Tuvan throat singer Kongar-ol Ondar was born in 1962 and first learned his musical craft from his uncle. While still a teenager he became a professional musician, emceeing and singing with local ensembles. In 1983 he was drafted into the Soviet Navy, an odd placement for a young man from a landlocked country of pastoralists; while serving, he suffered a broken neck and received an honourable discharge.
Back in Tuva, Ondar studied to become a Russian language teacher. He continued singing, however, forming the Tuva Ensemble in 1985. By the '90s they had bucked official Soviet displeasure, toured Europe, and won the UNESCO-sponsored International Festival of Throat Singing. The following year they recorded their first album, and in 1992 Ondar was named Tuva's official "People's Throat Singer". He has performed for Boris Yeltsin, who named him "National Artist of Russia".
Besides these close-to-home accolades, Ondar has performed internationally and with some acclaim with a variety of musicians, including Kronos Quartet, Ry Cooder, Frank Zappa, The Chieftains, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, and Kitaro, as well as the collaboration that gained him the most fame, with bluesman Paul Pena. They recorded music and went on tour together, and would later star in the Academy Award nominated documentary, "Genghis Blues". In the film you can see the joy that radiates out of Ondar's beaming face as he squires Pena and his entourage proudly around his beautiful country, breaking into amazing song between shots of arak. Quite a guy.
Tuva: Voices from the Land of Eagles
Echoes of Tuva
Deep in the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music from the Wild East
Ondar: Back Tuva Future - The Adventure Continues
Ondar: Tuva Groove
End of Days soundtrack