Dave Dargie :“Some recent developments in Xhosa music : activities of the Ngqoko Traditional Xhoa Music Ensemble,and at the University of Fort Hare”.

Dave Dargie, Professor of Music, University of Fort Hare, South Africa.

Paper for ICTM, Vienna 2007.

The Xhosa and the Thembu Xhosa

The Xhosa of South Africa are the southernmost Bantu language people. They are part of the Southern Nguni people, as are the Zulu, the Swati and the Ndebele. Xhosa is one of the eleven official languages of South Africa. South African President Thabo Mbeki is a Xhosa, as also is ex-president Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the singer Miriam Makeba, among many other famous Xhosas.

Being the southernmost means that in their long trek from the West African sources of their distant ancestors, the Xhosa probably came into contact with more other peoples than did any other Bantu language and culture group. In the stormy years of the 19th century, with the population movements caused by the wars of the Zulu King Shaka, other groups of peoples also moved into the area which is now the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, and which has been the ancestral home of the Shosa for probably the last thousand years. Today one can distinguish about twelve groups of peoples who make up the Xhosa. One of these groups is the Thembu Xhosa. Nelson Mandela is a Thembu, as also was Walter Sisulu, who for so many years was Mandela’s fellow-prisoner on Robben Island.

When one of Shaka’s armies entered the Thembu area in 1828, it caused some of the Thembu to moves westwards across the Tsomo river for the first time. This brought them into intimate contact with Bushman people in that area. Contact with the Khoi and the Bushmen (1), who inhabited South Africa for thousands of years, profoundly influenced the Nguni peoples, but the Xhosa most of all, affecting their language, their culture and their music. Of all the Bantu language peoples of Southern Africa, the Western Thembu Xhosa had the closest contact with Bushmen, living side by side with a Bushman group for part of the 19th century, with intermarriage also taking place, until disputes over cattle caused the Thembu to drive away their Bushman neighbours around the middle of the 19th century (2).

Thembu Xhosa Music : instruments, singing and overtone singing.

The musical instruments of the Xhosa are not unique. The most important instruments are the musical bows, especially uhadi, a large unbraced bow using a calabash resonator and played by percussion. It is almost certain that the ancestors of the Nguni brought this bow with them down from the far north . The Zulus and the Swati calli ugubhu. The Sotho in Lesotho, who call it thomo, may have got it from the Xhosa. It is this bow which has given the Xhosa their musical scale and harmony (3). Interestingly, the Zulu play the bow differently from the Xhosa, thereby driving a differrent scale (4).

The Xhosas, unlike the Zulus, use the same scale and harmony system with all their musical bows. These include umrhubhe, a friction mouth bow (called umhubhe in Zulu), umqangi, a mouth bow played by tapping (the same bow is called umqangala in Zulu), a mouth bow played by plucking, called inkinge (identical to the Kavango rugoma) , and a bow-type instrument called ikatari, which is made by inserting a bow into a five litre oil tin as resonator and is played by bowing the string with a small bow of fibre or animalhair (this instrument was undoubtedly derived from the Sotho of Lesotho, who call it ekatara). A lot more could be said about these instruments, the other names by which some Xhosa people call them, and the various peoples who use them, but this paper is not the place for that (5).

What is unique to the Xhosa, and possibly the Thembu Xhosa in particular, is the types of overtone singing called umngqokolo. I gave a paper on umngqokolo overtone singing at the ICTM conference in Berlin in 1993, describing how I had the great good fortune to discover it in the Lumko district in 1980 (6). Since 1993, I have found further examples of umngqokolo, but always performed by Thembu singers. Whether any other Xhosa group practise overtone singing is not clear.

Thembu music features two further style characteristics of great sophistication. One is the use of extremely complex rhythm, the other is the use of a great number of polyphonic parts in certain songs. It is my conviction that the use of overtone singing, and the advanced uses of rhythm and polyphony all came to the Thembu through their contact with the Bushmen. The fact of the fairly prolonged contact between western Thembu and Bushmen, and the terminology for instruments and techniques, indicate this. Click consonants, and the use of the guttural consonant rh, indicate Busman or Khoi origins in the terms umngqokolo, umrhuble, umqangi and various other terms. Again, space in this paper does not permit of a detailed argument. But please see the book Dargie 1988.

Preservation and Development

In 1979, I started work running a church music department for the Catholic Lumko Institute, at that time based in the Western Thembu area (7). To try to get into African music, I began to research the music in the area around Lumko. My Lumko colleagues warned me not to expect to find much. Lumko mission, at which the institute was situated, had been there over fifty years, and they suspected that missionary activities had effectively killed off traditional music in the surrounding area. Most fortunately, this was not the case. The area was a centre of remarkable preservation of traditional Thembu music, with instruments and techniques in wonderful use, and a host of fine songs of various types being sung lustily by old and young. I obtained many remarkable recordings and came to know a number of master musicians. In Ngqoko village, 2 kilometres from the institute, there was Mrs Nofinishi Dywili, song leader and master performer on the uhadi – the large musical bow using a calabash resonator. Her daughter Nongangekho played the umrhubhe mouth bow, using overtones of the bow to follow the melodies of the song leader and simultaneously whistling the melodies of answering singers. There was Mrs Nowayileth Mbizweni, master of umngqoko overtone singing, not only the “ordinary” umngqokolo practised at that time by many women and girls, but also of the marvellous and rare technique which she called umngqokolo ngomqangi, which imitate the umrhubhe /umqangi musical bow and produced loud and clear overtone melodies. There was Mrs Nokontoni (who later was called Nokoleji) Manisi, chief diviner and leader of divination ritual, assisted by song leader Mrs Nosomething Ntese. The was Mrs Nolineti Ntese, an excellent dancer . Mr Mpharholo Manisi recorded songs for me with uhadi. Young Mlamli Dlangamandla was a master performer on the ikatari, a type of friction bow with bow stick inserted into a five litre oil tin as resonator, at that time played mostly by herd-boys. There were many other musicians in Ngqoko, and a few kilometres down the valley in the area called Sikhwankqeni there were more. In 1981, across the mountain about ten kilometres to the west at Mackay’s Nek, I was able to record historic performances with uhadi bow of the song of Ntsikana (the first Xhosa Cristian, d.1821), and in 1983, I recorded further performances of this song with uhadi in Ngqoko as well. The whole area was a treasury of traditional music.

The Ngqoko Xhosa Traditional Music Group

Several times, the first in 1981, musicians from Ngqoko and Sikhwankqeni performed at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, where I was registered for my Ph.D. After various performances in South Africa, nine musicians from Ngqoko were invited to Paris, France, in 1989 to perform at the annual Autumn Festival. These musicians of Ngqoko, with some others, formed themselves into what they now call the Ngqoko Cultural Group, which I prefer to call more specifically the Ngqoko Xhosa Traditional Music Ensemble. The number in the group varies usually from about 10 to 12. For many years the group has had the services of local schoolteacher Mr Tsolwana Mpayipeli, who has ofter acted as research assistant for me, as their organiser and manager. He has done an excellent job. At times the only one in the group who could speak English, he is himself a fine performer of traditional songs and dances. He has seen the group safely on at least eight overseas performance tours, to various countries in Europe and once also to Reunion island, as well as to numerous performances all over South Africa .

While the group has been winning acclaim for their music, the music itself is being gradually eroded in the area around Ngqoko. Xhosa songs are of their essence tied to the rites and ceremonies for which they are used. As rites and ceremonies fall into disuse, so the songs can disappear. As radios and ghetto-blasters proliferate, so the traditional instruments are pushed out . An important factor has been the sheer cost of certain rites and ceremonies. For example, traditional wedding (uduli), with feasts lasting for days, now takes place very rarely. The form of marriage used most frequently now is umtshato, which has some traditional elements, but is based on church marriage practices, and is usually over in one day . In the past, boys initiation lasted weeks, with the boys being taught traditional men’s behaviour, and with a variety of rituals. It is now simply too costly to keep the initiands in the bush for such a long time, so certain rituals are no longer practised. The umtshilo dances from boys initiation are a thing of the past in Ngqoko. Some years ago, when I asked Tsolwana Mpayipeli, about a favourite song of mine, a boys’ stickfighting song from Ngqoko and Sikhwankqeni, he told me sadly that nobody is singing it any more. Whether the crackdown by the police on stickfighting has anything to do with this, I don’t know .

The Ngqoko Group and Preservation .

Songs and musical practices will be kept alive if there is a reason for them. If a rite falls into disuse, so do its songs. When the main home entertainment is the radio, bow playing is neglected. The process can be reversed if a new reason for the music can be created. Fortunately, in the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape, opportunities have been opening for people to earn money by performing traditional music. That was exactly the case with the Ngqoko Group. Since the late 1980s they have been earning money by their performances, in South Africa and abroad, and in them the music has been kept alive. One of the first significant adaptations they made was to arrange their music for performance into a concert format . The various sections of the concert were based either on collections of songs for certain dance rituals (boys’ and girls’ dances, young men’s dances, diviners’ dances, beer dances) or songs performed with instruments and also with overtone singing .

In March 1996, I videoed the Group performing a typical concert in Ngqoko (8). The program was as follows: Songs for the women’s umngqungqo dances at girls’ initiation, songs for the young men’s dance party (intlombe yabafana), songs with umrhubhe mouth bows, songs with the uhadi calabash bow, diviner’s dance songs, songs for the boys’ and girls’ umtshotsho dances, songs with overtone sing (“ordinary” umngqokolo and umngqokolo ngomqangi.), beer dance songs, and songs with the ikatari bow type instrument. Nofinishi Dywili, doyenne of the group, was the uhadi master, Nowayilethi Mbizweni the overtone singing master. Several other women in the group could also perform the “ordinary” umngqokolo. In the beginnings of the group, the umrhubhe player was Nofinishi’s daughter Nongangekho (who later changed her name to Nothembisile Ndlokose). But by 1996 the group had discovered a more expert umrhubhe player and master of the whistling technique, Nogcinile Yekani, and with her also Nokhaya Mvotyo, who was learning from her . For the concert in 1996, two young men, relatives of group members, were persuaded to join in; one of them could play the ikatari .

The performers were as follows (all women except where indicated) : Nofinishi Dywili played the uhadi and led certain umngqungqo and beer songs;Nowayilethi Mbizweni led both types of overtone singing and played the igubu percussion drum, Nokoleji Manisi, the chief diviner of Ngqoko, led the diviner’s rituals ; Nogcinile Yekani and Nokhaya Mvotyo played umrhubhe; Nosomething (Nosamutingi) Ntese led certain songs, performed “ordinary” umngqokolo and was learning (and performed) umngqokolo ngomqangi, and Mr Sandisile Ntese played ikatari. Others performing were Nofenitshala Mvotyo (apprentice diviner, and playing umasengwane friction drum), Amelia Nosilence Matiso (retired teacher and assistant organiser of the group), Nothembisile Ndlokose (daughter of Nofinishi), Nolineti Ntese (dance specialist, body bells, and ignubu drums), Mr Sakumzi Mbizwezni and Mr Tsolwana Mpayipeli (group organiser, also dancing with body bells). There were thirteen performers in all .

From the early on I had encouraged the group members to teach and learn the specialist techniques. I had especially urges Nowayilethi to teach others the umngqokolo ngomqangi, and by March 1996 she had had some success with Nosomething. Nosomething had als made a start with uhadi, and recorded two songs near the end of the concert. Nogcinile had been helping Nokhaya improve her umrhubhe playing .

The next time I took the video camera to Ngqoko was in 1998, when I made two visits. On both occasions I videoed indoors at the homestead of Nofinishi Dywili. By 1998 the group had discovered an expert ikatari player in Ngqoko – Mr Sponono Klaas. Sponono was also able to perform another type of overtone singing called ukutshotsha (so called because in the past it was performed by boys at umtshotsho dances). Ukutshotsha is not as developed as umngqokolo ngomqangi. It rresembles more the “oridnary” umnqgokolo, but is somewhat different . Sponono performed for both the performances at Nofinishi’s .

The first performance at Nofinishi’s was on 27 january 1998 (9). Sadly, some of the 1996 performers had died: Nokoleji Manisi, chief diviner, Mrs Matiso, the former schoolmaster, and Nofinishi’s daughter, Nothembisile Ndolkose. Some of the group were away. Those who took part were Nofinishi Dywili, Nowayilethi Mbizweni, Nogcinile Yekani, Sponono Klass, Nosomething Ntese, Nofenitshala Mvotyo, Nolineti Ntese and Nokhya Mvotyo. Both Nowayilethi and Nogcinile had made significant progress in teaching their specialities to other group members, and this success had been further built on when I came on 5th November 1998 to record the then full group.

On 5th November 1998 it was a foul day at Ngqoko, with the wind howlong around the village and clouds of dust flying around enveloping the houses . But by then electricity had been laid on to Ngqoko, as with many rural villages as part of the new government’s program of reconstruction after South Africa’s first democratic election in 1998. So once again I videoed indoors, in one of Nofinishi’s round houses which now had a power point . With the video light now woriking on full power, I was able to get marvellous close-up material of the performers (10). The performers were eleven : Nofinishi Dywili (uhadi), Nowayilethi Mbizweni (ovetone singing specialist), Nogcinile Yekani (umrhubhe whistling technique specialist), Nolineti Ntese, Nofirst (Nofirsti) Lungisa ( a long-time member of the group who had been away in 1996 and in January 1998), Nopasile Mvotyo (a new recruit to the group), Nokhaya Mvotyo, Nofetishala Mvotyo (who after the loss of Nokoleji would lead the diviners’ rituals), Nosomething Ntese, Sponono Klass( ikatari and ukutshotsha), and Tsolwana Mpayipeli, the group organiser.

