Alash's performance at Garfield Artworks after an Unblurred gallery crawl was one of the more magical shows I saw last year -- even the musicians themselves seemed surprised by the otherworldly whistles and guttural rumbles coming out of their mouths. Hailing from the Republic of Tuva, on Siberia's southernmost edge, Alash specializes in the region's throat-singing, or xöömei, a technique that allows a singer to generate up to four different tones simultaneously.
The concept of throat-singing, along with the traditional robes and strange instruments, might first suggest that Alash's music is an acquired taste -- something difficult to enjoy initially. Really, the opposite is true. It's not difficult to pick out the music's folk melodies and loping rhythms, and the introductions by American interpreter Sean Quirk give a general sense of what these songs are about (mainly horses and girls, apparently).
While Alash's members -- Nachyn Choodu, Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Ayan-ool Sam and Ayan Shirizhik -- are award-winning singers in Tuvan traditional styles, they're also stretching the boundaries of that music and incorporating some Western influences. (I mean, they're guests on Béla Fleck's Christmas album, for chrissakes.)
While the throat-singing is a feat you need to see and hear to believe, the group's arrangements are also compelling, and the instruments are a Lark in the Morning catalog come to life: flutes, the banjo-like doshpoluur, the two-stringed cello-like igil and many others are deployed, anchored by the bass pulse of the kengirge drum. Combined with the changing instrumentation, the show's mix of ensemble pieces and solos has a fun, engaging flow.
Alash's Fri., March 12, performance at Istanbul Café (like the Garfield Artworks show I saw) is organized by CP contributor Manny Theiner.
Alash with AppalAsia 8 p.m. Fri., March 12. Istanbul Café, 4130 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $10 ($15 day of show). 412-683-1623 or www.istanbulpgh.com