REEEC Event: Performance by Tuvan Throat-Singing Ensemble Alash

Alash11

From left to right: Ayan-ool Sam, Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, and Ayan Shirizhik of Alash

 

On February 10th, 2016, the Tuvan throat-singing ensemble Alash performed a show at Smith Memorial Hall at the University of Illinois. The event was co-sponsored by REEEC and  Robert E. Brown Center for World Music. Alash played to a full house, with over 450 people in attendance.

Located north of Mongolia in southern Siberia, Tuva is a republic of the Russian Federation. Tuva is famous for its throat singing (xöömei), a traditional form of overtone singing developed by the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. The most striking feature of throat singing is that its practitioners can produce multiple pitches at the same time.

The three members of Alash—Ayan-ool Sam, Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, and Ayan Shirizhik—are masterful singers, all of whom have received recognition of their talent: Ayan Shirizhik was named a Merited Artist of Tuva in 2007, and Bady-Dorzhu Ondar and Ayan-ool Sam have both been named People’s Xöömeizhi of the Republic of Tuva (in 2009 and 2015, respectively). Additionally, all three members of Alash are multi-instrumentalists: they played many Tuvan instruments during their performance, such as the igil (a two-stringed instrument that sounds something like a cello) and doshpuluur (a three-stringed banjo-like instrument). Impressively, Alan Shirizhik was able to throat-sing while playing a murgu (or “shepherd’s flute”), and Ayan-ool Sam sang while playing a xomus (jaw harp). In addition to Tuvan instruments, Alash also incorporated traditionally Western instruments, most prominently the acoustic guitar.

Tuvan throat singing diverges from Western musical sensibilities in that it is “based on appreciation of complex sounds with multiple layers or textures. To the Tuvan ear, a perfectly pure tone is not as interesting as a sound which contains hums, buzzes, or extra pitches that coexist with the main note being sung.” Indeed, the members of Alash are capable of producing an extraordinary range of vocal timbres and overtones, bringing to mind anything from a songbird’s chirp to a bubbling brook or an oscillating synthesizer. At times, this ability can create an uncanny or otherworldly impression—however, such a description fails to account for the characteristic warmth and humanity of Alash’s music.

There are three basic styles of throat singing (xöömei, sygyt, kargyraa) and many sub-styles, all of which are described by analogy with nature—kargyraa, for example, “suggests the howling of winter winds or the cries of a mother camel after losing her calf.” The imitation of noises found in nature is a quintessential aspect of Tuvan throat singing, and possibly its original source. It is also a typical feature of Alash’s music, perceptible in the sounds of their instruments—the thunderous roll of a goatskin-headed drum, or the cadence of jingling bells evoking a horse’s canter—as well as in their voices. The importance of nature in the Tuvan tradition is evident in the name of the ensemble itself, which is a reference to the Alash River in Tuva.

Perhaps more than any other quality, the music of Alash evinces a sense of place. According to the band’s manager Sean Quirk, there are historical reasons for this:

“The people of Tuva have traditionally been nomadic, moving from seasonal camp to seasonal camp… and the ability to describe place is very important for nomadic people: you need to know where you’re going… and what it’s going to be like there. The Tuvan language is full of beautiful terms that allow speakers to exactly describe locations and natural landscape with very few words, and the music itself has a quality that is intimately connected with nature.”

The central role of place in Tuvan culture is also connected to the historically animistic religious practices of the region, in which spirits or souls are attributed to natural objects (or non-human persons), a spiritual essence which is also associated with place and sound. Thus, the mimicry of natural sounds has a deep religious significance.

As in other folk music traditions, material for Tuvan songs is often drawn from everyday life. One of the songs Alash performed is from the Tozhu region of northeastern Tuva, where people traditionally herd reindeer. Quirk provided the following translation of the song’s lyrics: “We don’t get stuck in the mountain when it snows/we don’t get stuck in the river when it overflows its banks/I am a reindeer herder/I am a hardworking hunter/I have reindeer, and they are awesome .” While some such themes are regionally specific, others can be found in musical traditions around the world—Ayan Shirizhik introduced one song by remarking, “We have many songs about horses, and women, and rivers and mountains… this song is about fast horses and beautiful women.”

