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The Friends of Tuva Newsletter

Sixth issue: Spring, 1993
Published by Friends of Tuva
Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117 USA.
Fax: (213) 221-8882

Dear Friend of Tuva,

They came, they saw, and they captured the hearts of people everywhere they went: the trio of Tuvan throat singers--Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatoly Kuular, and Kongar-ool Ondar--toured the US for six weeks and made an indelible impression on thousands of people.

Their journey, which could have been called "California or Bust!", was yet another result of a question posed more than fifteen years ago by physicist and adventurer Richard Feynman:

"Whatever happened to Tannu Tuva?"

Now, as a result of their appearance in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and their concerts in fifteen cities and towns, people across America have learned that there is a little country called Tuva with one of the most fascinating cultures on earth.

We have still a long way to go in putting Tuva back on the map and into the people's consciousness, but some significant steps were taken during the past few weeks:

1) The word "Tuva" was uttered by thousands of spectators along the Rose Parade route in Pasadena, and on television in Los Angeles. (Unfortunately, due in large part to the Tuvans position near the end of the parade, they failed to make it onto national network television--the networks aired more commercials at the end than at the beginning. To all of those FoTs across the country and around the world who had tuned in the parade hoping to see the Tuvans, our apologies! Maybe we'll try again next year.)

2) The mayor of San Francisco signed a proclamation declaring February 6 to be "Republic of Tuva Day" in San Francisco.

3) California State Senator Quentin Kopp signed a similar proclamation on behalf of the State of California.

4) Dick Blum, Himalayan enthusiast and husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, attended a reception in San Francisco honoring the Tuvans. He purchased a copy of Journey to Tuva (see the Tuva Trader), and said that now at least one member of the U.S. Senate will soon know that Tuva exists.

Lost Land Returns!

The Lost Land of Tannu Tuva, an excellent documentary that features yurts, yaks, throat singers, and more, will be seen on the Discovery Channel on Monday evening, March 15, at 10pm on the east and west coasts (see your local listings to confirm). The documentary, narrated by "deep throat" himself, Hal Holbrook (see All the President's Men), will be part of the series "Portrait of a People," which is presently airing on Monday nights. If you don't subscribe to the Discovery Channel (it's a cable TV service), you can obtain a copy of the Lost Land of Tannu Tuva in VHS format (with no commercials!) for $20 from the Tuva Trader.

Know Your Tuvans: A Thumbnail Sketch

by Kerry Yackoboski

Just like at a ball game, you can't tell the players apart without a score card. . . so here's a thumbnail sketch of the 5 Tuvans spear-heading the Tuvan invasion of America.

Anatoly Kuular sings and plays khomus, and byzaanchy. While he wears his bright yellow formal tunic only during performances, he almost always wears his traditional hat that defies mere words. Picture a cloth crown combined with an elaborate "winter beanie", with two large ornamental flaps turned up on the sides and smaller flaps turned up in front and back. The flaps are of fuzzy dark blue material, while the crown is green and silver cloth with red and gold brocade. The peak of the hat is decorated with a red ball made of carefully knotted cloth. A pair of long red ribbons runs from the pinnacle of the cap, down the back, and usually tucked inside the back of the hat. Kuular is quite outgoing and tends to pick up English phrases quickly, a talent that served him well in Canada and New York last summer. Your contributor has heard more than one grown woman claim that "Kuular is the cutest", somewhat reminiscent of Beatlemania 30 years ago.

Kaigal-ool Khovalyg (the -ool suffix is rhymes more with "role" than "rule") has a full head of hair, parted on one side, and sports a thick black mustache. He looks a little stern but is friendly and is highly acclaimed as a singer, as well as for playing igil. He has serenaded the Dalai Lama. Khovalyg per-forms in a blue tunic woven with intricate gold circular medallion patterns. This is topped off with a light reddish fur cap large enough to make Davey Crockett envious. Khovalyg worked for several years as a herdsman, and he was the most willing to demonstrate the fine art of building a yurt. Three Friends of Tuva had volunteered to design and build a yurt as a stage prop for the concert tour, and the rookies were light-heartedly scolded by the experts when it was discovered that the methods used to build the prop diverged from traditional methods.

