Tuvan throat singing! In Tunisia?

Just the other evening, I caught a glimpse of a tall guy, wearing little black felt hat, long hair, black cape. Striding along in soft boots. Like a time/ space warp. Weird. Not the way people dress around here. Thought no more about it.

Last night, at Palais Enejma Ezzahra, went to experience cultural fusion concert: Polish / Tunisian musical dialogue. Onto the stage strides the same guy: felt hat, black waistcoat, soft boots. Spooky.

Bart Palyga along with compatriots Maria Pomaniowska and Pawal Betley. Followed by Tunisians: Mohammed Lassoued, Maroua Kriaa, Jihed Khmiri and Sofiane Zaidi. Carrying a whole raft of strange instruments. Let the music commence!

Into the first number and suddenly, from nowhere, a deep rumble and a high whistle. The audience stirs, looking round to see where the heck it’s coming from. It’s the dude with the felt hat. Tuvan throat music. Mongolian overtones… extraordinary style: Matched by trance tones of Sofiane the Sufi singer. Then we got Chopin, Szymanowski, and traditional malouf. Well balanced programme, best of both worlds. Nice moment when Polish Maria led on a modern Polish poem, and Tunisian Maroua replied. Two very different voices, one mature, nasal, commanding, the other young, fresh, breathy. Good harmony, the one complementing the other and blending well. Centre stage, Mohammed Lassoued, master of the two-stringed Tunisian rabab, delivering haunting desert music accompanied by Pawel Betley’s flute and Jihad Khimiri’s drums and rain-maker. All thrashed it out for the final number. GREAT evening.

After the event, Bart talked about his use of Tuvan throat music: ‘I think I must have Mongolian roots‘ he explained: ‘I found it really easy to learn how to produce sounds like that’ He reminded me of the role of the Richard Feynman in popularizing Tuvan music. So, this morning up early and an hour enjoyably spent on YouTube, listening to Feynman.

Loved his challenge: Whatever happened to Tannu Tuva?. Capital city: Kyzyl.

So that’s another half hour well spent.  Part 1 ends with Feynman saying this about Tuva:  ‘we gotta go there of course’.. he drums and then says: ‘oh yeah’. Click on part 2 and then parts 3 – 5.  I remember watching this  documentary on BBC in the late 60s.  Once heard, you never forget him: he has this unbelievable capacity to communicate science.. This is before the world of TED talks. This is a guy who sits there and talks. And you are gripped. Love his comments on how being awarded the Nobel Prize was a disaster.

Feynman had such an extraordinary zest for life, fun, adventure. Captured in his books: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?. And books written about him, such as Tuva or Bust!.

In his own way, he helped put Tuva and Tuvan Throat music on the map. Others followed. Bart the Throat singing Polish guy had mentioned a film called: Ghengis Blues that came out in 199. I’d heard of it, but never seen it. So, that evening, I thought I’d take a few minutes to check it out.   It follows the journey of Paul Pena, a blind blues musician from the US, who is invited to compete in the annual throat-singing contest in Tuva.

I was glued to the screen for an hour and a half. Absolutely brilliant film. I challenge you not to cry.


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