Among the many exciting aspects of this performance were that six of the women had learned umngqokolo ngomqangi from Nowailethi: Nosomething Ntese, Nofenitshala Mvotyo, Nokhaya Mvotyo, Nofirst Lungisa and Nolineti Ntese.. Each in turn demonstrated her skill for the camera. In addition, two of the women had learned the umrhubhe whistling technique from Nogcinile Yekani: Nokay Mvotyo and Nolineti Ntese. Nofenitshala Mvotyo was also learning from Nogcinile . She had learned to play using the bow overtones, but still had to learn to add the simultaneous whistling. These three too demonstrated their new skill. For one song, the remarkable Umzi kaMzwandile, which has forty or more different text lines, each with its own melody, and which can all be sung at the same time, Nokhaya and Nogcinile played two umrhubhe bows (plural = imirhubhe) in duet, while the others sang in continuous overlapping polyphony. This song has a remarkable cross-rhythm, an equalised 10-beat melody against an 8-beat clap/dance rhythm (see the example below. Nokhaya played the 10-beat pattern, and Nogcinile the 8-beat. Both bows can be seen on the video, with the players’ hands moving to the different rhythms.

Also on the video Sponono plays his ikatari and demonstrates his ukutshotsha overtone singing. This whole performance was also organised like a concert, but, being indoors, the dancing was very restrained. I stood in the middle of the performers with the camera on my shoulder, and got as close as I could in order to show the singing and bow techniques, and the use of typical Xhoa cross-rhythms.

Losses as well as achievements and new developments

The worst losses suffered by the Ngqoko Group have been through the deaths of key members. Soon after the 1998 recordings, Sponono Klaas died suddenly. The next to go was Nofinishi Dywili in 2002. I had recorded a CD with her and the group at Fort Hare University in February 2002 (11), and not long afterwards I went with the group to a performance at a school at the coastal village of Cintsa east of East London. That was the last time I saw Nofinishi. When the group was in Cape Town to give performances a few months later, she had to be admitted to hospital and died there.

Again in March 2005, I recorded the group at Fort Hare (12), Nowayilethi Mbizweni led one song (Holilo) with umngqokolo ngomqangi, but a second song with umngqokolo ngomqangi (Ixhegwazana) had to be sung by her pupils without her as her strength gave out. That was the last time I could record Nowayilethi, as she died later in the year.

The group continues to try to recruit suitable new members. Nomthandazo Ntese, a (relatively) young schoolteacher has joined them, left, and then rejoined. Before the 2005 recordings they had discovered and recruited Mr Maxanjana Mangaliso, a village headman who long ago could play the concertina in Xhosa style. (To do this, the player must change around the reeds in the instrument to follow the traditional chord patterns). Mr Mangaliso recorded with them in March 2005, and also recorded a full CD of his own solo songs with concertina (13).

For the recordings in 2005 the Ngqoko Group had been working on something new: the performance of a variety of Xhosa instruments together, something not done in traditional music. On the CD (12) they used various combinations: imirhubhe duets, isitolotolo (Jew’s harp, as used in Europe and sold by European traders) with two imirhubhe, concertina and mouth organ (also sold by European traders) , and a full “orchestra” : 3 uhadi bows (Nolinet, Nokhaya and Nosomething), umrhubhe (Nopasile), ikatari (Nofirst), igubhu bass drum (Nowayilethi or Tsolwana, when Nowayilethi’s strength gave out), umasengwane friction drum (Nogcinile) , and ikonsatina (concertina) (Mr Mangaliso). Nofirst Lungisa began working with ikatari after the loss of Sponono Klaas.Nosomething had already begun with uhadi by 1996, and by 2005 Nolineti and Nokhaya had also taken it up. When the “orchestra” performms, then unavoidably the sound tens to be dominated by the pungent tones of the concertina.

What has been, to me anyway, much more exciting has been the use of concerted umngqokolo singing. In more or less mid-1998 the huge conference of ISME (the International Society of Music Educators) took place in Pretoria, South Africa. I had the good fortune to persuade the organisers to get the Ngqoko Group to participate in the opening concert, before some 800 delegates from all over the world. The overtone singing almost stunned the conference participants. I had to spend most of my time at the conference answering questions about the group, their music and their umngqokolo. At first they used mass singing of “ordinary” umngqokolo, but since 2002 they have been using the ngomqangi variety in the same way. Recordings of such performance are on CDs and DVDs in my series.

Successes and Struggles

The Ngqoko musicians have been working hard at keeping the music going. In some areas they have had significant success. But in some areas they have been less successful.

The successes focus very much on the overtone singing and the umrhubhe bow, as well as on keeping many of the old songs alive . The less successful areas are primarily with the the uhadi calabash bow. In particular, as yet no-one else has got into the wonderful bow rhythms of Nofinishi Dywili. When I first recorded Nofinishi in 1980, there were a number of uhadi players in the area around Lumko and Ngqoko/Sikhwankqeni who could play the amazing, sophisticated and often disguised rhythms which she used. Almost overnight, so it feels, those old bow players have disappeared. I most fervently hope that with the help of my recordings and transcriptions of Nofinishi and others, it will still be possible for new uhadi players to achieve the same level of skill. Here is one example of such a rhythm.

Example : From the Song Umagungqel’indawo

Unfortunately, Nofinishi did not try to develop ways of teaching the difficult aspects of her skill. Traditionally, people learned by observation and imitation, and that is sometimes very difficult and needs much time. I have been trying to encourage the new Ngqoko bow players to learn from the recordings. Let’s hope that succeed. The rhythms are hellish (or should I say heavenly) difficult. I can play them, but to keep a complex rhythm going against the cross-rhythms of the singing and dance/clapping demands fierce concentration. One of the most complex is Nofinishi’s uhadi bow rhythm for the song Umzi kaMzwandile. The main melody of the song originally had a 12-beat pattern, which is equalised to a 10-beat pattern , as shown. Across this the body rhythm is an exact 8 beats, with body rhythm cycle not beginning with the voice rhythm cycle. Because the voice rhythm is equalised, the first body rhythm falls between two voice beats. Nofinishi’s accompaniment rhythm adds to the fun by being even more complex, with internal cross-rhythms in the bow part .

Example : From the song Umzi kaMzwandile

Unfortunately the Ngqoko Group have also been unable to find a successor to Sponono Klaas, i.e., to play ikatari, and to sing ukutshotsha overtone singing. Nofirst Lungisa has taken up playing the ikatari – possible the first female to do so . She is doing well and bravely, but how I wish they could fine one of those boys from 1979 who could play all the marvellously funny naughty boys’ songs on the ikatari. They must be still around somewhere, probably far away trying to earn a living. I know at least one is now in a big city in another province, but he won’t easily be persuaded to return to Ngqoko. We’ll have to keep trying .

Development at Fort Hare

Ms Thandile Mandela, granddaughter of ex-president (and Thembu Xhosa) Nelson Mandela, working on her master degree in African music performance at the University of Cape Town in 2005/6, was also working on ideas to develop an African orchestra. We have been most fortunate to get her onto the staff of the University of Fort Hare music department as one of our lecturers (starting in 2006), and at Fort Hare she has continued with her orchestra project work. She has built up a performing group of our music students, using musical bows, kudu horns and marimbas, with marvellous singing. Already Ms Mandela’s Fort Hare “orchestra” has been drawing most enthusiastic support at all levels, including in the culture departments of both local and national government, to the great benefit of the music department (as can be imagined). I have been working to persuade Fort Hare students also to get into umngqokolo, with the first signs of success.

What is also showing great promise is that on occasions the Ngqoko Group have come to Fort Hare to practise with Ms Mandela’s students. Unfortunately one combined concert scheduled for Cape Town in 2006 was disrupted because the Ngqoko musicians were involved in a road accident. Fortunately no-one was badly hurt, but the vehicle was destroyed.

Thembu Xhosa music in Hogsback

Hogsback is a tourist village in the Amatola mountain range, aboutg 35 kilometres from Fort Hare University. When I went to Fort Hare in 1995, I rented a cottage in Hogsback, and there my wife and I lived until 2000, when she had to return to her home in Munich, Germany. I was then able to rent a small flat at Fort Hare itself, where I stay when I am working there. (Since the end of 2001 I work part-time only at Fort Hare).

When I first went to live in Hogsback, I went around looking for traditional musicians. Traditional music there had been much more subject to erosion than in the deep rural and traditional area around Ngqoko, which is some 160 kilometres to the north-east of Hogsback, but there were nevertheless a number of Xhosa people living around the village, and many more in the Tyhume River Valley between Hosback and the town of Alice, where Fort Hare is situated. I found at first that even many young Xhosa people did not know what was my uhadi bow, but by 1996 I began to find people who knew the old music. These were themselves mostly elderly people, and they were Thembu Xhosas. In due time I came into contact with two women who could play uhadi, and one elderly man who had been able to at one time, but could no longer because of arthritis in his hands. To my great satisfaction I was able to record two Xhosa instruments not used in Ngqoko. These were umqangi (which is the same as umrhubhe, but played by tapping and not by friction) and the plucked mouth-bow inkinge. Umqangi (and also umrhubhe) was played by Mrs Evelina Mokwena, a friend of the most active uhadi player, Mrs Monica Jane Tukani, and inkinge was played by Mr Tontsi Pintshana, the same man who had once been able to play uhadi .

Mrs Tukani was a most talented musician. She not only played uhadi, but she was able to perform a type of umngqkolo. Her umngqokolo was simpler than the two forms of umngqokolo used in Ngqoko. She uses two fundamental tones, like the musical bows, but did not achieve much concentration on overtone melody, using overtone singing as a kind of drone accompaniment to songs.

These three Hogsback musicians are still alive, although now gettin on in years. Mr Pintshana is over 90. I persuaded the Hogsback musicians to form a music group to entertain tourists, which they did for some years (c.1996 to 2000). There were about 10 in the group usually (they called their group “iHogsback Club”, and on occasions they earned some good fees. Unfortunately the very capable woman who was the group organiser died unexpectedly, and with many of the others becoming very old, that largely put paid to their performances.

One wonderful surprise for me was at one traditional feast (umgidi) in Hogsback I was able to video a man performing umngqokolo of the umqangi type. He was Mr Ngodongodo Manono Mjikelo. It was the occasion when I first heard Monica Jane Tukani playing uhadi. I had taken my uhadi to the feast, and she (who no longer had one of her own) took it and began to play it. While she was playing Mr Mjikelo came forward and began to ngqokola with her , and I was able to video them both. At Ngqoko I was told that men do not – ngqokola (in the sense of overtone singing men’s and boys’ umngqokolo is only a kind of rough singing). But when I spoke to him Mr Mjikelo clearly says on the video “Ndiyangqokola ! “ – “I am ngqokola-ing”. Unfortunately at such feasts the alcohol consumption is very high. When the brandy bottles were laid out in a row as the heavy drinking got under way, and at which time things were becoming too confused for further recording. I packed up the camera. Later, when I tried to track down Mr Mjikelo, who lived down in the Tyhume valley, I was told that he had suddenly died. What a loss, humanly and musically. (Incidentally, the two students at Fort Hare who have made a start with umngqokolo are both young men).

Fortunately I was able to make a number of audio-recordings, and also three DVDs, in Hogsback, at almost the last moment before elements of the old music began to disappear (14).


The problems destructive to traditional music are relatively well-known. Some come from human attitudes : traditional music is uncivilised or heathen, said the missionaries, and too many African people still believe this . Traditional music is tied to the rites and ceremonies of traditional life and traditional religion, and traditional culture is being eroded all the time. Traditional music can be blown away by the amplifiers and ghetto blasters of pop music. There’s no need to labour these points.

One can try to convince people of the value and sophistication of their traditional music, but what works better is to find a way that people can earn something by their music. Let us hope that what people like the Ngqoko Group have achieved, and what is being done at business. There is too much poverty altogether in the Eastern Cape and other rural areas of South Africa. Fortunately traditional musicians have begun performing for tourists in various places: hotels, game reserves and so on .

Some of the unsual problems facing traditiona musicians can be illustrated by the following story about Nowayilethi Mbizweni. By 1998 Nowayilethi had started to complain about her teeth. I had discussed possibilities with her several times. She could go to the hospital near Ngqoko to get the bad teeth removed, we could try to find money for false teeth for her if possible. Things came to a head when the Ngqoko Group came to Pretoria to perform at the ISME 1998 conference. They gave other performances besides at the opening concert of the conference. Before one of these performances, they were sitting outside in the sunshine, Nofinishi sitting on the ground smoking her pipe, Nowayilethi sitting on a low wall, speaking to Tsolwana. I must mention that , when I first met Nowayilethi in 1983, she was a diviner’s apprentice. She wore leg rattles of reeds woven around her ankles, and the plan was that one day she would become a diviner. However, she did not go throught with this.

Well, Tsolwana came to me and told me, Nowayilethi’s trouble with the teeth was getting too much for her. I said, maybe it was time to have them removed. He went back and spoke to her, then returned to me. If she had them out, she had told him, maybe she would no longer be able to sing the overtones. OK, I said, then we would have to find funds to enable her to get false teeth. He went back to her, and further discussion took place . Again he came to me. The problem facing her was “ Very well, suppose she had the teeth removed, that would end the pain. She would then get new false teeth, so she could eat properly and still sing the overtones. But: she had been supposed to become a diviner, and she had given that up. Maybe the problem with her teeth was the ancestors’ way of punishing her for deciding not to become a diviner. If she had the teeth out and got false teeth, maybe they would find a much worse punishment for her . I had to think quickly. Tell her, I said, that the ancestors would not do that to her. She had done great things for her people and for the ancestors by singing umngqokolo ngomqangi, and by teaching some of the others also to sing it. They would certainly have forgiven her giving up the original plan, because she had now served them in a new and special way. She thought things over, and then said she would let me know if she came to a decision.

Fortunately, she did indeed come to the decision to have the teeth out. I was able to get a quote for false teeth for her at a reasonable price from a dentist in Queenstown, about 60km from Ngqoko, and then I also had the good fortune to obtain donations from contacts in Germany for helping students and others in need. So Nowayilethi hot her new teeth, and continued to sing and teach umngqokolo ngomqangi until her death in mid-2005.