The round face of Kongar-ool Ondar is emphasized by his traditional Tuvan hair-style--a long pony tail in the back but shaved cleanly in the front to a point almost directly above his ears. As he sings a great beatific look crosses his face, reminding me of a cherubic "Have a Happy Day" face. If serious Khovalyg is the John of the group, and cute Kuular the Paul, prankster Ondar must be the Ringo, for he has a wicked sense of humour. We had taken the Tuvans to Venice Beach, and while walking on the sand Ondar spotted a beach-comber with a metal detector scanning the ground for lost treasure. Ondar ran up behind him and threw a coin in front of the man, who was in no mood for games. The beachcomber walked right over the coin, so Ondar picked it up and threw it in his path again, only to watch the poor victim miss it again. Ondar looked in our direction and shrugged (we were shrieking with laughter at this point), and then discovered he couldn't find his coin, so he motioned to call the treasure hunter over to help him look . . . an inspired punch line. You had to be there to fully appreciate the slapstick--describing it is like talking about a Harpo Marx scene. Hopefully, this scene will make it to the video encapsulating the concert tour.

Rada Chakar has been in LA for several months, as she works to pioneer trade between Tuva and the USA. She has been acting as a translator for the three singers, since she was formerly a teacher of English in Tuva and speaks impeccable English. She rode in the Rose Parade with the singers, although she does not normally ride a horse. When asked her opinion of sitting on a horse for upwards of three hours without the benefit of prior experience, she admitted only that the fol-lowing day she felt much better than she had predicted.

Rada's younger brother, Sayan, arrived with the three singers to join his sister in her business efforts. He is husky, as Tuvans go, and his French is on a par with that of your humble reporter, which is to say "not all that great". Sayan is enamoured of the American way of life and is eager to learn English--he brought over a Russian/English translation dictionary to speed the process.

The four Tuvan men were sitting in our rented van with female FoT Deanne as they leafed through the dictionary, shouting out phrases that caught their attention, such as the now-irrelevant "Are you a member of the Communist Party?". Suddenly all five were shrieking with laughter, for reasons that were not explained until later. The men had found an interesting word, and yelled it out--"gynecologist"--making Deanne howl with laughter, too. The next day, Ondar was making a big show of being the "American Boy", the English chorus from a current Russian pop song. Sayan corrected him, making the distinction between "boy" and "man", but the other three men rejected his argument based on the fact that they had acquired a Playboy magazine and decided that if it had "boy" in the title, "boy" was good enough for them.

Frank Zappa invited the Tuvans back to his house--
and this time I got to go too.

by Jeff Dickson

On Monday afternoon I pulled up at the house of Frank Zappa. I gave up waiting out-side after half an hour, and forged in on my own without the Tuvan Throat singers, who were to be his guests.

About 20 minutes after the Tuvans arrived, a very pale Frank Zappa came into the room we were all milling around in. Present were Gail and Moon Zappa; Phil Abrams, the Amazing Bubble Man; Chris Sykes, who did the NOVA documentaries on Feynman (and a new two-part documentary on Feynman that just aired in Britain); Ralph's family; all Tuvans except for Rada, the translator (who showed up later); Darryl and Brenda Henriques, who were preparing the food; and Natasha, an expatriate Russian musician, who served as translator; and a couple of people I didn't get introduced to.

Zappa presented the Tuvans with a tape of the performances they did for him during Zappa-Tuva I, and a little "extra something." The performances were very good, and the tape (to my ignorant ears) sounded well engineered. The "extra something" turned out to be a solo track by Anatoly Kuular, to which Zappa's engineer had overdubbed some funky bass and rhythm ("using calculus!" Zappa repeated many times). It was hard to judge the Tuvan's reaction, but they were at least gracious. Ralph thought it was great. The tape (including "extra something") was released to the Tuvans free of restrictions in exchange for sampling their voices for a future Zappa work. It will be added to the growing pile of collaborations, which includes recordings with Mickey Hart as well as The Kronos Quartet. [It will be released in the spring of 1994 as part of a larger work by Frank Zappa.]

