Tuvan musician Albert Kuvezin talks about the connection of local music with the Blues and human feelings

"Tuvan music mainly in pentatonic scale with some alterative and therefore melodies sound very much like blues ones. The rhythms remind country-and-western. Plus singers use a lot of improvisation with lyrics too."

Albert Kuvezin: Music Mandala

Albert Budachievich Kuvezin is a Tuvan guitarist and throat singer, born 27 November 1965 in Kyzyl. Kuvezin was one of the founding members of the Tuvan folk ensemble Huun-Huur-Tu, and is the leader of the Tuvan folk/rock/electro/post punk band Yat-Kha. He is known for his unique, contra-bass style of Tuvan kargyraa throat singing, which he calls "kanzat kargyraa." According to Russian critic Artemy Troitsky, "There are two unique voices on Earth right now; they belong to Pavarotti and Kuvezin." In addition to his work with Yat-Kha, Kuvezin has contributed to albums by Alisa, Susheela Raman and Värttinä. Yat-Kha music is a mixture of Tuvan traditional music and rock, featuring Kuvezin's distinctive kargyraa throat singing style, the kanzat kargyraa. The band was founded in Moscow in 1991, as a collaborative project between Kuvezin and Russian avant-garde, electronic composer Ivan Sokolovsky.             Photo by Andrey Haide

The project blended traditional Tuvan folk music with post-modern rhythms and electronic effects. Kuvezin and Sokolovsky toured and played festivals, and eventually took the name “Yat-Kha,” which refers to a type of small, Central Asian zither similar to the Mongolian yatga and the Chinese guzheng, which Kuvezin plays in addition to the guitar. In 1993, they released a self-titled album. After the release of Yat-Kha, Kuvezin and Sokolovsky parted creative ways and Kuvezin went on to release five other albums under the name Yat-Kha with other musicians and less of an emphasis on electronics, beginning with Yenisei Punk in 1995, with morin khuur player Alexei Saaia, produced by Lu Edmonds. Sokolovsky issued a remastered version of the Yat-Kha album, with additional tracks, under the title Tundra's Ghosts (1996/97). Since 2001, they have been performing a live soundtrack to Vsevolod Pudovkin's 1928 silent film Storm Over Asia. They may release a DVD of this version of the film with Reality Film. In 2010, the project released a new album, Poets and Lighthouses, recorded on the Scottish island of Jura. It reached Number 1 on the World Music Charts Europe in January 2011 and later released the album “Live at The Stray Dog”.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos by Albert Kuvezin/Yat-Kha archive - All Rights Reserved

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll culture and what does the Blues mean to you?

Freedom, energy, improvisation…so many things! For me Blues is one of the base of all rock-n-roll music and jazz and at the same time it is very close to shamanism and roots of music and human feelings.

How do you describe Albert Kuvezin sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

My music is a mixture of Tuvan and Siberian musical traditions with rock music. Mainly I do arrangements of traditional songs but sometimes write my own songs which can be in different genres and styles. Few of main thing in my music philosophy are originality, positive energy, honesty, connection with roots, improvisation…

"I hope the relation with old music generations will be continued, music will be interesting and professional at same time. I fear and I feel it now that music become soulless and faceless, it is mostly alike,  musicians don’t compose something own and new, they trust more to computers and machines than to own hearts." (Photo: Albert Kuvezin in Novosibirsk "RockCity" club)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Lu Edmonds, Ben Mendelson, The Chieftains, Jeff Beck and many others. I have learned from them how to be touring musician and how to work in studio.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There were so many concerts, gigs, festivals and studio work that now is hard to remember. Some I still remember. For example, to record my solo album Poets And Lighthouses I went to Jura Island in Scotland, UK. Nature, weather, emptiness inspired on me and this my album. Sometimes I remember concerts for village people in mountains of Taiwan, series of gigs on New Caledonia Islands. That were more educational events that ordinary concerts, between the songs I told about my country, our culture and history.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss naivety, courage to experiment, connection to music roots and old traditions. I hope the relation with old music generations will be continued, music will be interesting and professional at same time. I fear and I feel it now that music become soulless and faceless, it is mostly alike, musicians don’t compose something own and new, they trust more to computers and machines than to own hearts.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would cancel any cliché, marketing and strict music formats. Music must free of stupid rules! Also I like when artist have national identity in their works!

"Freedom, energy, improvisation…so many things! For me Blues is one of the base of all rock-n-roll music and jazz and at the same time it is very close to shamanism and roots of music and human feelings." (Albert Kuvezin on stage in Krasnoyarsk, 2014 / Photo by T. Vishnevskaya)

Make an account of the case of music in Tuva. What touched (emotionally) you from the local culture and music?

Modern music in Tuva is still based on traditional but today, of course, there is big influence of Russian, Mongolian, Chinese and Western music. Tuva was remote and isolated country for long time and it helped to save traditions and original music like for example famous throat-singing. Now young musicians try to mix it with various modern genres. Because I was born and grew up here, traditional music and throat singing in my blood.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of local folk n’ traditional music with Rock-Jazz n’ Blues music and forms?

Tuvan music mainly in pentatonic scale with some alterative and therefore melodies sound very much like blues ones. The rhythms remind country-and-western. Plus singers use a lot of improvisation with lyrics too.

What is the impact of music on literature; and to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

It is very big especially in our days. I think music influence on many spheres of modern humanity

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

To Play guitar at quite place, to read books, to be among the whole family and kids and friends. It could be at mountains, in forest or on island.

Yat - Kha -- Official website

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