The Ngqoko Group, the students at Fort Hare, and many, many other traditional and neo-traditional musicians will continue to need support in many, many ways. Let us hope and trust that local and national governments, universities, bodies like ICTM and all others who are convinced about the value and beauty of traditional music will be able to help to do something about it .

Dave Dargie 21 June 2007


(1) These peoples are often called the “KhoiSan” with “San” indicating the Bushman peoples, but the term “San” has been found to have pejorative connotations.

(2) Cf Dargie, 1988, chapter 1.

(3) For discussion on the Xhosa bows see Dargie 1988, and the CDs , DVDs and booklets of the Dargie Series.

(4) Cf Dargie 2007, also Rycroft 1975/6

(5) Cf Kirby 1968, and also the materials in the Dargie Series

(6) See the conference paper Dargie 1993 below, and also : Umngqokolo, CD with accompanying booklet (the Berlin conference paper), in the Dargie Series.

(7) From 1979 to 1989 I worked as church musicologist for the Catholic Lumko pastoral institute. Until 1985 the institute was based opposite the village of Ngqoko 12 kilometres south of the town of Lady Frere, itself 48km east of the town of Queenstown in the Easter Cape province of South Africa .

(8) Cf the DVD (with accompanying booklet) Concert at Ngqoko (Dargie Series)

(9) This performance is on the DVD Xhosa Music, Part 2 (Dargie Series)

(10) Cf the DVD Performance at the Home of Nofinishi Dywili, 5 Nov 1998 (Dargie Series)

(11) The CD Ezona Ngoma zeNgqoko (Dargie Series)

(12) The CD New Sounds from Ngqoko 2005 (Dargie Series)

(13) The CD Zadeki (Dargie Series)

(14) The three DVDs are Two Imigidi at Hogsback (with Mr Mjikelo’s umngqokolo), Isiphuthumo at Hogsback, and Xhosa Music in Hogsback 1996-1998. Some audio recordings from Hogsback are on the CD Emva ekhaya (CD and DVDs are in the Dargie Series)

References : and some reading, audio and video Material

P.R. Kirby : The Musical Instruments of the Native Races of South Africa, Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg, 1968.

  1. Rycroft : “The Zulu bow songs of Princess Magogo”, African Music (ILAM, vol.5, no.4, 1975/6, pp. 41-97.
  2. Dargie: Techniques of Xhosa Music – A Study based on the Music of the Lumko District: Ph.D. thesis, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, 1987, on which the following is based :
  3. Dargie : Xhosa Music, publ. David Philip, Cape Town, 1988.
  4. Dargie : “Umngqokolo : Xhosa overtone singing”, in African Music (ILAM International Libray of African Music), Grahamstown, South Africa, vol.7, no.1, 1991.
  5. Dargie : “Umakhweyane : a musical bow and its contribution to Zulu music”, due out in the next issue of African Music (ILAM) , 2007.

The paper “Thembu Xhosa umngqokolo overtone singing : the use of the human voice as a type of “musical bow” (by D.Dargie) was presented at the ICTM conference in Berlin, June 1993. This paper, with accompanying CD, is now part of the Dargie Series (see below), both CD and booklet being entitled “Umnqokolo”

The “Dargie Series” is a collection (to date) of 40 CDs, 19 booklets and 8 DVDs, with recordings drawn from the research recordings of D.Dargie, 1979 to present, with booklets and texts by D.Dargie. In this series the music of the Lumko district (including the Ngqoko group) is documented in 11 CDs, and 5 DVDs. The music of the Thembu musicians in Hogsback is also on certain CDs, and on three DVDs. A list of the whole series may be obtained from the author, and all the materials in the series may be obtained from him. In 2008 the International Library of African Music (ILAM) in Grahamstown, South Africa, intends to take over publication of the series, and also to begin digitalisation of all the Dargie field recordings, including those not yet included in the series itself .

Prof.Dr. Dave Dargie, University of Fort Hare, Alice 5700, South Africa.

Residential address: Ostpreussenstr.81, D-81927 München, Germany

Tel/fax: ** 49-89-49-16-92 (in Germany : 089-49-16-92)

DAVE DARGIE : Umngqokolo: Xhosa Overtone Singing and the Song Nondel’ekhaya

This site uses cookies to provide you with a better experience. For information on our cookie policy, please visit this page. By continuing to use the site or closing this banner, you are agreeing to our terms of use.
Have library access? Login Through Your Library

If You Use a Screen Reader

This content is available through Read Online (Free) program, which relies on page scans. Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We’ll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.

Journal Article

Umngqokolo: Xhosa Overtone Singing and the Song Nondel’ekhaya

David Dargie
African Music
Vol. 7, No. 1 (1991), pp. 33-47
Page Count: 15
Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We’ll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.

Viewing page 33 of pages 33-47

Seiji ADACHI & Masashi YAMADA : An acoustical study of sound production in biphonic singing, Xöömij

A theory that the high melody pitch of biphonic singing, Xöömij, is produced by the pipe resonance of the rear cavity in the vocal tract is proposed. The front cavity resonance is not critical to the production of the melody pitch. This theory is derived from acoustic investigations on several three-dimensional shapes of a Xöömij singer’s vocal tract measured by magnetic resonance imaging. Four different shapes of the vocal tract are examined, with which the melody pitches of F6, G6, A6, and C7 are sung, along with the F3 drone of a specific pressed voice. The second formant frequency calculated from each tract shape is close to the melody pitch within an error of 36 cents. Sounds are synthesized by convolving a glottal source waveform provided by the Rosenberg model with transfer functions calculated from the vocal tract shapes. Two pitches are found to be successfully perceived when the synthesized sounds are listened to. In a frequency range below 2 kHz, their spectra have a strong resemblance to those of the sounds actually sung. The synthesized sounds, however, fail to replicate the harmonic clustering at 4–5 kHz observed in the actual sounds. This is speculated to originate from the glottal source specific to the “pressed” timbre of the drone.
  1. 1. B. Chernov and V. Maslov, “Larynx—Double-sound generator,” Proc. 11th Int. Conf. of Phonetic Science, Tallinn, Estonia, pp. 40–43 (1987). Google Scholar
  2. 2. Q. H. Trân and D. Guillou, “Original research and acoustical analysis in connection with the Xöömij style of biphonic singing,” in Musical Voices of Asia (Heibonsha, Tokyo, 1980), pp. 162–173. Google Scholar
  3. 3. T. Muraoka, K. Wagatsuma, and M. Horiuchi, “Acoustic analysis of the Mongolian singing Xöömij,” Proc. Fall Meet. Acoust. Soc. Jpn., pp. 385–386 (1983) (in Japanese). Google Scholar
  4. 4. S. Adachi, S. Kinoshita, H. Tamagawa, and M. Yamada, “MRI measurement of the vocal-tract shape while singing Xöömij and the synthesis based on the acoustic tube model,” Tech. Rep. Musical Acoustics MA96-10, 9–16 (1996) (in Japanese). Google Scholar
  5. 5. S. Adachi, S. Kinoshita, T. Komoike, H. Tamagawa, and M. Yamada, “Study on sound production in Xöömij—Part 1: MRI measurement of the vocal-tract shape and the synthesis based on the acoustic tube model,” Proc. Spring Meet. Acoust. Soc. Jpn., pp. 645–646 (1996) (in Japanese). Google Scholar
  6. 6. T. Komoike, S. Kinoshita, M. Yamada, S. Adachi, and I. Nakayama, “Study on sound production in Xöömij—Part 2: Perceptual experiment with synthesized sound,” Proc. Spring Meet. Acoust. Soc. Jpn., pp. 647–648 (1996) (in Japanese). Google Scholar
  7. 7. S. Adachi and M. Yamada, “An acoustical study of sound production in biphonic singing, Xöömij,” Proc. 1997 Japan-China Joint Meeting on Musical Acoustics, pp. 21–26 (1997). Google Scholar
  8. 8. B. H. Story, I. R. Titze, and E. A. Hoffman, “Vocal tract area functions from magnetic resonance imaging,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 100, 537–554 (1996). Google ScholarScitation, CAS
  9. 9. J. Dang, K. Honda, and H. Suzuki, “Morphological and acoustical analysis of the nasal and the paranasal cavities,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 96, 2088–2100 (1994). , Google ScholarScitation, CAS
  10. 10. R. Caussé, J. Kergomard, and X. Lurton, “Input impedance of brass musical instruments—Comparison between experiments and numerical models,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 75, 241–254 (1984). , Google ScholarScitation
  11. 11. M. M. Sondhiand J. Schroeter, “A hybrid time-frequency domain articulatory speech synthesizer,” IEEE Trans. Acoust., Speech, Signal Process. ASSP-35, 955–967 (1987). , Google ScholarCrossref
  12. 12. A. E. Rosenberg, “Effect of glottal pulse shape on the quality of natural vowels,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 49, 583–590 (1971). , Google ScholarScitation
  13. 13. The synthesized tones can be heard on the World Wide Web at http://www.hip.atr.co.jp/∼adachi/Xoomij/Sound/. , Google Scholar
  14. 14. J. Dangand K. Honda, “Acoustic characteristics of the piriform fossa in models and humans,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 101, 456–465 (1997). Google ScholarScitation, CAS
  15. 15. D. G. Childersand C. K. Lee, “Vocal quality factors: Analysis, synthesis, and perception,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 90, 2394–2410 (1991). , Google ScholarScitation, CAS
  16. 16. K. Ishizakaand J. L. Flanagan, “Synthesis of voiced sounds from a two-mass model of the vocal cords,” Bell Syst. Tech. J. 51, 1233–1268 (1972). , Google ScholarCrossref
  17. 17. M. Yamada, “Stream segregation in Mongolian traditional singing, Xöömij,” Proc. Int. Sym. Musical Acoustics, Dourdan, pp. 540–545 (1995). , Google Scholar
  18. 18. J. L. Flanagan, Speech Analysis, Synthesis and Perception, 2nd ed. (Springer-Verlag, New York, 1972), Chap. 3, pp. 36–38. Google Scholar
  19. © 1999 Acoustical Society of America.

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 105, 2920 (1999); https://doi.org/10.1121/1.426905


Werner A. Deutsch & Franz Födermayr: Visualization of Multi – Part Music

Frequency analysis of musical sounds came up to practical applications with the development of the Sound Spectrograph (Koenig, Dunn and Lacey, 1946). From the beginning much care has been taken to choice the frequency resolution and the time window properly in order to highlite important acoustical features as well as perceptual ones. It has been demonstrated by several studies (i.e. Potter, Kopp and Green, 1947) that the aural presentation of speech (and music) and its simultaneous graphic representation produces significantly deeper insight into the generation of acoustical signals and the ongoing perception as listening alone can provide.

Visualization of Multi – Part Music
(Acoustics and Perception)

Werner A. Deutsch (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Acoustics Research Laboratory) and
Franz Födermayr (Institute of Musicology, University of Vienna)


Frequency analysis of musical sounds came up to practical applications with the development of the Sound Spectrograph (Koenig, Dunn and Lacey, 1946). From the beginning much care has been taken to choice the frequency resolution and the time window properly in order to highlite important acoustical features as well as perceptual ones. It has been demonstrated by several studies (i.e. Potter, Kopp and Green, 1947) that the aural presentation of speech (and music) and its simultaneous graphic representation produces significantly deeper insight into the generation of acoustical signals and the ongoing perception as listening alone can provide.

Graf (1963) recognized the enormous potential of spectrographic analysis for applications in ethnomusicology. His theoretical concept assumes the acoustical signal to be the primary stimulus which is processed by the human psychophysiological system very much in the same way, even in different ethnic populations. What makes the various differences in interpretation, reception and perception under very similar acoustical stimulus representations prominent, is due to the influence of the so called social-cultural context in which music plays an important role.

Production Models

The pertinent acoustic analysis of musical signals with acoustic laboratory methods (which today can be performed by using a specially equipped laptop computer.) produces basically a complete set of acoustical parameters which can be displayed as graphical images of the spectral content, i.e. the physics of the musical signal in real time or of those performances which have been recorded in advance. The analysis data can be used as input to comprehensive production models of voice( see: Fant, G. (1970) Acoustic theory of speech production. Mouton, The Hague; 2nd edition), musical instruments and musical ensembles. Sound source characteristics, tuning, musical scales, timbre, agogics, free field and room acoustics etc. can be observed on the analysis parameters extracted directly from the musical signal. Musical scales, vibrato, pulsato, beats are measured and detected on the basis of the fundamental frequency analysis data and their related spectral components, timbre is very much determined by the spectral envelope of the signals, duration and rhythms are mainly derived from the energy contour etc.

Perception Models

Whereas production models of the singing voice and musical instruments describe the acoustics of musical sound sources only, perception models deal with the signal processing of the listeners auditory periphery, its associated central pathways and cortical functions. It has to be admitted that psychoacoustics first started from an acoustical engineering approach in order to collect all technical basic data of the human auditory system, as selectivity measured in terms of absolute thresholds, difference limens in frequency, sound pressure level, signal duration and many other psychophysical functions. Most of the early psychoacoustical research was launched by telephone technical laboratories ( Fletcher, H. 1929, 1953), by the need to avoid noise and distortions on the telephone lines or for compensation of the hearing loss of listeners. Engineers, physiologists and neurologists have described the mechanics of the outer and middle ear, the hydromechanics of the inner ear ( Bekesy, G.v. 1960), the hair cell system and the resulting neural response up to the brainstem ganglions as well as acoustical evoked responses on the cortex. For technical and methodological limitations this early research has been done in most cases applying musically less relevant sinusoids, which could be controlled in experimental procedures with sufficient accuracy. This has been critisized frequently by musicologists for dealing rather with musicological non relevant aspects of sound and arbitrary functions of the auditory system instead of referring to the cognitive concepts of music.