As the tape of the Tuvan-Kronos collaboration played over the speakers, we ate a nice meal which featured the chef's latest creation--Tuvan Pizza (chunks of lamb with onions as toppings). Zappa explained that in addition to sampling the Tuvans singing, he wanted to have them improvise something to a rather heavy piece of heavy metal that he had created. Natasha and I teamed up to provide Frank with a good laugh. Later, as I talked to the BBC producer about his Feynman research, Ralph came up and added some of his personal thoughts. This was on the fifth anniversary of Feynman's death.

Matt Groening (of Simpsons fame) turned up a little later. It was his 39th birthday, so we converted a half eaten chocolate log cake to a birthday cake and sang "Happy Birthday" to him, complete with throat-singing. The Tuvans followed Zappa to the studio to begin the musical experiments that Zappa wanted to try. The rest of us just mingled while The Amazing Bubble Man entertained Ian (aka Rocky the flying squirrel) with some well done bubble blowing. The cook, who is also a comedian, presented Groening with his book 100 Ways You Can Help Pave the Planet.

Later in the evening Ralph and I joined the Tuvans in Zappa's recording studio. Once known as the "Utility Muffin Research Kitchen," the name was changed to the "Baby Milk Factory" after the Gulf War. It was a very impressive set-up. The recording seemed to go well, although the improvisation experiment with Heavy Metal that Zappa was trying wasn't working to his satisfaction, so he called it off. Zappa looked very tired as he posed with the Tuvans, as I took a picture for Ondar (on his new camera).

On the way back to the main group (in the kitchen area) I returned with Ralph via Zappa's study, where Ralph and the Tuvans had been received before. Cool place--full of character. It was packed with recordings, and a whole collection of ZAPPA license plates from sates all over the USA hung on the walls.

When they were finished, the Tuvans relaxed with a post-recording beer, and Frank came up later to have a little snack. It was about 8pm, but he was totally drained of energy and went off to bed. With that we bid our hosts a good night. With the TUVA mobile in front, the TANNU mobile second, and my car in third, we snaked our way down from Zappa's house to the freeway.

The next day the Tuvans boarded a plane to Amsterdam to begin their four day journey home.

Esoterica, part I:
Whatever Happened to [the part of] Tannu Tuva that wasn't incorporated [into the USSR in 1944]?

You stamp collectors and geography buffs--and owners of the T-shirt available from the Tuva Trader--may have noticed that Tannu Tuva is a bit larger than the Tuva ASSR: the eastern-most part, known as Darkhat (where the Yenisei begins) mysteriously became Mongolian territory some time in the 1940s or '50s.

I dimly remember reading somewhere that Darkhat was split off from Soviet Tuva and given to Mongolia in the early 1950s by none other than Molotov (of Molotov-Rippentrop fame), Stalin's foreign minister. (If this is true, it would have implications for the Kurile Island dispute with Japan, for the Russian argument for not giving up the islands is that not one bit of Soviet territory has ever been ceded to another country--otherwise, there would be at least half a dozen countries expecting territory to be returned to them. I might be confusing this with a border readjustment in the south, near Erzin, but the implication would remain the same.)

My brother, Alan, thinks that Darkhat was split off from Tuva and given to Mongolia as the price of Mongolia's acceptance of Tuva joining the USSR--and thus was done in 1944. This sounds more plausible.

As I am swamped with answering the mail and attending to other details for Friends of Tuva, I do not have time to research the definitive answer. But perhaps an FoT with some detective skills (i.e. persistence and access to a good library and perhaps a computer data base as well) can get the story right. In the meantime, those who want to know more about this little part of Tannu Tuva that didn't become part of the USSR, there is a book recently published in Berlin by Nishen (address: Am Tempelhofer berg 6, 1000 Berlin 61) by Ulrike Ottinger called Taiga. The price tag is very high (around $80), so be prepared. (Perhaps you can convince a library to buy it.) In any case, this tiny part of Tannu Tuva has the extraordinary diversity of landscapes and livestock as the rest of the country: reindeer in the north, camels in the south, and yak in the mountains!

