Yat-Kha

1. A Tuvan half tube 12-string zither with a movable bridge.

2. A Yenisei-based yakpunk band formed by renegade Huun-Huur-Tu founding member and throat singer Albert Kuvezin, which has gone literally from the middle of nowhere to a presence on the world stage.

Yat-Kha is an intoxicating fusion of

The Band

Albert Kuvezin. Guitar, yat kha, hoomei, vocals.
Albert grew up in Tuva, near the Yenisei River. He was kicked out of his local choir as a small child due to his insistence on singing in a disconcerting (at least in a child) growly bass kargyaa style most commonly employed by Buddhist monks. Albert still does most of his singing in a kind of kargyaa, and makes Tom Waits sound like Tiny Tim. Seriously. Check out the track "Irik Chuduk" (from the Yenisei Punk album) at www.yat-kha.com.

He is a renegade founding member of Huun-Huur-Tu, and left that group due to frustration with having to listen to the state dictate musical direction and style, usually toward the bland and palatable folk music end.

Albert was more interested in joining Western hard rock (his stated influences: Deep Purple and Sonic Youth) to classical Tuvan music. His formation of Yat-Kha made him a constant thorn in the side of Soviet ideological culture departments (and the KGB agents sent to enforce the ban) until 1989.

His onstage persona is quintessential front man: brash, joking, a thick mane of heavy metal hair, jeans and a t-shirt. His English is excellent, with a thick Tuvan accent, and he is fond of telling stories and jokes between sets, which invariably lead to roars of approval from the audience.

Zhenya Tkachov. Drum kit, kengyry, vocals.
Zhenya was raised as a Staro Vera (Old Believer) in Tuva. Staro Vera are Russian Orthodox Christians and do not believe in hierarchy, taxation, or interference with the individual's direct experience of God and nature. The Staro Vera sing verses from communal manuscripts which lay out rhythm and melody in a mnemonic pyramidal pattern, to help people sing layers of phrases in time and in tune.

Zhenya was educated in the Kyzyl school of music as a percussionist. He became a band drummer and percussionist in the Tuvan state symphony and orchestra, until dropping out in the early 1990s to find "the essence of the life" by roaming the Tuvan steppes and reading philosophy.

Albert met Zhenya in 1995, and invited him to join Yat-Kha.

Sailyk Ommun. Yat-kha, vocals.
Sailyk's name means "little bird" in Tuvan, and the name fits her perfectly. She is tiny. At 19 she's also the youngest member of the band.

When she steps onstage, it's almost disorienting - into the midst of these tall, broad-shouldered Tuvan nomads with electric guitars comes this delicate, doll-like, beautiful girl in a simple traditional Tuvan dress and an ear-to-ear smile. Then she begins to sing...

Sailyk sings in the Tuvan women's style, which is described at their Web site as very "bluesy, with jumping, bending and leaping melodies". Bluesy is right - as she sings, her hands swoop and dip, her body sways and her hips torque out voice power that Koko Taylor would respect, and her voice soars acrobatically through complex trills, ululations, exclamations, and the occasional sweetly simple tune.

She also plays the challenging yat-kha zither with tiny, nimble, blindingly fast hands. Sailyk is fond of the music of Aretha Franklin.

Mahmoud Skripaltschchikov. Bass.
Mahmoud was born in Siberia, and moved to Tuva as a young boy. He grew up in the same area as Albert's family, near the big lake formed when the Yenisei was dammed at the Sayano-Shushinskoye gorge to the North. Mahmoud keeps a very low onstage profile, hence the short description.

Radik Tiuliush.Igil, hoomei, vocals.
Radik is a highly trained classical musician with an unassuming onstage presence. Yet in his black jeans, black boots, and traditional blue satin vest trimmed with gold embroidery and thick white fur, he looks like a cross between an exotic fairy-tale prince and a Hell's Angel.

When Radik sings hoomei, he sits with his legs wide, and his combat boots braced against the floor. His satin fur-trimmed vest falls open across his chest, and his next deep inhalation causes a subtle but visible chain reaction of muscles from his pectorals to his abdomen. He closes his eyes, opens his mouth, and lets fly an entire choir of angels. His voices range across five octaves, and create each other through alchemical, complex synergies of body and air.

The Music

Seemingly magical vocals produced by otherworldly overtone singing techniques which invoke both drones and their harmonics soar on updrafts of instrumentation from the thunderous electric guitar, sternum-throbbing bass bodybeats, neuron-scrambling ecstasies of percussion, and finely crafted traditional arrangements for classical Tuvan instruments.

Yat-Kha blew Brian Eno's mind so comprehensively at the 1991 Voice of Asia Festival in Kazakhstan that he invented a special prize for them on the spot. Brian Eno will also be presenting them with this year's BBC 3 Award for World Music.

One critic describes the music of Yat-Kha as "what American country music might have sounded like if the Native Americans had won."

Personal Testimony

I saw Yat-Kha perform their live soundtrack to V.I. Pudovkin's 1928 classic formalist silent B&W film Storm Over Asia at last year's Lotus World Music Festival. The power, the deep resonance, the joy and energy, and just sheer weirdness of their music shucked the cobwebs off of my brain, heightened my senses, and elevated me for days.

Frankly, I had the the glow. Pink cheeked, sparkle eyed, and high on the music, long after the show was over. Yat-Kha is definitely a performance band that needs to be seen live to be fully appreciated. The sympathetic vibrations their music creates in the listener's body can't be fully duplicated in a recording, although the CDs are definitely worth owning.

Caveat Emptor: Only the new Yat Kha live album (titled Bootleg, though it is being issued by the band) has plenty of Sailyk on it - and I think she provides a crucial element to the music. Bootleg is only available through the band (at www.yat-kha.com). Their other albums can be purchased through the band's Web site or through most major online book/music/etc. stores (many of which also have Real Audio sample clips).

Discography

Bootleg, 2001.
Aldyn Dashka, 1999
Delai Beldiri, 1998
Yenisei Punk, 1995
Khan Party, 1993 (ultra rare)


http://www.yat-kha.com (Lots of audio clips!!!)
http://www.rootsworld.com/reviews/yatkha-film.shtml
http://www.npr.org/programs/asc/archives/asclo/
http://www.amazon.com - search under Yat-Kha for CDs and clips.

And if you like Yat-Kha, you might like:

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