For more information, visit http://www.alashensemble.com/.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2015-16 academic year for the study of Russian.

“You Can’t Study these Things from Moscow”: Soviet Social Science and the Problem of Development in Soviet Central Asia

Artemy Kalinovsky, Assistant Professor of East European Studies at the University of Amsterdam, visited campus to participate in the REEEC New Directions lecture series on October 20, 2014. Professor Kalinovsky earned his Masters and Ph.D. in International History from the London School of Economics. He authored A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Harvard University Press, 2011) and co-edited The End of the Cold War and the Third World (Routledge: 2011). His research is currently focused on the process of modernization in Soviet Tajikistan.

Professor Kalinovsky’s talk, entitled “‘You Can’t Study these Things from Moscow’: Soviet Social Science and the Problem of Development in Soviet Central Asia,” analyzed the Soviet attempt to modernize and industrialize Central Asia in the latter half of the twentieth century. By examining the academic debates of social scientists and their bureaucratic struggles, Kalinovsky highlighted the role of academic scholarship in Soviet policy-making, and drew a comparison between development in Soviet territory and development in the West.

Prof. Artemy Kalinovsky giving his New Directions lecture

Prof. Artemy Kalinovsky giving his New Directions lecture

Under Khrushchev, a new hope for Central Asia began to emerge. Projects were planned and undertaken to stimulate economic development and industrialization. The late 1950s and early 1960s saw an expansion of old institutions, the creation of new ones, and a commitment to raise the standard of living in the Central Asian republics. The general belief was that more people would shift to the industrial workforce if agriculture were modernized.

However, modernization did not take as quickly as Soviet academics and bureaucrats had hoped. By the late 1960s, it became clear to social scientists that they needed a new perspective on the matter – “one cannot study these questions from Moscow.” Demographers and ethnographers joined with other social scientists, and experts from the Central Asian republics were consulted.

Industrialization had worked to exacerbate the urban rural divide rather than work to shrink the gap between the two. Europeans who had migrated to the republics staffed the existing factories, rather than those native to the area. Traditional values played an important role in the republics, and the youth were reluctant to move to the cities to take on new, industrial careers. Access to education and the strategic placement of industry was not enough to modernize Central Asia.

By the late 1970s, the Soviets were confronted by the failure of their Central Asian program and struggled to understand why development was not following the path predicted by scholars. In the 1980s, scholars began to bring up the cultural differences between Central Asia and the modernized areas of the Soviet Union. Different lines of thought began to emerge amongst Soviet scholars in Moscow and amongst experts from the Central Asian republics. Some believed that modernization still needed to be pursued with as much, if not more, vigor as there was in the 1950s. Others believed there had not been enough of a cultural consideration and perhaps Central Asia could not develop along the same lines as other modernized areas. And still others believed perhaps Russia was “just feeding” the republics. These thoughts and problems plagued the Soviet Union until its collapse.

Kalinovsky ended his talk by highlighting three points. First, he emphasized the important role the social sciences had in shaping policy in the Soviet Union. Its flexibility in debates and methods is often overlooked. He also brought up a comparison to Western debates on development. Both Soviet and Western experts focused on the availability of labor and had faith in industrialization and large-scale planning. Finally, he offered the thought that perhaps culture can be used as a dangerous tool. Scholars who fail to understand and engage with culture often end up undermining it. In this particular instance, it leads to the thought, “Perhaps Central Asia is unable to develop along the same path because of its cultural backwardness.”

Samantha Celmer is a graduate student in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on incidents of genocide and crimes against humanity in Russia and Eastern Europe, their impact on the international community, and their reception at home and abroad. She received her B.A. from Oberlin College in History and Russian and Eastern European Studies in December 2013. After graduation, she hopes to work with organizations that focus on international human rights. 

