P & C December 1998
- last update 03-2016
Traditional vocal technique:
Khai is the traditional form of throat singing from the Sayan-Altai region, closely related to Altaian and Shor (kai). Using only the lowest and highest register. It's a traditional men's singing technique (singer and storyteller) for native epic. It is an important part of Khakas cultural heritage, inextricably linked with their epic storytelling and therefore in high esteem. It is considered the noblest way of performing.
Overtone singing and throat singing is a common feature of all southern Siberian Turkic, many Mongolian, as well as some Kazakh tribes. Overtone singing or throat singing can also be heard from Turkic-speaking tribes in disparate parts of central Asia. The Bashkir musicians from the Ural Mountains, for instance, call their style of overtone singing uzlyau. Overtone singing is a special technique in which a single vocalist produces two distinct tones simultaneously. In its clearest form (Tuvan, Mongolian) one tone is a low, sustained fundamental pitch (a kind of drone) and the second is a series of flutelike harmonics, which resonate high above this drone. Who masters this singing technique may even make the overtone sound louder then the fundamental pitch, so the drone is not audible anymore. A different technique often used by overtone singers combines a normal glottal pitch with the low frequency, pulselike vibration known as vocal fry. The Turkic tribes in the Sayan-Altai region use to sing their texts in such a low vocal fry register of about 25-20 Hz.
The Khakas, Altai and Shor people in the northern part of the Sayan-Altai region, unlike the Tuvans and Mongolians, do not bring out the overtones much in their throat singing (khai, kai). Khai traditionally is largely a male vocal technique though women are known to have performed and to perform it, as well. It is produced by generating a fundamental tone while pressing the diaphragm and squinting the vocal cords. This way a hoarse sound arises, accompanied by soft overtones that change with the vowels of the recited text, and that create a many-layered sound hovering above the basic drone. In Khakas tradition the overtones are rarely used to make a melody. Khai is not used to show virtuosity but to convey text in a convincing way, and is therefore rarely performed independently.
Khai is inseparable from alyptygh nymakh (heroic storytelling). A storyteller who performs heroic stories with khai and an accompanying string instrument is called khaidzhi. He recites part of the story on a single, repeated fundamental tone, with temporary shifts to a higher or lower tone. By using the technique of khai, he clearly distinguishes the words but at the same time makes overtones subtly resonate above the recited text. The overtones reinforce the story’s text, as they create an extraordinary timbral texture that brings about the supernatural time-space in which the epic world comes to life. Such a performance may last up to several nights. Storytellers used this powerful vocal technique also for their songs, a use singers later adopted.
Khai is both the term for the Khakas technique of throat singing in general, and for one of its styles. It is performed in three styles: kharghyra or ulugh chon khai, küveler or küülep (or khai), and syghyrtyp.
Besides heroic epics, the Khakas people perform stories in prose, like sacred myths about the origin of the world, creator spirits, spirit-owners and other spirits; true stories and legends about historical heroes, shamans, group ancestors and genealogies; humorous tales and children's folk tales; cradle songs and laments; sung or recited poems like fixed canonical songs and short improvised songs; proverbs, sayings, wise phrases and puzzles; prayers, requests, thanksgivings and blessings; and many more.
The Khakas have two main types of song: takhpakh and yr or saryn. Both takhpakh and saryn/yr often praise nature or are wellwishings for nature or homeland.
Barden Kaichi (Khaigee Khaidji)
Quellen sind aus unveröffentlichten Manuskripten des Ethnograph und Musikwissenschaftlers A. Anokhin, der mehr als 20 Jahre im Altai verbracht.
Eine Reihe epische Geschichten zeigen Ähnlichkeiten, in Identität zu Geschichten von Altaihelden, so von Dschingis Khan oder die mongolischburjatische Version der Geser Geschichten (Epen).
Revised by Hermelinde Steiner and Liesbet Nyssen 2013