Nevertheless, as the work in psychoacoustics progressed, the basic data obtained from the human auditory system contributed to a comprehensive theory of hearing, which today is capable to include highly relevant aspects of auditory localization, speech and music perception. Today psychoacoustical models explain complex perceptual functions, as musical pitch of complex tones, melody contours, consonance-dissonance, simultaneous masking, forward and backward masking, figure-background discrimination as well as Gestalt of musical rhythms etc.

Visualization of polyphony

FFTs and Spectrograms

Applying the psychoacoustic knowledge to spectrographic analysis of polyphony, the visualization of musical signals represents both, the graphical output of psychoacoustic perception models and the physics of sound. The spectral analysis of any arbitrary acoustical signal at a given instant is obtained by its Fourier Transform which produces a pair of real-valued functions of frequency, called the amplitude (or magnitude) spectrum and the phase spectrum. The amplitude spectrum stays moreover as a first approximation for the (neuro-) physiological representation of the signal in the human auditory system, the phase spectrum can be neglected for spectrographical purposes:

As the time variant signal goes on, many closely time windowed overlapping Fourier Transforms have to be computed at short successive intervals (< 30 ms) in order to produce a pseudo-3dimensional continuous graphic display of the sound, the spectrogram. In general narrow band frequency components with slow variations in frequency are detectable as horizontal frequency lines, whereas very fast changes or signal envelopes of a transient nature appear as vertical broad band bars in the spectrogram. Many musical instrument sounds (plucked strings, striked bars etc.) have a very short broad band attack and a narrow band slowly decreasing decay. Thus the onset of a note is easily identified, not so the end of the decay especially in reverberant environments).

Beats: From left to right: simple tone 220 Hz, simple tone 227 Hz, two tone complex 220 Hz + 227 Hz with beating, two tone complex 220 Hz + 240 Hz (light roughness), two tone complex 220 + 260 Hz (roughness), two tone complex (musical fifth).

Interference, Beats and Roughness

Usually directly incident or reflected waves from many sources, sounding simultaneously (musical instruments, singing voices etc.), are superposed at the listeners ear position, producing interference when components of equal frequency appear. Constructive interference takes place when the crests of two waves coincide, resulting the amplitude will be twice that of either wave. Destructive interference occurs when the crests of one wave fall on the troughs of the second and cancellation will be obtained. In case of interference of components slightly different in frequency beats can be perceived. The beat frequency is given by difference between the frequencies sounding together; beats can be detected on the spectrogram as periodic rise and fall in amplitude on a single (horizontal) frequency line. Whenever the frequency difference exceeds a certain value of 20 Hz no beating can be heard anymore and the perception of roughness is raised which has its maximum between 40 and 70 Hz. Increasing the frequency difference further on (see: critical bandwidth) produces two tone perception.


One of the most difficult phases in the investigation of spectrograms is the decision wether or not a spectral component of a signal which physically exists can be perceived by the auditory system and to what extent. The phenomenon that spectral components of a complex tone are not audible, despite their considerable amplitude measured, is described by the human auditory masking function. Masking is (1) the process by which the threshold of audibility for one sound is raised by the presence of another (masking) sound and (2) the amount by which the threshold of audibility of a sound is raised by the presence of another (masking) sound. The unit customarily used is the decibel (ANSI S3.20-1973). Masking may be seen as a general loss of information or as an undesired decrease of sensitivity of the auditory system but in contrary it is one of the most important auditory functions in order to perform the frequency analysis of the ear. Masking helps to process the sound into perceptual relevant components either belonging to the same or different sounds; it determines which components are resolved by the ear as audible harmonics with spectral pitch as well as it fuses higher harmonics according to the auditory critical bandwidth.

Critical Bands

The critical band in hearing can roughly be described as that frequency band of sound, in between that two spectral components influence one another. This influence can be expressed in terms of masking, loudness summation, roughness, consonance, dissonance etc. The bandwidth of the critical bands remains constant with 100 Hz up to a frequency of 500 Hz and increases up to 17\% of the midfrequency value beyond 500 Hz. Consequently the distribution of the spectral components of any acoustical signal along the basilar membrane of the inner ear is best approximated by the Bark\footnote{according to the acoustician Barkhausen (1926). scale which corresponds to the frequency spacing of the critical bands. A formal expression for the computation of the Bark scale has been given by Zwicker and Terhardt (1980). The unit of frequency (f) is assumed to be in kHz, arctan in radiants:

  • z_c /Bark = 13 arctan (0.76 f/kHz) + 3.5 arctan (f /7.5 kHz)2

As a result of the Bark transformation a much better frequency resolution in the linear low frequency range up to 500 Hz is obtained. The resolution is progressively reduced at higher frequencies. Spectrograms using the Bark scale represent the psychoacoustical frequency spacing of the inner ear and can be interpreted in terms of perceptual relevant spectral frequency distribution.


The transformation of the frequency axis into Bark scale and the extraction of irrelevant spectral components from the signal creates a so-called Relevance-Spectrogram which contains those frequency components only which evoke neurophysiological activity (SPL-Ecxess). It represents the signal associated to the neural excitation pattern in the auditory nerve, containing the relevant information parameters for the processing at higher neural levels. Thus the musical interpretation of spectrograms is highly facilitated as irrelevant signal parts can not show up. Moreover by applying an categorized intensity detection procedure (a concept of overmasking) the most prominent spectral peaks of the signal are extracted and figure-background discrimination can be obtained ( Deutsch \& Noll, 1993). This enables the listener to follow the leading voice without interference of the background signal in many cases.


The perception of pitch of complex tones has been a topic discussed extensively in psychoacoustics since the well known controversy beween Hermann von Helholtz and Georg Simon Ohm on one side and August Seebeck on the other. The problem, which is still an important question in hearing theories, started from Seebecks observation that the pitch of a complex tone with a missing fundamental still remains at the pitch level of the fundamental frequency. Ohms acoustic law followed Fouriers theorem and stated in contrary, pitches of frequencies which existe objectively (as components of a complex tone) can be heard only. Ohms acoustical law strongly supported Helmholtzs hearing theory according to which the partials of a complex tone are distributed along the basilar membrane (place theory) and resonance is responsible {Note: Helmholtzs experimental setup consisted mainly in resonators, he invented). His acoustical sources have been tuning folks. Seebeck used an acoustic siren, blowing air against the holes of a turning disk. By proper spacing of the holes a complex tone is produced without its fundamental frequency. for the mechanical stimulation of the hair cells. He explained Seebecks missing fundamental phenomenon by arguing nonlinearities in the inner ear would evoke the low frequency pitch, creating an objective product of nonlinearity (difference tone or combination tone between the higher harmonics) at the place of the fundamental frequency.

Modern pitch theory is based on the results of Georg von Bekesys and J. F. Schoutens work. Both have stimulated the research on pitch perception for about 50 years. Bekesys travelling wave theory is strongly supported by physiological experiments (Bekesy, 1960) and Schoutens (1940) observations on the residue pitch made evident, that the ear works in both domains simultaneously: in the frequency domain by means of hydromechanics with a far then perfect result of a Fourier Transform and in the time domain where any onset or even a slight change in the regular vibration of the basilar membrane is detected.

Fianlly pitch has been defined as that attribute of an auditory sensation in terms of which sounds may be ordered on a scale extending from low to high. The unit of pitch was assigned the mel (ANSI S3.20-1973). Thus pitch depends primarily upon the frequency of the sound stimulus, but it also depends upon the sound pressure and the waveform on the stimulus. The pitch of a sound may be described by the frequency or frequency level of that pure tone having a specified sound pressure level that is judged by subjects to have the same pitch.

The discussion on pitch perception came to an premature end when Terhardt (1974) published a model of pitch perception which includes both, the virtual pitch and the spectral pitch. He applied the concept of Gestalt perception, which in musicology frequently is understood to describe sequential melody contours only, on simultaneous sounding partials of a single complex tone. This enables the listener to still perceive the complex tone as a whole even when prominent components are missing (e.g. the fundamental frequency) or when their amplitude is as low that they can not contribute to pitch perception. Thus two general modes of pitch perception have to be encountered: the holistic mode integrating the partials of any complex tone to a good Gestalt, evoking virtual pitches and the analytic mode, focussing more on the spectral components of the sound and isolating individual partials of the complex tone as it is described by the concept of spectral pitch.

The following conclusions for the today work in pitch perception and music transcription have to be drawn:

  • the pitch of a complex tone very likely may be ambiguous,
  • pitch matches have therefore to be done with sinusoids only,
  • spectral pitch and virtual pitch may exist in between the same individuum, responding to the same sound, dependent upon subjective experiences,
  • musical theories of melody and counterpart introduce interpretative framework which not necessarily must correspond with perception.

Example 1: Highland Bagpipe

In the case of drone polyphony at least two psychoacoustical phenomena are generally relevant: masking and interference; the special characteristic of the drone sound is given by its relative stationarity in pitch and timbre throughout the total duration of the musical piece or a part of it, enabling melody tones to interfer with related spectral components of the drone. The following example is taken from a pibroch played on a Piob Mhor (highland bagpipe, Vienna Phonogramm Archive, Tape 17979, J. Brune, 1973). The key of the pipe chanter is usually spoken as A. The two tenor drones are tuned to the octave below the A of the chanter and the bass drone sounds an octave lower still ( Mac Neill, S. & Richardson, 1987). In our example the frequency value of /A/ is 116 Hz. The drone pipes produce a harmonic amplitude spectrum up to 7 kHz. Some partials show slow beats appearantly according to the slight mistuning of both tenor pipes. The ornamental sections of the sound probe are of equal overall duration (820 ms), whereas the sustained melody tones vary in duration from 1920 to 2830 ms. Interference is given mainly between the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th harmonic of the drone and 1st harmonic of the sustained melody tones (/a3/, /c4 sharp/, /e4/, /a5/) depending upon their amplitude relation.

    Spectrogram: Piob Mhor (highland bagpipe, Vienna Phonogramm Archive, Tape B17979, J. Brune, 1973). Spectrogram unprocessed.

Piob Mhor: according to the irrelevance-threshold signal processed, all spectral components below the masked threshold have been extracted. Approximately 67% of the weaker FFT-amplitudes have been set to zero.

Piob Mhor: difference signal, 67\% of the weaker amplitudes represent the signal below the masked threshold (irrelevance threshold). After being extracted from the original signal these components can be made audible again. The superposition of this spectrogram and the 2nd exactly produces the first spectrogram as well as the difference signal + irrelevance corrected signal = original..

Generally the sustained longer chanter (melody) pipe tones interfere (11s to 16s) with higher harmonics of drone tones, alternating with notes having no interference with the drone (see 8s to 11s) and short melody tones constituing the melismes (at 2s to 8s, 14s). The occurence of beats at each 2nd harmonic of the drone spectrum indicates beating between the two tenor drone pipes with a frequency difference of 0.85 Hz. The beating between the 2nd and the 4th harmonic of the drone with a rate of approximately 1.7 Hz is not of most perceptual importance. This beating does not effect the overall drone sound dominantely. Perceptually more relevant is the beating between the partials of the drone and sustained melody tones seen at 2.6s to 6s, 11s to 13s etc.

The interference of spectral components of both, the drone and the melody tones can be observed already on the spectrogram (fig. 1). Its perceptual relevance as indicated above can be seen in the relevance-spectrogram (fig. 2) from which the masked components of the signal have been removed. What happens to the signal when the masked threshold has been computed is demonstrated in the difference signal (fig. 3). From the lower harmonics of the drone sound, a2 and a3 are not affected by masking, as well as the 6th harmonic (e5). This results in a continous prominence of the fundamental and the fifth of the drone, the first corresponding to the basic tone of the melody, the second corresponding to the dominant tone of the melody. This fact has been mentioned already by Collinson (1970:167); Brune (1981:48) and MacNeill & Richardson (1987:32) but they all explained it by focussing on a strong 3rd harmonic of the bass drone. In contrary the example currently under investigation shows a very week 3rd harmonic of the bass drone and a strong, almost unmasked 3rd harmonic of the tenor pipes.

Several harmonics of the chanter pipes are stroger than the drone and consequently mask their neighbouring partials of the drone. The first partial of a4 of the chanter masks e4 and c-sharp5 of the drone sound and the first partial of e5 of the chanter masks c-sharp and g of the drone sound; whereas the sustained melody tones c-sharp5 and f-sharp5 themselves are partially masked by the harmonics of the drone sound. Taken together, the results of these observations provide psychoacoustical evidence (1) for the characteristic hierarchical structure given by the fifth a-e of the melody, which is strongly supported by the masking phenomenon. (2) The continuous sounding drone enlarges the overall frequency range downward, anchoring the melody into the tonal space.

Example 2: Bulgarian Multi-Part Song

The next example (fig.4 to 6) shows the role of roughness and frequency fluctuations (tremolo) as characteristics of a diaphonic type of Bulgarian multi-part singing (Messner, 1980:passim; Brandl, 1992; Födermayr & Deutsch, 1992:381-384). Masking has no effect in the region of the fundamental frequencies, even at the strongest partials (2 and 4) weak masking can be observed only. It does not influence the constituting elements of the sounds. Thus the partials of the individual voices interact with their full objective existent amplitudes. Throughout the whole piece a characteristic interval between two voices is produced, fairly constant with a width of three quarters of a whole tone. The resulting frequency differences between the fundamental frequencies are in the range of 30 Hz, evoking the sensation of roughness. Even when strong tremolo appears in Tressene figures, the average frequency difference remains close to 150 cents. Generally start and target points of exclamations fall on frequency values of the characteristic interval. The rate of the tremolo ranges between approximately 4 and 8 fluctuations /s which is known close to the ears maximum of sensitivity to frequency modulation.

Long term spectrogram of Bulgarian multi-part song: Balkanton BHA 2067, II 6. The duration of the piece is 39s. The spectrogram shows the segmentation of the song in 3 x 3 parts of equal duration.

