is some of the most beautiful and haunting music I have heard. If you have not heard them, you have no idea how incredible they are.”— Jeff Coffin of the Flecktones and Dave Matthews Band, interviewed on JamBands.com
“There are plenty of recordings of Tuvan throat singing out there, but they can’t compare to witnessing such sonic magic in real time.”—Washington Post
“If you want to experience music that can transport you to another dimension, lift you to new levels of consciousness, or otherwise blow your mind, then Alash is the ticket.”—V.O.I.C.E.S (Various Organizations & Individuals Creating Exciting Spaces), Lancaster, PA
“It’s … music that feels as if it traveled miles and ages to pulverize your heart.”—CD review onclick Track (Washington Post pop music blog)
“Alash succeeds because they have beautiful emotional voices, with tones and expressiveness that match their vocal gymnastics.” — CD review by Steve Sklar (khoomei.com)
Fans say . . .
“My jaw was hanging slack for literally half the show. It was that incredible.” —Middletown, CT
“One of the most amazing musical experiences of my life.”—Cedar Rapids, IA
“Once one gets over the initial wonderment of their astounding vocal technique, one can recognize the brilliance of their instrumental virtuosity, arrangements, and above all, artistic genius.” —Mountain View, AK
“Your vibrations resounded in my soul”—Lansing, KS
“When I saw the instruments, I remember thinking, ‘Oh my, this will be pretty primitive,’ then was completelyin awe when the music started.” — Member of String Academy of Wisconsin, U. Wisconsin Milwaukee
“I would love them even without the throat singing . . .”—Columbus, OH
“Sean Quirk was an unexpectedly brilliant surprise. He is superb at relating to an audience and explaining the culture of Tuva . . . Really, it was an unforgettable experience.”—Lancaster, PA
Alash are masters of traditional Tuvan instruments as well as the ancient art of throat singing, a remarkable technique for singing multiple pitches at the same time. Believing that traditional music must constantly evolve, the musicians subtly infuse their songs with western elements, creating their own unique style that is fresh and new, yet true to their Tuvan musical heritage. Masters of their craft, Alash specializes in educational outreach & residencies as a means of helping audiences connect with their music, culture and heritage.. instead of simply exoticizing it.
With the skill & knowledge of manager & interpreter, Sean Quirk, an American-born Fulbright Scholar living in Tuva for over a decade, Alash is equipped to offer a variety of different outreach formats ranging from single sessions to multi-week residencies on a variety of topics including one-on-one instrumental master classes, group demonstrations of throat singing, cultural presentations, and storytelling for children. Outreach packages are customizable for groups of any size & audiences of all ages.
We are happy to work with you to create a custom outreach package tailored to suit to your audience, space, budget & interests.
Examples of standard outreach packages:
Single Session (45 minutes to 1 hour) The musicians work with students individually or in small groups.
•Mini-concert with explanations
•Demonstration of Tuvan instruments and throat singing
•Tuvan folk tales
Half-Day Visit: A morning or afternoon of four 45-minute sessions, allowing visits to additional classrooms or more time for individual and small group instruction.
Full-Day Visit: Morning session same as Half-Day Visit, followed by a concert in the afternoon.
Multi-Day Residency: All of the above, plus:
•More individual or small group instruction
•Students perform music with Alash
•Tuvan culture, history, geography, nomadic life
•Tuvan language and oral traditions
•Special projects (e.g., building a yurt, preparation of simple Tuvan foods)
For older and more advanced students:
•One-on-one instrument lessons
•Xöömei (throat singing) lessons
Click on the links below for more information.
Please check back for upcoming tour information.