Interviewer: Emil Pevtsov, graduate of Durham University, UK. Historian of Inner Asia and China.
Outstanding Tuvan artist, Radik Tyulush, shares his views on the most important topics in life – family, tradition and an artist’s creative path.
Tuva is a region of Russia in the heart of the continent, and this geographical centre of Asia is marked by a monument in the capital, in Kyzyl. Being at the crossroads of many civilisations, the rich and ancient culture of Tuva absorbed all the best from each guest. Tuvan artists appeared on the Soviet stage in the early 1960s, and began to tour abroad in the 80’s. Then and now Tuva continues to be famous for its culture, and Tuvan figures are constantly present on the international arena. The main musical asset of the region is throat singing. Currently, throat singing is in the process of being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and enjoys growing popularity in Russia and abroad.
This summer, I, too, finally got lucky. In Moscow, I managed to snatch some tickets to Huun Huur Tu’s concert. I expected that the majority of listeners would be Tuvans themselves. Nope! A crowd of different people of all ages and nationalities was happily seated on the benches of the “Concert Hall”, installed on the platform in the centre of the pond at VDNKh. People filled the free space on the banks of the pond. The end of each song was accompanied by waves of enthusiastic applause.
There I got acquainted with one of the band members, composer and master of throat singing, Radik Tyulush. I am proud to present you my interview with him. The band “Huun-Huur Tu” (literally “sun propeller”) is one of the most successful groups of folk music in the world. The group won BBC awards, and is often invited to concerts around the world. Just as importantly – the band constantly tours all over Russia, finding their fans everywhere. Between tours, Radik is working on his project “Chalama”.
On the popularisation of folk culture, in Russia and abroad
How would you suggest popularising folk music among the youth of today?
I’m not a supporter of imposing any ideas and interests on anyone. However, I would say that everything starts at family level. Everything goes from there. First of all, I want to emphasise the role of the parents. After all, folk music is just one of the elements of traditional culture. It does not exist separately. They are intertwined. People’s traditions will never teach you anything bad, in this respect you can rely on it. Folk wisdom has been and remains the most ingenious thing that we got our ancestors gifted us. Children from childhood together with adults should try to sing folk songs, listen to fairy tales, draw, in the end work together in all ways. If you have instilled this feeling from childhood, then it is not necessary to artificially support anything. You will imbue culture with Mother’s milk.
What do you think is the best way to spread Tuvan and other Russian culture across the world?
You see, this is a difficult question, there is a lot of important details, including shortcomings in state policy. These need to be eliminated, and reform takes time and effort. A cooperation between the musician and the state, understanding of the artists’ pressing problems is only a small part of the overall solution. [For a musician] The feeling that the state has your back will incentivise more artists to come onto the creative market.
What elements of your repertoire resonate most domestically and abroad?
The element of Tuvan throat singing in our programme is always the keystone. Tuvan throat singing contains the whole essence of our culture. It contains the main focus of the Tuvan sound system. When the first Tuvan singers appeared on stage in the early 80s, the listener was shocked by such a novelty. It was Tuvan throat singing that gave the world an understanding that there is a huge unexplored layer of nomadic culture. And it was the phenomenon of Tuvan throat singing that gave impetus to the emergence of various ethno-musicological anthropological works, the emergence of various foreign and Russian bands, all somehow related to this cultural phenomenon. This process continues.
You have performed in many places around the world. Where do the most people come, and where do you like the most?
You know, the number of spectators is no longer a big deal. It happens that a lot of people come to listen to us at Carnegie Hall, or two hundred people in the club “Dom” in Moscow. I am primarily concerned with the quality of the concert. There are places and halls in which you want to come back again, with gloriously inspiring acoustics, but wherever you perform, the warmth of the audience towards you is the sign that you are doing everything right.
On Radik’s creative Journey
What inspired you to start a career in music?
From when I was learning to walk, I tried to imitate the adults in our family and sing like them. For this I went to sing in the taiga, when our herds were at pasture. And there in the distant taiga, when I was left alone, I let my voice go. Probably, it will be right to say that the great inspiration was the Nature of Tuva. These mountains and steppes, rivers and forests, the vast taiga and great lakes. Our Eternal Blue Sky and Mother Earth are with you when you’re there.
When you are in a professional, it is sometimes difficult to divide work from pleasure for yourself in the given area. Do you notice this with music? What are your favourite musical genres?
Yes, for me music is both work and pleasure. I’m happy that this happened to me. As they say, the the best job is the one that brings pleasure. I do not understand musicians who do not like their work. And they are out there. It’s wild to me when a musician plays music without feelings and love for the act. That’s just the worst. Such musicians need to look for another job. I do not have a certain favourite musical genre – all music is good. But of course, for me the most significant element in music is Melody. A clearly and beautifully executed melody in any genre for me is a good indicator of mastery of the performer and composer.
What else would you like to tell our readers and your (some future) fans?
Sing. With your singing your soul becomes kinder. And if a person sings, then he feels harmony. Become better and kinder with the music. Our world needs our kindness.
The culture of the Tuvan region is interesting in that it acts as a conductor through time of many “traditionalist” values. It is enough to analyse the songs which made it onto Huun Huur Tu’s track list. One is about selfless before your people (for example, the revolutionary song “Agitator“), brave heroism (“Kongurai“), and, also about the real friends of heroes and batyrs of the steppe – good horses: (“Eki atttar“). Tuvan people’s culture successfully adapts to the renewal of styles and fashions, and although the form undergoes metamorphoses, the essence and values remain the same. This musical heritage unites peoples and generations, informing the public consciousness and educating incoming generations.
Russia has much to be proud of, the timeless cultural heritage of regions such as Tuva, personified by unique musicians such as Radik and the Huun Huur Tu group, are outstanding examples. Source.