Segment No. 3 (8s – 13s) of Bulgarian multi-part song: Balkanton BHA2067, II 6. The spectrogram shows the characterstic interval of 150Cents, several exclamations and two tremolo of 8 and 4 Hz fluctuationrate

Example 3: Epic Chant, Gujarat

The sound of the drone instrument ( Tharisar, Födermayr, 1968) is characterized by a single pitched (233 Hz) harmonic spectrum with decreasing amplitudes. The recitation as well as the sung parts follow the fundamental frequency of the drone sound with distinct variations. Short quasi-stationary tones of the recitation have an ambitus up to several whole tones using the fundamental frequency of the drone as midfrequency value, those of the sung parts are asymmetric and clother to the drone frequency with intervals downwards to a semi tone and upwards to a third. The drone implements a tonal function as finalis of the song. Roughness is produced during the sung parts only due to the interference of the drone and sustained voiced tones.

Long term spectrogram: Epic Chant of the Kunkana, Gujarat (PhA B 12125). The first 3s of the sound example show the drone isolated, followed by drone and recitation (3s – 15.5s) and sung part segments (15.5s – 30s). This example demonstrates the special kind of voicing during the parlando up to the first half duration of the sound segment displayed (up to 15s) and the song section with melodic lines closely related to the drone tones. The drone is given by a friction idiophone (Tharisar).

Epic Chant of the Kunkana, sung part segment, duration 3.5 s. The asymetry of the sung part in relation to the drone frequency can easily be detected from the first and 2nd harmonic.

Example 4: Lullaby in Yodel-technic, Bangombe Pygmies

The interdependence of pitch and timbre has been pointed out already in the section on pitch perception. The Yodel-technique of the Bangombe Pygmies elicitates both different modes of pitch perception: virtual pitch and spectral pitch. Two female voices exhibit the following variations:

  • tone to tone change of voice register: chest – falsetto
  • no isoparametric tone sequences with register change
  • unisono with different register: upper voice chest, lower voice falsetto
  • tone to tone vowel quality change (first and second vowel formant effect), upper voice: vowel /a/ chest, lower voice vowel /i/ falsetto, vowels /a/, /ae/ chest voice

The interaction between pitch, vowel quality and register change causes selective amplification of partials in the area of the vowel formant peak frequency, in the range of the first or 2ndnd partial of the female voices (633 Hz). The harmonics are sufficiently spaced apart to be resolved by the ear, producing virtual as well as spectral pitches. Whenever the fundamental frequency is significantly weaker as the 2ndnd harmonic, spectral pitch can be perceived by the analytic type of listeners. At will the perception can be focussed on the fundamental again and a holistic type of listening occurs.

Lullaby of Bangombe pygmy women (PhA B10840 G. Kubik, 1965): the peak amplitude contour of the solo part shows the A-B-A pattern of fundamental /e5-flat/ – 2nd harmonic /b4-flat/ – fundamental /e5-flat/ and so on. Falsetto tones are marked in diamonds. The inherent pattern of the upper voice is indicated, starting at 114 s.

The perceptual pitch ambiguity can best be described on the basis of the spectrogram: the peak amplitude of the beginning solo part shows the A-B-A pattern of fundamental /e-flat/ – 2ndnd harmonic /b-flat/ – fundamental /e-flat/ etc. According to the virtual pitch perception /e5-flat/ /b4-flat/ /e5-flat/ has to be perceived whereas subjects following the sepctral pitch hear /e5-flat/ /b5-flat/ /e5-flat/. The spectrogramm clearly shows the fundamental frequency contour. The phenomenon described has been addressed by a number of investigators and in detail by Albrecht (1972). By further analysing the spectrogram a melo-rhythmic pattern in the upper voice (120s to 134s) can be identified; it is aready seen as inherent pattern in the beginning of the solo part starting from the third phrase. The perception of the inherent pattern can be explained by the similarity of timbre of neighbouring tones, the falsetto /f/ and /e-flat/ of phase 3 and the chest voice /c/ /b-flat/ as well as /b-flat/ /g/ of phrase 4. Approximately at location 115s (marked with an asterix) /b4-flat/ is perceived instead of /b5-flat/ which exists objectively. This octave error helps to obtain the continuity of the melody in order to support the good Gestalt. Finally even in parts both voices are in unisono the distinction between the individual voices can easily maintained due to the predominant difference ebtween the chest and falsetto register.

In conclusion and for further studies on that line the spectrogram has been proved as an indespensible basis for the evaluation of complex tonal patterns as represented by the example described.

Lullaby of Bangombe pygmy women: duet. The arrows pointing downward indicate spectral components associated witjh the upper voice. Arrows pointing upward indicate those belonging to lower voice.

continuation of previous spectrogram.

Example 5: Overtone Singing: Tran Quang Hai

Overtone singing of the nature given by mongolian and turk people (as well as by Tran Quang Hai’s reproductive performances) is characterized by (1) a sustained fundamental frequency contour and (2) a melody which is composed from harmonic overtones of that fundamental frequency. The overtone phenomenon has been recognized to be an acoustical factor of the special setting of resonances of the human vocal tract. It has been sufficiently explained by the acoustic theory of voice production (Fant, 1960). Moreover this example shows the coincidence of a production model and the corresponding perception model.

Tran Quang Hai: overtone singing, spectrogram.

The acoustic model of the speech production assumes the glottal spectrum as the primary source for voiced sounds and the vocal tract acting as a filter attached on it: the glottal spectrum consists of a series of harmonics produced by glottal air pulses described in a model according to the myoelastic theory of {Berg (1957)} which has been accepted widely. The slope of the {\em source spectrum} depends on the shape of the individual closing and opening of the vocal folds during one fundamental period; a glottal waveform with more sudden closures produces stronger high frequency harmonics and a sharper timbre or voice quality. The fundamental frequency of the voice is determined by the repetition rate of the glottal pulses which is controlled (1) by the laryngeal musculature affecting the tension and the mass distribution of the vocal chords and (2) by changes of subglottal pressure. Decreased subglottal pressure, reduced mass of the vocal chords and increased tension raise the fundamental frequency.

The tube of the human vocal tract with a length of approximately 17,5 cm is attached on top of the laryngeal section. Its cross section can be changed to wider and narrower constrictions by the walls of the pharynx, the tongue, the jaw opening and the lips. The formant frequencies of vowels are related to the length of the tube and its shape. They represent the resonance frequencies of the vocal tract in non nasalized sounds. When the nasal tract is coupled on, by lowering the soft palate, the amplitude of the vowel formants decreases and a more complex resonace/antiresonace behavior of the vocal tract can be observed. The special setting of overtone singing suppresses the formant frequencies of the normal voice and emphasizes a very small frequency range, as narrow that one partial is amplified only. The result is shown in the spectrograms (fig. 12,13); the fundamental frequency is continuously sounding on one sustained low pitch and the melody is controlled by proper changing of the main resonace frequency. Thus overtone melodies can be played by picking out individual harmonics from the complex tone of the glottal pulse.

Tran Quang Hai: overtone singing. The output of the model of voice production (Linear Prediction Coding, 24 coefficients) extracts the first overtone of the fundamental frequency and the harmonics with the peak amplitude. The overtone melody is produced by setting the vocal tract main resonances accordingly.

The point to be emphasized is that in this case a coincidence of a (voice) production model and the associated perception model can be stablished. Nevertheless it has to be examined from case to case which aspects of the production model can be considered as significant for the perception.


Although these examples are of demonstrative nature only they are consistent with the general concept of introducing acoustics, physiology and psychoacoustics into the process of musical analysis. We have excluded for reasons not outranging the size of this contribution only the very challenging approach of {\em Analysis by Synthesis} as it has been applied in speech research since the beginning of vocoder techniques. Resynthesis of musical sounds can be extremly forceful when appropriate sound analysis data are available. As long as the physical parameters of musical sounds have not been evaluated upon their psychoacoustical effects, the perceptual relevance of individual components of complex sounds can be determined by trial and error only. The introduction of perceptual concepts in the analysis of music yields to results typically much better than would be obtained from acoustics alone.


Our special thanks to Prof. Dr. Kreysig for reading the english version of this paper and improving its style.


Albrecht, Erla M. (1972): Das akustische Residuum. Phil. Diss. Univ. Wien.

ANSI S3.20-1973}: American National Standard; Psychoacoustical Terminology. New York.

Bekesy, Georg von (1960): Experiments in Hearing. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Berg, Jw.van den, J.T. Zantema, and P. Doorenbal, Jr. (1957): On the Air Resistance and the Bernoulli Effect of the Human Larynx. Journal
of the Acoustical Society of America, Vol.29, No.5,p626-631.

Brandl, Rudolf M. (1992): Die Schwebungsdiaphonie im Epiros und verwandte Stile im Lichte der Psychoakustik, in: Schumacher, R. (Hg): von der Vielfalt musikalischer Kultur. Anif 1992:43-79.

Brune, John A. (1981): Piob Mhor und andere britisch-irische Sackpfeifen, in: Schriften zur Volksmusik (Wien, 1981) 41-58.

Collinson, Francis (1970): The traditional and national music of Scotland. London.

Deutsch, W.A. & Anton Noll (1993): Simulation auditorischer Signaltrennung in komplexen musikalischen Signalen durch Übermaskierung. DAGA, Fortschritte der Akustik.

Fant, Gunnar (1970): Acoustic theory of speech production. Mouton, The Hague; 2nd edition.

Fletcher, Harvey (1929): Speech and Hearing. D. van Nostrand Company, Inc. New York.

Fletcher, Harvey (1953): Speech and Hearing in Communication. D. van Nostrand Company, Inc. New York.

Födermayr Franz (1968): Über ein indisches Reibidiophon und die Drone-Praxis, in: Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien, 98:75-79.

Födermayr Franz & Werner A. Deutsch (1992): Musik als geistes- und naturwissenschaftliches Problem, in: Gratzer, W. & A. Lindmayr (Hg.), De editione musices. Laaber, 377-389.

Graf, Walter (1963/64): Moderne Klanganalyse und wissenschaftliche Anwendung, in: Schriften des Vereins zur Verbreitung naturwissenschaftlicher Kenntnisse in Wien, 104:43-66. Neudruck in Graf (1980).

Graf, Walter (1980): Vergleichende Musikwissenschaft. Ausgewählte Aufsätze, hg. von F. Födermayr, Wien-Föhrenau.

Helmholtz, Hermann von L.F. (1863): Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig; 6. Aufl. 1913.

Koenig, Walter K., H.K. Dunn, L.Y. Lacey (1946): The Sound Spectrograph. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Vol. 18, p. 19-49.

Mac Neill, Seumas and Frank Richardson (1987): Piobreachd and its interpretation. Edinburgh; p.32.

Messner, Gerald F. (1980): Die Schwebungsdiaphonie in Bistrica Tutzing.

Ohm, Georg, Simon (1843): Über die Definition des Tones, nebst daran geknüpfter Theorie der Sirene und ähnlicher tonbildender Vorrichtungen. Annalen der Physik und Chemie, 59, pp. 513-565.

Potter Ralph K., George A. Kopp, Harriet C. Green (1947): Visible Speech. D.van Nostrand Company Inc. New York.

Schouten, J.F. (1940): The perception of subjective tones Proc. Kon. Nederl. Akad. Wetensch. 41, 1086-1093.

Seebeck, A. (1841): Beobachtungen über einige Bedingungen zur Entstehung von Tönen. Annalen der Physik und Chemie, 53; 417-436.

Seebeck, A. (1843): Über die Sirene. Annalen der Physik und Chemie, 60; 449-487.

Terhardt, Ernst (1972): Zur Tonhöhenwahrnehmung von Klängen. II. Ein Funktionsschema. Acustica, Vol 26/4, 187-199.

Zwicker, Eberhard and E. Terhardt (1980): Analytical expression for critical-band rate and critical bandwidth as a function of frequency. JournaL of the.Acoust.Soc.Am. 68(5), Nov. 1980; 1523-1525.


