Smithsonian Folkways to Release Tuvan group Alash's 'Achai' (8.25)

Achai, the Tuvan word for father, describes a deep paternal participation in the upbringing and growth of a new generation. It is also a fitting title for Alash's first album for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, out Aug. 25. The four-member Tuvan group made 'Achai' to honor the late master throat singer, teacher, and tireless musical ambassador Kongar-ool Ondar, who served not only as a musical father for the ensemble, but also for an entire generation of Tuvan musicians.

As Ondar shared memory and tradition, so too does Alash with spirited performances and forward-thinking collaborations. 'Achai' beautifully illustrates the adaptability of Tuvan music-organically created and deeply rooted, yet still interconnected with the sound world of the 21st century. Featuring master beatboxer Shodekeh, alongside time-honored Tuvan throat-singing styles, the album demonstrates how members of Alash have dedicated their lives to performing, preserving, developing, and growing the Tuvan tradition. They are worthy bearers of the culture of their fathers and sons.

In addition to guitar and bayan accordion, the recordings on 'Achai' feature traditional Tuvan instruments: the stringed igil and doshpuluur; the shoor and mugu, two types of flute; the demir-xomus, a metal jaw harp; and the kengirge, a large drum associated with the religious practices of Tibetan Buddhists. All four members of the group are well-versed in xmei, an approach to singing that involves creating harmonic overtones with the voice. It is often called "throat singing" by Western audiences. One song on 'Achai, ' "My Throat, the Cuckoo, " compares the singer's voice to the sound of morning birds and showcases the various styles of xmei. The album's final song, "Sula salyp beereel chonum (Let's Relax), " sets traditional Tuvan stanzas to contemporary melodies, indicating the direction Alash is taking Tuvan traditions.

Tuva is a Russian republic in central Asia, along the northern border of Mongolia. Kongar-ool Ondar, who died in 2013 at age 51, was beloved there for his contributions to the preservation of Tuva's living music and his mentoring of younger musician. He also gained a global audience via collaborations with Western performers like Willie Nelson and Bla Fleck.

Alash member Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, a former student of Kongar-ool Ondar, says: "He's the one who showed us the way from a very young age in the musical world, like a father for us. His participation in our musical upbringing was huge, with a great effect on our development into the future. So we recorded this album with him in mind, dedicating it to his memory."

Alash began in 1999 at Tuva's Kyzyl Music College and currently consists of Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Shirizhik and Ayan-Ool Sam. The group has recorded two previous albums and, in 2013, became the first Tuvan ensemble to perform in Carnegie Hall. 'Achai' is Smithsonian Folkways' third album of Tuvan music, following two sets of field recordings released in the 1990s.

A 24-page booklet with liner notes by Sean Quirk, Alash's manager and interpreter, accompanies the 57-minute collection. The album was produced by Scott Alan Stewart and Quirk.

'Achai' Track List:

1. Oglumga (For My Son)

2. Odarladyp Semirtiili (Let's Fatten the Livestock)

3. Dongup xonar boldum-na be (Don't Let Me Freeze)

4. Flute Box

5. Karachal

6. Mezhegei

7. Chgle Sen Sen (Only You)

8. Ko'sh-oi and Torgalyg

9. Kara Kush (The Black Bird)

10. Igil / Xmei

11. My Throat, the Cuckoo

12. Achai (Father)

13. Sula salyp beereel chonum (Let's Relax)

About Smithsonian Folkways:

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among people through the documentation, preservation, production, and dissemination of sound. Part of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, it is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States.

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