Ralph Leighton [...] plans to send a trio of yodeling Russian cowboys clip-clopping and khoomei -ing down Colorado Boulevard. They are Tuvans, members of a small band of nomadic Asians who live in southern Siberia and are known for their unusual ability to sing two notes at once. [...] On Wednesday, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatoly Kuular and Kongar-ool Ondar had barely collected baggage containing the fur hats, shiny silk robes and curved-toe boots they will wear in the parade when Leighton rushed them to a stable to introduce them to the horses they will ride.
Three Russian singing cowboys who rode in last week's Rose Parade to the sound of a high school band plan to march to their own beat back to Pasadena today. Singing horsemen from the remote Russian area of Tuva—who were unexpectedly drowned out by a band marching behind them on New Year's Day—will stage free concerts at noon and 7:30 p.m. at Caltech. [...] The noon concert will be at Caltech's Olive Walk; the evening performance will be in Baxter Hall.
The highlight of the Saturday performance at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art will be the exotic vocal performance known as "throat singing," in which the singer lets out a light whistle and a deep chant at the same time. [...] The Tuvans are in the United States on a two-month mission designed to expose the West to their unfamiliar culture. Last week, the group participated in the Rose Parade. On Saturday they will dress in traditional costumes, recite folk stories and sing.
When the Tuvans came to Los Angeles for the first time they performed at Caltech. I heard them, they were singing live on KPFK, and I called Frank Zappa, I knew he would love that kind of music, and I said, "Hey, turn on the radio! You wanna go see 'em? Let's go se 'em." And he said no, he wasn't feeling well enough, but invited the Tuvans over to his house. And I did, I admitted my mission, I went to Caltech and I banged on the auditorium door, 'cause they were rehearsing. "Let me in! Let me in!" And I said, "Frank Zappa would like to meet you." They knew who Frank Zappa was. Anyway, so they came over and Frank recorded them and he put some stuff out with them. Yes, really cool.
Despite his illness, despite no longer performing live, Zappa has lost none of his relish for experimentation. He recently held what he called a Salon at his house, where he recorded the combined sound made by the Chieftains from Ireland, a Tuvan throat singing group from Mongolia, and his old friend Johnny Guitar Watson.
One of the most spectacular salon evenings produced what might just have been the most peculiar recording session in history—peculiar, that is, for the disparate styles of the participants: The Chieftains (the Irish folk music ensemble non pareil ), the magnificent drummer Terry Bozzio, blues guitar legend Johnny "Guitar" Watson, jazz/fusion violinist L. Shankar, and several Tuvan "throat" singers from northern China. The Chieftains piped and plucked, Bozzio thumped, Shankar fiddled, the Tuvans whipped up a Mongolian folk ditty in their unique, nasally, double-toned drone (the song concerned their nomadic life as herdsmen), and Watson strummed minor chords, periodically offering the Tuvans chuckling, pithy encouragements like "Sing about them sheep, now." The master of ceremonies particularly relished recounting that eclectic night, despite the fact that pain forced him to retire early (some of that session will be released on "Dance Me This," one of several forthcoming albums Zappa managed to complete.)
On Monday afternoon I pulled up at the house of Frank Zappa. [...] 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).
[...] 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.
[...] Matt Groening (of Simpsons fame) turned up a little later. It was his 39th birthday [Monday, February 15, 1993], 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 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. [...]
The next day the Tuvans boarded a plane to Amsterdam to begin their four day journey home.
In the booklet of Huun-Huur-Tu's 60 Horses In My Herd (Shanachie 64050), "Song of the Caravan Drivers" is "In honor of Frank Zappa, who loves this song."
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