Bibliography of Overtone Singing (2009) by Tran Quang Hai

Bibliography of Overtone Singing (2009) by Tran Quang Hai

Bibliography of Overtone Singing (2009)
by Tran Quang Hai

ABITBOL, J., 2005: L’Odyssée de la Voix, 516 p., Robert Laffont, Paris.
ADACHI, S. and M. Yamada, 1997: “An Acoustical Study of Sound Production in Biphonic Singing, Xöömij,” Proceedings of 1997 Japan – China Joint Meeting on Musical Acoustics: 21-26,
AKSENOV, A.N., 1964: Tuvinskaja Narodnaja Muzyka, Moscou.
– 1967: “Die Stile der Tuvinischen zweistimmigen Sologesanges”, Sowjetische Volkslied- und Volksmusikforschung: 293-308, Berlin.
– 1973: “Tuvin Folk Music”, Journal of the Society for Asian Music 4(2): 7- 18.
BADRAA, Z., 1981: “Xöömij” i “Urtyn duu”, specificeskie Javienija Mongol’skoj tradicionnoj klassiceskoj muzyki”, Professional’naja Muzyka Ustoj Tradicij Narodov Bliznevo Vostoka i
Sovremennost: 116-119, Tachkent.
– 1986: “L’art Xöömij”, Les Nouvelles de Mongolie (9): 18-19, Mongol Press.
BARNETT, B. M., 1977 : “Aspects of Vocal Multiphonics”, Interface 6: 17-149.
BATZENGEL, 1978: “Urtyn duu, Xöömii and Morin Xuur”, Musical Voices of Asia: 52-53, Tokyo.
BELFER, R., 1986: “Chant harmonique: découvrer votre deuxième voix”, Médecines Douces (77): 50-53, Paris.
BLOOTHOOFT, G. et al., 1992: “Acoustics and Perception of Overtone Singing”, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 4: 1827-1836.
BOREL-MAISONNY S. et CASTELLENGO, M., 1976: “Etude radiographique des mouvements oro-pharyngée pendant la parole et le jeu instrumental”, Bulletin du Groupe d’Acoustique
Musicale (86): 35 p, Unversité de Paris VI.
CHERNOV, B. and V. MASLOV, 1979: “The Secret of a “Solo Duet”, Soviet Anthropology and Archeology 18: 82-88.
– 1987: “Larynx -double sound generator,” Proc. 11th Int’1. Cong. Phonetic Sci.: 40-43, Tallin, Estonia.
CURTET, J., 2006: Le Xöömij ou chant diphonique mongol: Aspects spectral, acoustique et musical d’une vingtaine de techniques, Master 2 de l’Université de Rennes, supervisor: Tran Quang
Hai, 3 CD, 350 p.
DARGIE, D., 1985: “Some Recent Discoveries and Recordings in Xhosa Music”, Papers presented at the 5th Symposium on Ethnomusicology, University of Cape Town, International Library of
African Music (ed): 29-35, Grahamtown.
– 1988: Xhosa Music / Its Techniques and Instruments, with a Collection of Songs, David Philip, 235 p., Cape Town & Johannesburg.
– 1991: “Umngqokolo: Xhosa overtone singing and the song Nondel’ekhaya”, African Music 7(1): 33-47, Grahamtown.
DESJACQUES, A., 1985: “Une considération phonétique sur quelques techniques vocales diphoniques mongoles”, Bulletin du Centre d’Etudes de Musique Orientale 31: 46-55, Paris.
– 1993: Chants de l’Altai Mongol, thèse de doctorat, sous la direction du Prof. Manfred Kelkel et du Prof. Jacques Legrand, Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne, 389 p., Paris. (chapitre 1: Le Xöömij:
7-108), avec une cassette audio.
DEUTSCH, W.A. et FÖDERMAYR, F., 1992: “Zum Problem des zweistimmigen Sologesanges Mongolischer und Turk Völker”, Von der Vielfalt Musikalischer Kultur, Festschrift für Josef
Kuckerts (Wort und Musik 12), Verlag Ursula Müller-Speiser, Anif/Salzburg: 133-145, Salzburg.
DMITRIEV, L. CHERNOV, B. & MASLOW, V., 1983: “Functioning of the Voice Mechanism in Double Voice Touvinian Singing”, Folia Phoniatrica 35: 193-197.
EDGERTON, M. & LEVIN, Th., 1999: “Le Chant des Touvas”, Pour la Science 265: 50-58, Paris.
EL HAOULI, J., 1999: Demetrio Stratos: Alla della voce-musica, Auditorium, 120 p, Milan.
ELLINGSON, T., 1970: “The Technique of Chordal Singing in the Tibetan Style”, American Anthropologist 72: 826-831.
FÖDERMAYER, F., 1983: “Zum Konzept einer vergleichend-systematischen Musikwissenschaft”, Musikethnologische Sammelbände 6: 25-39.
GUNJI, 1980: “An Acoustical Consideration of Xöömij”, Musical Voices of Asia: 135-141, The Japan Foundation (ed), Heibonsha Ltd, Tokyo.
HAMAYON, R., 1980: “Mongol Music”, New Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians 12: 482-485, Stanley Sadie (ed), MacMillan Publishers, London.
HARVILAHTI, L., 1983: “A Two Voiced Song With No Word”, Suomalais-ugrilaisen seuran aikakauskirja 78: 43-56, Helsinki.
HARVILAHTI, L. & KASKINEN, H., 1983: “On the Application Possibilities of Overtone Singing”, Suomomen Antropologi 4: 249-255, Helsinki.
HIGGINS, A., 1995: “Tunes of War as Throat Singers Go for the Jugular”, The Independent, London.
KYRGYS, Z. K., 1992: “Pesennaia kul’tura tuvinskogo naroda” (The vocal culture of the Tuvan People), Kyzyl.
LANERI, R., 1983: “Vocal Techniques of Overtone Production”, NPCAQuarterly Journal 12(2-3): 26-30.
– 2002: La Voce dell’arcobaleno : origini, tecniche e applicazioni pratiche del canto armonico, 288 p. Edizioni Il Punto di’incontro, Vicenza.
LEIGHTON, R., 2000: Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman’s Last Journey, W.W. Norton & Company, 260 p., New York.
LEIPP, E., 1971: “Considération acoustique sur le chant diphonique”, Bulletin du Groupe d’Acoustique Musicale 58: 1-10, Paris.
LENTIN, J-P., 1986: “Je fais chanter tout mon corps”, Actuel 81-82: 142-145, Paris.
LEOTAR, F., 1998: Etudes sur la musique touva, maîtrise de l’Université de Nanterre – Paris X, 128 p., 2 cassettes.
LEOTHAUD, G., 1989: “Considérations acoustiques et musicales sur le chant diphonique”, Le chant diphonique, dossier n° 1: 17-43, Institut de la Voix, Limoges.
LEVIN, Th. & EDGERTON, M., 1999: “The Throat Singers of Tuva”, Scientific American 281 (3): 70-77.
– 1999: “Le Chant des Touvas”, Pour la Science 265: 50-58, Paris.
LEVIN, Th. & Valentina Süzükei, 2006: Where Rivers and Mountains Sing / Sound, Music, and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond, 1 CD/DVD, Indiana University Press, 281 p., Bloomington.
MOULINIE, M., 1999: Pratique de la method Vittoz et du chant diphonique, 25 p. Mémoire VITTOR IRDC, supervisor: Tran Quang Hai, Paris.
MURAOKA, T., K. Wagatsuma, and M. Horiuchi, 1983: “Acoustic Analysis of the Mongolian singing Xöömij,” Preprint of the Acoustical Society of Japan 2-3-9, pp. 385-386.
MURAOKA, T., K. Wagatsuma, Y. Tsuchikane, and M. Horiuchi, 1984: “On a Consideration of Mongolian Singing Xöömij and its Specialities,” Preprint of the seminar on Musical acoustics, The
Acoustical Society of Japan MA84-1, pp. 1-6.
MURAOKA, T., S. Takeda, and M. Itoga, 2000: “Analysis of Acoustic Features of Mongolian Xöömij Singing,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of Japan, Vol. 56-5: 308-317, Tokyo.
PAILLER, J.P., 1989: “Examen video du larynx et de la cavité buccale de Monsieur Trân Quang Hai”, dossier n°1, Le Chant diphonique: 11-13, Institut de la Voix, Limoges.
PEGG, C., 1992: “Mongolian Conceptualizations of Overtonesinging (xöömi)”, The British Journal of Ethnomusicology (1): 31-53, London.
– 2001: Mongolian Music, Dance and Oral Narrative, University of Washington Press.
RACHELE, R., 1996: “Overtone Singing Study Guide”, Cryptic Voices Productions (ed), 127 p., 71 transcriptions musicales, 15 sonagrammes, 1 CD, Amsterdam.
REIMANN, M., 1998: Entdecke die Musik in dir, 1 CD, 191 p., Kösel, Germany.
RIES, M. 2006: Le chant diphonique: une voix, deux chants, mémoire, 27 p., supervisor: Tran Quang Hai, Lycée Fabert MP, Metz.
SAKAKIBARA, K.-I, T. Konishi, K. Kondo, E. Z. Murano, M. Kumada, H. Imagawa, and S. Niimi, 2001: “Vocal fold and false vocal fold vibrations and synthesis of khoomei”, Proc. of International
Computer Music Conference 2001: 135-138. http://www.brl.ntt.co.jp/people/kis/paper/icmc2001.pdf (PDF: 622 kbytes)
SAKAKIBARA, K.-I, H. Imagawa,T. Konishi, and S. Niimi, 2001: “Glottal Source Model for Throat Singing Based on Vocal Fold and False Vocal Fold Vibrations”, Proc. Acoust. Soc. Jap. 1-6-
14: 255-256, Tokyo.
SAKAKIBARA, K.-I, H. Imagawa, S. Niimi, and N. Osaka, 2002: “ Synthesis of the laryngeal source of throat singing using a 2×2-mass model,” Proc. of International Computer Music Conference
2002: 5-8. http://www.brl.ntt.co.jp/people/kis/paper/icmc2002.pdf (PDF: 558 kB)
SAKAKIBARA, K.-I, Tomoko Konishi, Hiroshi Imagawa, Emi Z. Murano, Kazumasa Kondo, Masanobu Kumada, and Seiji Niimi, 2002: “Observation of the laryngeal movements for throat
singing – Vibration of two pairs of folds in human larynx”, Lay Language Paper for First Pan-American/Iberian Meeting on Acoustics in Cancun, Acoust. Soc. Am. http://www.acoustics.org/press/
World Wide Press Room.
SAUS, W., 2004: Oberton Singen: Das Geheimnis einer magischen Stimmkunst. Traumzeit-Verlag, 132 p, 1CD, Germany.
SAUVAGE, J.P., 1989: “Observation clinique de Monsieur Trân Quang Hai”, dossier n° 1, Le Chant diphonique: 3-10, Institut de la Voix, Limoges.
SMITH, H., STEVENS, K.N., and TOMLINSON, R. S., 1967: “On an unusual mode of singing of certain Tibetan Lamas”, in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 41 (5): 1262-4.
SMITH, H., STEVENS, K.N., 1967: “Unique Vocal Abilities of Certain Tibetan Lamas”, American Anthopologist: 209-212.
SUNDBERG, J., 1977: “The Acoustics of the Singing Voice”, Scientific American 236: 82-91.
– 1987: The Science of the Singing Voice, 216 p., Northern Illinois University Press.
TAKEDA, S., M. Itoga, Y, Sato and Y, Ueda, 1992: “Analysis of Acoustical Features of Mongolian Singing
“Khöömij”, Proc. Acoust. Soc. Jap. 2-7-15: 605-606, Tokyo.
TAKEDA, S., M. Itoga, 1993: “On the differences in Spectra in Accordance with the Phonemic and Tone-height Differences in Mongolian Singing “Khöömij”, Proc. Acoust. Soc. Jap. 2-3-3: 499-
500, Tokyo.
– 1993: “Analysis of Acoustic Features of Mongolian Singing “Khöömij”, Technical Report on Musical Information Sci.1-4: 1-4, Tokyo.
TAKEDA, S., T. Muraoka, 2002: “Analysis of Acoustical Features of Biphonic Singing Voices: Male and Female Xöömij and Male Steppe Kargiraa”, http://www.soundtransformations.btinternet.
TATARINTSEV, B., 1998: Tuvinskoe gorlovoe penie. Problemy proiskhozhdeniya (Problems of the Origin of Tuvan Throat Singing (bilingual edition), 79 p.,International Scientific Centre
“Khoomei”, Kyzyl.
TISATO, G. & MACCARINI, A. R., 1991: “Analysis and Synthesis of Diphonic Singing” (Analyse et synthèse du chant diphonique), Nouvelles Voies de la Voix, 1ère partie, Bulletin
d’audiophonologie 7(5&6): 619-648, Besançon.
TISATO, G., 1989: “Analisi digitale dei suoni multifonici”, Proc. of III CIM (Colloquio di Informatica Musicale): 107-128, Padova.
– 1989: “Il canto degli armonici”, Nuove tecnologie et documentazione etnomusicologica, Culture Musicali n° 15 & 16.
TISATO, G. & COSI, P., 2003: “On the Magic of Overtone Singing”, Voce, Canto, Parlato / Studi di Onore di Franco Ferrero: 83-100, Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione Sezione di
Padova “Fonetica e Dialettologia”,
TOKUMARU, Y., 1994: Review of Hugo Zemp and Trân Quang Hai, “The Song of Harmonics”, ETHNOMUSICOLOGY, 38 (2): 387-389.
TRAN QUANG HAI & GUILOU, D., 1980: “Original Research and Acoustical Analysis in Connection with the Xöömij Style of Biphonic Singing”, Musical Voices of Asia: 162-173, The
Japan Foundation (éd), Heibonsha Ltd, Tokyo.
TRAN QUANG HAI & ZEMP, Hugo, 1991: “Recherches expérimentales sur le chant diphonique”, Cahiers de Musiques traditionnelles: VOIX vol.4: 27-68, Ateliers d’ethnomusicologie /AIMP,
TRAN QUANG HAI, 1975: “Technique de la voix chantée mongole: xöömij”, Bulletin du CEMO (14 &15): 32-36, Paris.
– 1983: “Note à propos du chant diphonique mongol”, Catalogue de l’exposition Mongolie-Mongolie, Musée de l’Homme (éd),Paris.
– 1989: “Réalisation du chant diphonique”, dossier n°1 Le Chant diphonique : 15-16, Institut de la Voix, Limoges.
– 1990: “Les Musiques vocales”, L’Esprit des Voix, C.Alès (éd), La Pensée Sauvage: 43-52, Grenoble.
– 1991: “La voix dans les cultures extra-occidentales”, La Voix dévoilée: 164-186, éditions Romillat, Paris.
– 1991: “Les différents styles du chant diphonique”, Actes de l’Universon: 45-52, Narbonne.
– 1991: “New Experimental About the Overtone Singing Style”, (Nouvelles Expérimentations sur le chant diphonique),Nouvelles Voies de la Voix, 1ère partie, Bulletin d’adiophonologie 7(5&6):
607-618, Besançon.
– 1992: “Instruments traditionnels et musiques à bourdon : la voix diphonique”, Autour de l’instrument de musique (2ème Colloque départemental d’éducation musicale en Seine et Marne): 15-
21, Melun.
– 1992: “Pratique du chant dysphonique ou du chant diphonique chez les personnes âgées”, Rééducation orthophonique (3ème Colloque d’étude clinique du langage en gériatrie: La voix du sujet
âgé 30 (171): 299-311, Paris.
– 1995: “Le chant diphonique: description, historique, styles, aspect acoustique et spectral”, EM, Annuario degli Archivi di Etnomusicologia dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, 2:123-
150, Rome.
– 1997: “Recherches Introspectives sur le chant diphonique et leurs applications”, Penser La Voix, (ed) La Licorne: 195-210, Poitiers.
– 1997: “Overtones in Central Asia and in South Africa (Xhosa Vocal Styles)é, Confluences: Cross-Cultural Fusions in Music and Dance, Proceedings of the First South African Music and Dance
Conference and 15th Symposium on Ethnomusicology: 422-432, (ed) Université de Cape Town.
– 1998: “Survey of overtone singing style”, Die Ausdruckswelt der Stimme, 1-Stuttgarter Stimmtage/ Horst Gunderman, Hüthig (éditeur): 77-83.
– 1999: “Overtones used in Tibetan Buddhist Chanting and in Tuvin Shamanism”, Ritual and Music, Lithuanian Academy of Music, Department of Ethnomusicology (ed.): 129-136, Vilnius.
– 2000: “Some Experimental and Introspective Researches on Xoomij Overtone Singing”, Proceedings WESTPRAC VII: 593-598, University of Kumamoto, Japan.
– 2001: “Chant diphonique”, Science et Conscience 2: 42-44, Luxembourg.
– 2001: “Voix d’autres cultures”, Cinq Sens dans un corps 284: 36-37, CNRS, Paris.
– 2002: “A la découverte du chant diphonique”, Moyens d’investigation et pédagogie de la voix chantée: actes du colloque tenu les 8, 9 et 10 février 2001 au Conservatoire National de region de
Lyon, 1 CD Rom, ed. Guy Cornut, Symétrie: 117-132, Lyon.
– 2002: Polyphony in Overtone Singing Khoomei in Central Asia: the Case of Mongolia and Tuva, 16 p. International Forum of Ethnomusicology: Polyphonic Singing in Traditional Societies –
Behaviors and Aesthetics, Taipei.
– 2003: “Polyphony in one Throat”, Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Traditional Polyphony (2-8 october 2002): 274-287, Tbilisi, Georgia.
TSAI, C.G., Shau, Y.W., and Hsiao, T.Y., 2004: “False vocal fold surface waves during Sygyt singing: a hypothesis (oral)”. International Conference on Voice Physiology and Biomechanics,
August 18-20, Marseille, France.
TSAI, C.G., 2004: “Physical Modeling of the Vocal Tract of a Sygyt Singer / Source Theory v.s. Resonance Theory”
– 2005: “Multi-pitch effect on cognition of solo music: examples of the Chinese flute, Jew’s harp and overtone singing (oral)”. International Symposium on Body & Cognition, June 4-5, Taipei.
– 2005: “Kargiraa and Meditation: Pipe model of a Kargyraa Singer’s Vocal tract”, http://www.soundtransformations.btinternet.co.uk/KargyraaandmeditationchenGiaTsai.htm
VAN TONGEREN, M., 1994: Xöömij in Tuva: New Developments, New Dimensions, Master degree supervised by Ernst Heins, Ethnomusicologisch Centrum “Jaap Kunst”, Universiteit van
– 1995: “A Tuvan Perspective on Throat Singing” in Oideion, The Performing Arts Worldwide, 2: 293-312, Centre of Non Western Studies, Université de Leiden.
– 2004: Overtone Singing: Physics and Metaphysics in East and West, Revised 2nd Edition, 281 p, 1 CD, Fusica, Amsterdam.
VARGYAS, L., 1968: “Performing Styles in Mongolian Chant”, Journal of the International Folk Music Council: 70-72, Kingston.
VLACHOU, E., 1985: Recherches Vocales contemporaines: chant diphonique, Maîtrise à l’Université de Paris VIII-Saint Denis, sous la direction de Daniel Charles, 90 p., Paris.
WALCOTT, R., 1974: “The Chöömij of Mongolia – A Spectral Analysis of Overtone Singing”, Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 2(1): 55-59, UCLA, Los Angeles.
YAMADA, M., 1998: “Mongolian biphonic singing Xöömij,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of Japan, Vol. 54-9, pp. 680-685, Tokyo.
ZARLINO, G., 1558: Institutioni harmoniche, Venise (cf. Tisato, G.).
ZEMP, H & TRAN QUANG HAI, 1991: “Recherches expérimentales sur le chant diphonique” (see TRAN QUANG HAI & ZEMP, Hugo).

