Throat singing, known as khöömei, is an ancient and original form of Tuvan musical art, which is known everywhere as an amazing phenomenon of world musical culture. The exceptional feature of khöömei is the fact that a single performer can produce multiple notes, with two and even three-tone melodies.
Researchers of Tuvan khöömei have discovered specific differences from the similiar arts of Monglian khüümii, Khakass khai, Altai kai, and Bashkir uzlyau. In Tibet the monks read sutras in such a way that overtones can be heard. It is said that this style is simlar to the Tuvan style, but the performance and function of their singing differs so much from the singing of the nomads of Central Asia, that it is not clear whether a common tradition exists among these people or not.
The Tuvan art of khöömei is unbelievably developed and unique as a system, as in consists of five main forms of performance: khöömei, sygyt, borbangnadyr, kargyraa, and ezengileer, which in turn have their own substyles – there are modern substyles such as tespeng borbang and byrlangnadyr, as well as ancient styles such as buga khöömei, öpei khöömei, kangzyp, chylandyk, and others. It goes without saying that the individual performances styles must be taken into account, because it is the famous khöömeizhi singers – performers whose talent is so great and original, that gave names to the new styles of khöömei. Out of all the peoples of Eurasia such a diversity is only seen among the Tuvans.
Researchers of the history of khöömei’s origins suggest that this art is older than 200 years and comes from the beginning of ancient Turkic times. Khöömei is certainly known from very ancient times, it is spoken of in myths and in folk songs. In the heroic tales throat singing is described as something normal which has existed for a long time in the Tuvan people’s life. “The hero performs khöömei, sounding a thousand singers, the sky and earth quake from his song, and the mountain-tops crumble.”
In our times the traditions of khöömei are not only being preserved, but are developing so much that not only is it heard in concert halls of Tuva and Russia, but in Asia, Europe, and America as well. Khöömei has become the legacy of Tuvan musical culture in the world public.