This seemingly unlikely combination is certainly one of the most interesting to have appeared in recent years. The meeting points for these very different traditions are found in obscure and unexpected ways and are the result of the personal creativity and interaction of all involved.
The combination of the other-worldly voices from the steppes of Tuva, the rizitiko songs of Giorgos Xylouris, the delicate and intricate percussion of the Chemiranis, and the wide variety of sounds introduced by "Labyrinth" strike a balance that can only be described as unique.
"In the early 1970s a friend of mine who had just begun his studies in ethnomusicology gave me an unmarked cassette which included a mixture of various different pieces representing a large variety of traditional musical idioms. Unfortunately my friend forgot to write on the cassette what each track was so I started searching with the means available at the time to find out what I could about these pieces. I distinctly remember one piece which made quite an impression on me at the time and which puzzled me considerably. I couldn't figure out how the sound was being made although it was obviously a vocal technique and the source of this sound was indeed the human voice. After much searching and asking around I was finally informed one day that this was music from Tuva. Tuva? I had never heard of such a place. It was at this point that my relationship with Tuvan music began and, despite the fact that I have never been there, I have spent so much time over the years listening to this music that I now feel it to be very close to my heart. One thing which, right from the very beginning, made a deep impression on me in Tuvan music is its absolute honesty. Even though I have relatively few cultural reference points by which to assess it, it is immediately apparent to me that this music carries no pretence and is an offering in the true sense of the word. Sayan Bapa summed this up by saying that Tuvan culture is "a culture where people spend a lot of time alone, and where they make music for themselves. When you do that, you don't lie to yourself, and from those conditions come real emotions." Nearly three decades later, in the year 2002, the world-renowned Tuvan quartet Huun Huur Tu had programmed a visit to Greece for two concerts and it was proposed to me that perhaps I could do something in collaboration with them for these concerts. I found the idea very interesting and so I immediately set to work. The musical idioms with which I have concerned myself during my life are very different in concept and structure from the music of Tuva and even the seemingly simple task of finding the starting point for such a project was, in itself, a great challenge that required a lot of time and effort. For a start, apart from technical difficulties such as scales, rhythmic structures etc, the whole concept of music and its role in our lives is radically different in Tuvan culture from what it is in other regions of the world. For the Tuvan people, music is an essential medium in their ongoing dialogue with the natural and supernatural world. It is simultaneously a means of spiritually aligning themselves with the various elements of the natural world through the medium of what often appears superficially to be an imitative process, as well as being, on a deeper level, a process of the transcendence of what we normally perceive to be "natural". Through this process one communicates in a prayer-like manner directly with the essence of the natural without necessarily making reference to its form or "normally" perceivable attributes. Such concepts and practices belong to the broader category of Shamanistic spirituality which is indeed to be found extensively in various forms throughout most of Central Asia. It was very clear to me from the very beginning of the project that the object here was not one of finding the common ground shared by two or more traditions and working from that as a starting point. Here the common ground was minimal if indeed it did even exist. Perhaps the greatest difficulty for a westerner working with Tuvan music is to go beyond the "strangeness" of it on the technical level and to simply perceive it as music. Of course when one first hears a single human voice producing not just two different notes but sometimes even two different melodies simultaneously, one is obviously deeply impressed to say the least. It takes quite a lot of time to get over this, to perceive these techniques as being perfectly "normal", and to listen to what is being sung rather than getting stuck solely on how it is sung. All that I could do was to immerse myself in Tuvan music, listening carefully for hours on end, silently, without thinking of anything, to recordings of various Tuvan artists and, of course, specifically to those of Huun Huur Tu. After an extended period of listening to their music in this way, I began to develop my own aesthetic relationship with this music in which the "novelty" of the vocal techniques was no longer the issue. Indeed, various musical ideas started to slowly reveal themselves to me. These first little "revelations" allowed me initially at least to make my choice as to who the other artists participating in this project would be. This however turned out to be a development of major significance, essentially because these other participants were destined to make enormous contributions to the creative aspect of the project and were by no means limited to a role of the mere execution of given material. For these two concerts in 2002, due to the very late arrival of the airplane carrying Huun Huur Tu from Tuva to Athens, we had the "luxury" of one rehearsal in the afternoon of the day of the first concert. Fortunately, having anticipated this problem, I had done extensive preparations for this program with the other Greek musicians and, much to the pleasant surprise of all, everything came together very quickly and naturally. This was very fortunate because the members of Huun Huur Tu, after the grueling 30 odd hour journey from Tuva to Athens, were absolutely exhausted and it would have been utterly inhuman of me to submit them to extended rehearsals requiring that they commit to memory huge amounts of new material without the necessary time to absorb it properly. The two concerts (one in Athens, one in Thessaloniki) were quite successful and, thanks to the flexibility and competence of all of the musicians involved, they were also musically quite coherent and indeed had an unexpectedly mature sound to them. All of this inspired in each of us a desire to continue the project under rather more amenable circumstances, with plenty of time for proper rehearsals etc. In 2003 such an opportunity presented itself and we invited Huun Huur Tu to our residence, the Musical Workshop Labyrinth, in the village of Houdetsi on Crete to perform a concert there with all of the necessary time for proper rehearsals and preparation. This time however, the size and composition of the orchestra was quite different. The percussion was undertaken by my old and very dear friend Djamchid Chemirani together with his two sons Keyvan and Bijan. Alongside Giorgos Xylouris, who had sung and played in the first concerts, I decided to also include Spyridoula Baka, a young and very talented singer from Athens with a distinctive and personal sound of her own. The arrangement combining the Greek song Mavra mou Helidonia and the Tuvan Exile's Lament is her own and it is, for me, definitely one of the highlights of the project. This recording is of that particular concert and reflects the tireless work and creative interaction of all of the musicians during the preceding days. The recording itself had certain technical problems which required quite a lot of work to overcome but the end result is basically what approximately 2000 people who had never heard Tuvan musicians before heard on that night in early September in 2003 in the small Cretan village of Houdetsi. It is always somewhat of a temptation in writing about such projects to drift into more analytical or even musicological territory. In this case however it would actually be dishonest of me to do so simply because, as one of the participants, I was able to personally experience the fact that this project had nothing whatsoever to do with analytical or musicological approaches. There was no "concept" or underlying idea unifying the different elements. For me it was very much the product of the spontaneity and indeed the "chemistry" of all of the participants working on a deeper level. For all of us this project will remain an unforgettable experience and if we can, through this recording, share something of this experience with our listeners. That alone will be for us its measure of success".
Ross Daly Houdetsi 2007 Μusicians: click on the names and view photos and bios Ηuun-Ηuur-Τu: Kaigal-ool Khovalyg (vocals, igil) Sayan Bapa (vocals,igil, guitar,toschpulur ) Alexei Saryglar (vocals, igil, tungur, tuyug) Andrei Mongoush (vocals, igil ) Djamchid Chemirani (zarb) Bijan Chemirani (zarb,daff) Keyvan Chemirani (zarb, bendir, udu) Ross Daly (Cretan lyra, rabab, saz, tarhu) Haris Lambrakis (ney) Kelly Thoma (Cretan lyra) Periklis Papapetropoulos (saz, laouto) Stelios Petrakis (Cretan lyra, saz, laouto) Angelina Tkatcheva (santour) Αlexandros Arkadopoulos (clarinet) Spyridoula Baka (vocals)Giorgos Xylouris (Cretan laouto,vocals)