Theodore C. Levin and Michael E. Edgerton: The Throat Singers of Tuva

Theodore C. Levin and Michael E. Edgerton: The Throat Singers of Tuva



Ted Levin


Michael Edgerton


A Tuvan Singer

Throat Singing : A unique vocalization from three cultures


Throat Singing

A unique vocalization from three cultures

Throat-singing, a guttural style of singing or chanting, is one of the world’s oldest forms of music. For those who think the human voice can produce only one note at a time, the resonant harmonies of throat-singing are surprising. In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat’s resonance characteristics. By precise movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, velum, and larynx, throat-singers produce unique harmonies using only their bodies. Throat-singing is most identified with parts of Central Asia, but it is also practiced in northern Canada and South Africa where the technique takes on different styles and meanings.


Tuva is a predominantly rural region of Russia located northwest of Mongolia. There, throat-singing is called Khöömei. Singers use a form of circular breathing which allows them to sustain multiple notes for long periods of time. Young Tuvan singers are trained from childhood through a sort of apprentice system to use the folds of the throat as reverberation chambers. Throat-singing in Tuva is almost exclusively practiced by men, although the taboo against women throat-singers, based on the belief that such singing may cause infertility, is gradually being abandoned, and some girls are now learning and performing Khöömei. The Tuvan herder/hunter lifestyle, with its reliance on the natural world and deeply-felt connection to the landscape, is reflected in this Tuvan vocal tradition. With their throat-singing, Tuvans imitate sounds of the natural surroundings—animals, mountains, streams, and the harsh winds of the steppe. Throat-singing was once only a folk tradition, practiced in the windy steppe, but it is now embraced as an emblem of Tuvan identity and more often performed by professionals in formal settings.


Video: N. Sengedorj of Mongolia demonstrates Khöömei throat-singing.


Video: Mark van Tongeren, an ethnomusicologist specializing in Khöömei, gives a lesson.


The Inuit are the indigenous peoples of northern Canada. Unlike Tuvan throat-singing, the Inuit form of throat-singing is practiced almost exclusively by women. It is also a more communal form of singing than the Tuvan variety, usually performed in groups of two or more women. Their technique relies more on short, sharp, rhythmic inhalations and exhalations of breath. It was traditionally used to sing babies to sleep or in games women played during the long winter nights while the men were away hunting. Throat-singing was banned in the area over 100 years ago by local Christian priests, but it is experiencing a recent revival, especially among younger generations who believe that learning it from their elders connects them with Inuit strength and tradition.


Video: Nukariik (Inuit) Sisters Karin and Kathy Kettler demonstrate traditional Inuit throat singing practiced by women in their community.


The Xhosa people of Bantu origins are indigenous to present-day southeast South Africa. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are famous Xhosa. The Xhosa people have a deep and unique style of throat singing, also called eefing. Two notes are produced one tone apart while higher tones embedded in overtones are amplified simultaneously. This low, rhythmic, wordless vocal style accompanies traditional call and response or group vocal songs. It also accompanies party songs and dances, adding a musical element that is distinctly Xhosa.


Album Cover
Audio Player

Audio Player

Medley of various throat-singing

Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

Album Cover
Xöömei on Horseback

Kaigal-ool Khovalyg and Anatoli Kuular
Audio Player


Connections Between Intercontinental Throat Singing Native Groups

Connections Between Intercontinental Throat Singing Native Groups

Throat singing is an amazing, storied tradition of musical expression. A mixture of hoarse, rasping chanting and low, rumbling growls, throat singing has a rich history that spans the globe. It is generally thought to have originated in central Asia, specifically Tiber, Mongolia and Siberia.  Ranging from North America, to Central Asia, even all the way to Africa, throat singing has a very diverse range of people singing it, as well as a very diverse range of musical styles. With that said, I think that there is possibly a connection between most, if not all of these native groups that perform these traditions. Although some connections may not be direct, it is still interesting to look at the possible influences that were passed through these groups.

Throat singing has two main types that are significantly different. The first is utilizing overtones, in which there is not only the main, fundamental note, but also the overtone note that falls somewhere on the harmonic series. Examples of overtone throat signing include Tuvan techniques like sygyt and khoomei. In these techniques, the low drone was constant while the harmonics were constantly changed. Meanwhile, there are also throat singing techniques where there is more of a low, grumbling sound with very diverse tones and timbres. These type of throat singing are based in the unique vocalization and resonance in the singers’ throat. Examples of this singing are kargyraa, which has an incredible, rumbling sound that is reminiscent of a didgeridoo.

Aside from those two types of throat singing is one more types of throat singing that is found in two places in particular. In North America, among the Inuit people, and in northern Japan, among the Ainu people, is throat singing that resembles a game. Rather than performing, these types of singing are meant to be a game between two singers, specifically women.  The timbre of these games however is different as well, which we will get into later. First, I will try to outline the connections between two different groups of throat singing people; the Inuit and Ainu tribes.

Inuit throat singing is one of the most well known and recognized types of throat singing there is today. The Inuit people today are situated in northern parts of North America, specifically Alaska and Northern Canada, but some even range to Greenland, as well as the Kamchatka Peninsula in Northeast Siberia/Russia. I believe that this group of people, with a population of over 100,000, is somehow related to other throat singing groups in central Asia. In fact, some believe that the Inuit have origins connecting them to Mongolia. It is also believed that they crossed the Bering Strait around 10,000 B.C. from Northwest Siberia to Alaska and North America. In terms of this groups throat singing, they have multiple different names for the same technique. For those in Northern Quebec it’s called katajjaq, in Baffin Island it’s called pirkusirtuk and in Nunavut it is called nipaquhiit. The actual practice itself is performed by two women who perform against each other while using vocal techniques that utilize both inhales and exhales.

As you can hear, the women performing change their pace, rhythm, pitch and timbre throughout the entire game. This is what adds to the difficulty of the game, as one person has to follow while the other quickly changes these aspects of their singing. Jean-Jacques Nattiez describes it as such:

“We would judge [this] Inuit practice to be “musical” a priori: katajjaq, which is today referred to as a ‘throat-game.’ Katajjaq as music? Certainly from the western vantage point it is music, since [musical groups have] made a record of it (which was even awarded a prize, by a rather well known Academy). But within the Inuit social practice, this complex symbolic form has one predominant characteristic: it is a game. The principle behind performing katajjaq is as follows: it is played by two women; the repeat a brief motif at staggered intervals, until one of the women is forced to stop, having either run out of breath or tripped over her own tongue. There is a winner and a loser.” (Jean Jacques Nattiez)

The origins of this game are believed to be women who were playing this game while the men went out hunting for food. While men were hunting and gathering, the women in these tribes back with the children caring for them, cooking and making sure that everything at home ran smoothly. However, the men would, at times, be gone for days on end, so in order to pass the time, women began this practice which has now stood the test of time and defined this native group musically, even though it was not meant to be a form of music at all. Another tidbit on Inuit throat singing at one point was done with the women getting so close to each other that their lips were nearly touching. While this is no longer done in the modern practice of Inuit throat singing, it was done this way in order to use the other women’s throat as a resonator. This may seem like a useless fact, however when you begin to try to draw connections between the Inuit people and other throat singing groups, it becomes very valuable. For example, the Ainu people.

The Ainu tribes, located in Northern Japan, is also known for their throat singing technique called Rekuhkara. Rekuhkara, also performed by two women, is done by two women forming a tube with their hands and then chanting into each others mouths and throats. This cavity acts as a way of the performers using each others mouths and throats as a resonator to give the technique a unique sound. In addition, this technique also utilizes the inhale as a sound, although less so than Inuit throat singing.

(Also listen to the previous video on Inuit Throat singing at the 1:00 mark)

Picture of two Ainu women performing Rekuhkara

It’s hard not to recognize the similarities between these two techniques. Sound wise, you can clearly hear the inhales and exhales of both performances. In addition, the pace, tempo and back and forth format of the singing is almost too similar to consider it a coincidence. There are also times, like the ones pointed out, where both the Inuit throat singing and the Rekuhkara have a similar timbre. Although the timbre of the the Inuit throat singing is clearly more guttural in the attached videos, it is believed that Rekuhkara, in its true form, is meant to be sang much more gutturally. In fact, the Rekuhkara shown in the video may not be a proper representation of what true Rekuhkara was meant to sound like. The last true, recognized Rekuhkara practitioner actually died in 1978, meaning that the modern day presentation of Rekuhkara, in terms of sound, may not be completely accurate. Although many of the intricacies of the practice are specified, for instance sitting facing one another with your hands cupped together, the actually tone and timbre of the sound today is most likely not accurate. In fact, according to Jean-Jacques Nattiez, the word “Rekuhkara” actually means.

“In fact, what distinguishes it essentially from [other Japanese singing traditions] […] is the ‘guttural’ sound. In the Ainu language, according to the Ainu-Japanese dictionary compiled by Chiri Mashio, rek means ‘to speak’ or ‘make a sound” and kut means “throat.’” (Jean-Jacques Nattiez)

This would imply that the original form of Rekuhkara does not in fact utilize a lighter tone. On the contrary. The fact that the name itself roughly means “to make a sound from the throat” means that this practice was surely meant to have its vocalization and resonance come from the throat.

Not only in sound, but in form as well, the Inuit and Ainu people clearly have a relation in their musical traditions. It is hard to deny the similarities between both techniques due to the fact that they typically use women, they attempt (or at least at one point they did) to use their partners mouth and throat as a resonating cavity, they both use inhales as a part of the sound, and there are possible connections geographically from their history as the Inuit have been linked to Mongolia and the surrounding Central Asian territories.