As Alan has now finished translating Journey to Tuva, perhaps he will embark on another project of translating a book about Tuva from German to English--but in the meantime, the photographs (over 80 in color, and over 60 in black-and-white) are fantastic.

Esoterica, part II: Go in Tuva?

FoT member Peter Shotwell seeks information or contacts with interested people on the game of go (played widely in Japan) in Tibet, Mongolia, and Tuva. Please contact him c/o Olson, 10751 Wilshire Bl. # 608, Los Angeles CA 90024.

Robert High Remembered

Robert High, president of the American Go Association, and founder of Friends of Tuva in New York City, died in January while white-water rafting in Chile. His wit, humor, and imagination will be missed by all who knew him. An obituary listing his many accomplishments appeared on January 15 in the New York Times.

Kaigal-ool Khovalyg sang a moving song, Lament for a Lost Friend, in Robert's memory in the New York concerts. The song has been recorded and will be released, it is hoped, by next year.

Travel to Tuva

Logistical problems continue to be the main obstacle facing travellers to Tuva. Unless you are willing to pay a high premium (in which case contact InnerAsia Expeditions at 800 777-8183), be prepared for an unpredictable trip. If unpredictability is no problem for you, then please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Tuva Travel, Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117.

Tuva to Travel to Canada and Ann Arbor

A summer tour across Canada (with a quick stop in the US) by five Tuvans will take place again this year. After the Celebration of Voices Festival in Ann Arbor (July 6-7), the Tuvans will perform in Winnipeg (9-11), Vancouver (16-18), Calgary (24), Vancouver (World Symposium on Choral Music, August 4-6), and Edmonton (7-8). The Tulip Festival in Ottawa, and/or the Montréal and Quebec City festivals (July 12-15) are still being negotiated.

Ulug Chettirdim!

Special thanks are in order for several people who made the recent tour by the Tuvans a success: Bill LeGallee, of the US Embassy in Moscow, whose advice and vigilance was essential to receiving visas; Canadian FoTs, headed by Jeff Dickson and Kerry Yackoboski, who showed the Tuvans a good time in Los Angeles; Jeff Cook and Bill Loewy, who documented the Tuvans' appearance in the Rose Parade; artist Jan Steward and friends, who painted some beautiful Tuvan foot lockers for use as stage props; Carol Conrad, NYCFoT, who placed the hotel she manages (Comfort Inn, Exit 48 on the Long Island Expressway) at the disposal of the Tuvans and their hosts, and showed them all a good time in New York; Shep Kopp, who lent his apartment, showed the Tuvans a very good time in San Francisco, and engineered the political declarations (see page 1); Margaret Leighton, Sue Minolli, Noor Kiser, the Bacons, the Ballens, the Walkers, and the Balls, for providing accommodations and a good time for Rada Chakar; and, most importantly, thanks are in order to my wife, Phoebe Kwan, for tolerating such a hectic and chaotic flurry of madness for two months.

Here it Is! The New Flag of Tuva!

(Scan in Tuvan flag here)

In September, 1992, a new flag was officially adopted by the Republic of Tuva. Note the colors: the yellow (y) represents the country's Buddhist heritage; the sky-blue (sb) and white (w) stripes represent the confluence of the main branches of the Yenisei River at Kyzyl; the sky-blue field is--well, I haven't received official word yet. (Could it be the beautiful blue sky, seen for so much of the year in Tuva, perhaps?) The official dimensions also have yet to arrive; in the meantime, the flag seems to be in a ratio of 1 : 2, and the triangle--bisected horizontally--appears to be in the ratio of 3 : 4 : 5.

Tuvans in California

(Scan in photo of Tuvans here)

Fitting right in with the California landscape are, from left to right: Sayan Chakar, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatoly Kuular, Rada Chakar, and Kongar-ool Ondar.