From here, I tried to find a connection between the Central Asian natives and the Ainu people. Because throat singing as a practice is generally thought to have originated in the Mongolian/Tibetan/Siberian region, it is reasonable to believe that the Ainu could possibly have been influenced by these groups who are close in geographic proximity. With this in mind, I believe there is possibly a connection between the Ainu people and a Tribe in Northern Russia: The Nganasan people. There are multiple things that can be connected between these two tribes, but the first we will be looking at is the significance of bears, and the similarities between many of their ceremonies and tradition. Both the Ainu and the Nganasan people have ceremonies that are based around bears and their belief in bears as a god or an overall important figure. In fact, in the Ainu language bear can also be translated to god, so clearly the bear holds a very important cultural status in their community. In addition, the Ainu people have an old tradtion that involves sacrificing a bear, as well as a small animal (typically a deer), and then eating the animals that were sacrificed. During this ceremony, they perform Rekuhkara, dance, and then perform a ritual that involves a tribe member imitating “the pleasure the god must have experienced in the last moments before the release of its spirit.

They believed that inside the bear is the spirit of the god, and in order to release it, it must be sacrificed. This practice is even more interesting when you compare it to the traditions of the Nganasan people as well. They have a ceremony/tradition simply called the “Bear Dance” in which they attempt to imitate a bear both physically and audibly. The bear dance is performed in a low, grumbling voice which is reminiscent of throat singing, however they seem to call it throat rasping rather than singing. Regardless, these similarities are hard to ignore.

In addition, there is thought to be some connection between the Ainu and the Nganasan genetically. In fact, in one study called Deep History of East Asian Populations Revealed Through Genetic Analysis of the Ainu they suggest that, genetically, the Ainu and the Nganasan are related so closely that they could even be considered sister tribes. “Siberian populations (Nganasan and Itelmen) were modeled either as a sister group of all East Asians including the Ainu (76.8%) or as a sister group of Native Americans.” Not only are there connections based off of the ceremonies, but there is also scientific evidence of them being genetically related. Lastly however, there is also musical connections potentially between the Nganasan and the Inuit who were previously discussed. Ethnomusicologists have done studies on both of these groups and their singing styles, and after studying these groups the actually decided to use the same notation for the two tribes. Because both groups utilize both the inhale and the exhale so heavily, they used notation that had the inhales marked with triangles, while the exhales were marked with rectangles. Although this doesn’t not prove any true connection between these groups, it is very interesting that these two distant tribes happen to utilize many of the same structures in their singing styles.

Following these connections from the Inuk to the Ainu, and the the Ainu to the Nganasan, I found my research to be in the correct place geographically. The Nganasan are located in Russia/Siberia, so this is one of the locations that is believed to be the birthplace of throat singing. With that, I scoured the internet for connections between the Nganasan and any other central Asian tribe or group. I attempted to look for connections between them and the Tuvans and Tibetan indigenous groups, as well as tribes like the Chukchi in Northern Russia, however to no avail. I unfortunately was not able to find direct connections between these groups, however I don’t believe this is because there isn’t any connection. I believe that this is simply due to a lack of research in this field. The reason I believe this is because the groups are all similar in the sense that they practice this very niche, unique singing style, as well as the fact that they are all in very close proximity of each other. Because these groups, who are believed to be tens of thousands of years old, are all in the same area and practice throat singing, which is practiced very seldom in any other geographic location, it is hard to believe that this high concentration of of throat singing is simply due to coincidence.

Although this study was not completely successful, it seems that I was on track to finding deep connections. Due to lack of research on the topic, I was unable to find discernible connections between groups located in Asia. However, the connections between the Inuit, Ainu, and Nganasan feel to me very believable and authentic. Musically, traditionally/ceremonially, and even genetically, there is evidence of connection between these groups, and I think that it is fair to say that many, if not all, throat singing groups are potentially related through influence on each other. Although these influences may have occurred thousands of years ago, I myself believe that these connections are impossible to ignore.




Works Cited

Hai, Tran. “Bruno DESCHENES: Inuit Throat Singing.” Overtone Music Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2017. <http://www.overtone.cc/profiles/blogs/884327:BlogPost:7501&gt;.

Jeong, Choongwon, Shigeki Nakagome, and Anna Di Rienzo. “Deep History of East Asian Populations Revealed Through Genetic Analysis of the Ainu.” Genetics 202.1 (2016): 261–272. PMC. Web. 20 May 2017.

Nattiez, Jean-Jacques. Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990. Print.

Nattiez, Jean-Jacques. “The Rekkukara of the Ainu (Japan) and the Katajjaq of the Inuit (Canada): A Comparison.” The World of Music, vol. 25, no. 2, 1983, pp. 33–44. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43560906.

Ojamaa, Triinu. “Throat Rasping: Problems of Visualization.” The World of Music, vol. 47, no. 2, 2005, pp. 55–69. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41699645.

Walz, Jonathan David. “From Primitives to Zen: The Ainu Bear Sacrifice.” Man and the Sacred. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2017. <http://www.mircea-eliade.com/from-primitives-to-zen/092.html&gt;.

Khoomei / Overtone Singing and Related Links

Khoomei / Overtone Singing and Related Links

NEWOnline Throat-Singing Lessons by Steve Sklar

NEWKhoomei.com’s Forum The online meeting place to discuss throat-singing, overtone singing, instruments, cultures, and more!

Big Sky MP3 Page:* There are 3 mp3 songs here with examples of my khoomei: “Siberia,” “Fire in the Water,” and “Far Away.”

Huun-Huur-Tu: Ingrid Verhamme’s excellent site about the premier Tuvan ensemble. Bios, pics, tour info, links, and more!

Mark von Tongeren: Mark is a fine overtone and khoomei singer, and author of Overtone Singing.

http:tranquanghaisworldthroatsinging.com : Site of one of the pioneer researchers of overtone singing and phenomenal virtuoso Jaw Harpist, with many links.

Healing Voices/MantraVani Orchestra: Home of Jerry DesVoignes and One Voice Harmonic Choir in Vancouver, BC

Michael Ormiston: Michael’s web site is the best I’ve seen about Mongolian Throat-Singing.

Tuva Online: News from Tuva. Mainly Russian, but with English section, too.

Jonathan Goldman President of the Sound Healers Association

Nine Ways Mystery School Sacred Sound Workshops and more with Mitch Nur and Two Horses Also http://www.sacredsound.org/

Harmonic Enchantment: web site of Arjuna, overtone singer, instructor and musician

Diane Mandle: San Diego-based sound healer and performer

Tarbagan: Fine Japanese khoomei duo featuring Masahiko Todoriki

Harmonic Sounds: Site of Nestor Kornblum and Michele Averard, co-founders of the International Ass. Of Sound Therapy (I.A.S.T.) In English and Spanish versions.

Okna Tsagan Zam Site of Kalmuk throat-singer and philosopher, with MP3s and AVIs

Paul Pena: Late blues singer, throat-singer and star of “Genghis Blues”

Genghis Blues: Web site for the documentary film about Paul Pena’s 1995 trip to Tuva

Yat-Kha: Excellent Tuvan ensemble led by Albert Kuvezin, a founding member of HHT

Alash: Fine young Tuvan group

Robert Beahrs’ Throat-singing Blog: Report of world-wide investigation of overtone singing

Jim Cole: Overtone singer Jim Cole and his group Spectral Voices have a several recordings here.

Friends of Tuva: The first and most comprehensive site for all things Tuvan

The Tuva Trader Online: Looking for the right gift for your favorite Tuvaphile?

Oberton Seiten: Wolfgang Saus’ Overtone Singing Site (in German)

Kiva: Site of talented overtone singer/musician Kiva, aka Kathy Brown. With mp3s

Baird Hersey and Prana: American Overtone Choir

Avant@rt – The place for Jazz, Theater, Russia, China and more….

Discography of Mongolian, Siberian, and Tuvan Music. From FoT

Cedip Tur: Khoomei, Finnish style

Finnish Throat-Singing Society

Overtone Ru Throat-Singing discussion board. English and Russian.

Tyva Kyzy Meaning “Tuvan Girl,” a name suggested by khoomei great Khunashtaar-ool Oorzhak, this is an all-female Tuvan group.

Hosoo: Mongolian Khoomei Singer (German and English) Also see other German site for Hosoo

Scientific American Article on Throat-Singing: Interesting piece by Ted Levin and Michael Edgerton (English Version)

Crash Course in Khoomei: The rough and ready way to jump into khoomei by Brian Grover and Sean P. “Kushkash-ool” Quirk

David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir: Web home of David Hykes, one of the earliest pioneers of western overtone singing. Bios, pics, CD sales, and more

Sainkho Namtchylak: Fantastic female avant-garde singer from Tuva; new site

Stimmhorn: Duo of Christian Zehnder and Balthasar Streiff. German, French, and English

Christian Bollmann’s Overtone Choir: German and English pages

Leonardo Fuks: Brazilian harmonic singer and researcher

Totem People’s Preservation Site: Preserving threatened Central Asian cultures

Michael Vetter: Veteran overtone singer (in German)

La Voix Diphonique: Overtone ensemble (in French)

Ken Hyder: Shamanic jazz, with throat-singing, yeah!

Stuart Hinds: American harmonic singer specializing in contrapuntal music

Roberto Laneri Veteran overtone singer, didgeridoo player, and composer. In Italian and English

Vershki da Koreshki: Interesting ensemble; Tuvan singer Kaigal-ool Khovalyg of HHT is part-time member

Mystical Arts of Tibet: Site for performing Tibetan monks that tour the world

Soundworks: Site of Lyz Cooper, of the British Academy of Sound Therapy

Chanting: Not necessarily harmonic, but interesting

Face Music: Swiss music site feature many types of music, including Central Asian. Info, CD sales, and more…

Altai: This republic directly west of Tuva is home to Kai singing. Here’s an MP3 by the group, AltKai.

Umngqokolo Umqang This Xhosa throat-singing variant is perfomed by women, and sounds very deep and unique. There is very little documentation available, but I have seen a video by South African Ethnomusicologist David Dargie which if I recall correctly, mentioned shamanic connections. There is very little info currently available, mainly by Prof. Dargie. Here’s a MP3

Inuit “throat-singing” is a very different vocal art than the others included here, and is not multiphonic. However, it does sometimes use similar vocal timbres which often include the use of both the vocal and ventricular folds (I believe). And, as in the case of the Tibetan monks, it is not true “singing.” It sometimes involve the unsual technique of vocalizing on alternating inhalation/exhalations. Here is an article with an interview with Inuit throat-singer Evie Mark, and a video sample of Edie and Sarah Beaulne. I’m not sure if this tradition extends to other areas of the Arctic.

From Wikipedia: The Ainu of Japan had throat singing, called rekkukara, until 1976 when the last practitioner died. It resembled more the Inuit variety than the Mongolian. If this technique of singing emerged only once and then in the Old World, the move from Siberia to northern Canada must have been over Bering Strait land bridge some 12,000 years ago.

New World Terms: The name for throat singing in Canada varies with the geography:

• Northern Quebec – katajjaq
• Baffin Island – pirkusirtuk
• Nunavut – nipaquhiit

The Indians in Alaska have lost the art and those in Greenland evidently never developed it.

Inuit Throat Singing: When the men are away on a hunting trip, the women left at home entertain themselves with games, which may involve throat singing. Two women face each other usually in a standing position. One singer leads by setting a short rhythmic pattern, which she repeats leaving brief silent intervals between each repetition. The other singer fills in the gap with another rhythmic pattern. Usually thecompetition lasts up to three minutes until one of the singers starts to laugh or is left breathless. At one time the lips of the two women almost touched, so that one singer used the mouth cavity of the other as a resonator, but this isn’t so common today. Often the singing is accompanied by a shuffling in rhythm from one foot to the other. The sounds may be actual words or nonsense syllables or created during exhalation.

Rajasthan, India This is a very interesting example of a unique, peculiar and non-traditional development, as there is no such custom here. The anonymous singer learned to overtone sing by imitating the local double-flutes. MP3

USA – 1920s – The legendary and obscure Arthur Miles was an American cowboy singer who, apparently, also independently developed his own overtone singing style. He also sang in normal voice, yodeled, and played guitar. Almost nothing is know of him or his influences, but the dates of his recordings, believed to be about 1928-29, make him one of the earliest overtone singers ever recorded! Lonely Cowboy Part 1 Lonely Cowboy Part 2 Thanks to John (quaern from the Yahoo group)

Central Asia Landscapes Lots of great images, including many of Tuva. A few links are wrong, but the scenes are beautiful!

Google Search: “khoomei” Let’s make it easy on you…

Google Search: “singing” and “larynx” Just can’t get enough, can you?

Google Search: “harmonic singing” Uh-huh…

Google Search: “throat-singing”

Some Good Harmonics References:

The Harmonic Series A path to understanding musical intervals, scales, tuning and timbre by Reginald Bain – University of South Carolina. This is a great reference with lots of harmonic-related info, sounds, graphics, and links. Very cool!

Harmonic Series Rice College Summary: The harmonic series is the key to understanding not only harmonics, but also timbre and the basic functioning of many musical instruments. A good online lesson in harmonics and overtones.

Why two notes of the harmonic series sound well together Cool sound samples

Overtone Series: Time to brush up on harmonic theory?

Overtone Report: Interesting article on overtone singing

Links – Voice, vocal anatomy, etc.

Structures of the larynx Good site from Mythos Anatomy/Webmed, with interactive anatomy figures.

Singing and Anatomy Two articles on voice production

The Singing Voice: Anatomy More good info on the vocal anatomy. Lots of useful graphics, videos, and links. Don’t miss the section on Castrati, and remember that it may improve sygyt but at the expense of a good, deep kargyraa. Act accordingly.

Lots of cool links about the voice

A Basic Overview of Voice Production by Ronald C. Scherer, Ph.D. Lots off good definitions of vocal terms.

How the Larynx (Voice Box) Works Charles R. Larson, Ph.D. Good article with good graphics.

Well, that’s a start…. many of these sites have additional links… and so on… and so on…

Got a site that I should include? Drop me an email.

Shu De!


Last Updated 12-10-05