Faculty Highlight – Sarah Hummel

Prof. Sarah Hummel

Prof. Sarah Hummel

REEEC is pleased to announce that Sarah Hummel has joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Political Science.  Professor Hummel holds a B.A. in Political Science from Yale University, and she earned her Ph.D. at Princeton University. In addition, she served as a Visiting Scholar of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh while working on her doctoral degree. Her dissertation examined water and energy politics in Central Asia. She investigated domestic changes in the region, and how they impacted international agreements pertaining to water and energy. She found that water and energy policies offer certain benefits to some regions more than others. She also discovered that when a political leader sought support in a given region amongst protests, that leader would be “more likely to adopt” certain policies. Interestingly, she found that this held true even if the protests were unrelated to water and energy. She took three trips to Central Asia as part of her fieldwork. One of these trips was for a six month period. She spent time in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan conducting interviews in order to determine who benefited from international cooperation. She wanted to understand which members of a certain domestic group received benefits and which ones did not.

This semester, Professor Hummel is teaching Political Science 397 Authoritarian Regimes. The first half of her course focuses on the various ways in which dictators have remained in power throughout history, and the second half of her course will investigate the threats posed to the power of dictators. She is really enjoying teaching this subject matter. In addition to teaching, Professor Hummel is in the process of turning her dissertation into a book. She is currently determining which aspect of her work she would like to further expand. In particular, she wants to investigate how large dams in Central Asia change the “bargaining power of different countries.” She plans on returning to Central Asia next summer to conduct further research after first defining her specific objectives. This is Professor Hummel’s first time in Illinois, and she is enjoying living in Urbana-Champaign.  She particularly likes the fact that it is a “friendly town.”

The Ascendancy of Nationalism in Central Asia

On October 7, 2014, Russell Zanca, Professor of Anthropology at Northeastern Illinois University, gave a REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture. Russell Zanca received his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1999. Over the years he has published works mainly on the country of Uzbekistan, covering topics such as collective farming, the cotton monoculture, cuisine, religion, gender, and Soviet history. He co-edited Everyday Life in Central Asia with Jeff Sahadeo (2007) and wrote Life in a Muslim Uzbek Village: Cotton Farming after Communism (2011).

russell zanca

Professor Russell Zanca

His talk, entitled “The Ascendancy of Nationalism in Central Asia,” examined the state (or status) and intra-regional conditions of political sovereignty in post-Soviet Central Asia. The argument he made is not exactly one of success or failure, but rather examines the very successes and failures that exist in Central Asia from the standpoints of political integrity and political development—despite or because of dictatorial rule and concomitant degrees of freedom of conscience and economic decision-making. The latter Central Asian political development subsumes economic and cultural development.

Recently, scholars and pundits have meaningfully examined many hyper-nationalist aspects of the Central Asian countries’ politics. The basic argument here is that nationalism has prevented the kind of intra-regional cooperation that would have fueled greater development and freedom throughout Central Asia. Generally speaking, nationalism may be necessary to independence, but it is rarely considered positive in terms of development and human freedom by most social scientists. While there may be much to recommend this position, Zanca looked to data and analyses history from more than 20 years prior to compare different visions of independence, areas for national and regional comity and strife, and treaties and agreements that have fostered and foiled individual and regional growth and freedom.

An interesting point professor Zanca made was that the Central Asian republic’s ethnic territorialization projects did not occur directly after the collapse of the USSR. He suggested that scholars look back to the state-socialism of the USSR for explanations of post-Soviet occurrences.

Another interesting point he discussed concerned political and economic relationships within the Central Asian states and Russia after 1991. His argument was that these states function under state networking interdependence in the areas of economics, labor, residential flow, and a wide imbalance of power between the states. He deduced that because of these factors there is a much lower risk of conflict between ethnicities and of territorial disintegration.

Zanca concluded that while relations between the five Central Asian states are unhealthy, nationalism has helped keep an uneasy peace. Due to this, he stated that we are likely to see greater nationalism in Central Asia in the future. He attributed this future nationalism to Central Asian political leaders working to make sure that there is continuity in their government after they are gone. He connected this ‘top down’ nationalism to the legacy of Soviet Rule. With this continuity, he predicted that there will not be many significant, violent conflicts in the near future.

After professor Zanca concluded his presentation a lively discussion about his research was produced by both faculty and students alike.

Bethany Wages is a graduate student in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her current focus of study is History. She received her B.A. in Honors/History and English Literature in 2014 at Wright State University.

“Roadlessness” and the State in Soviet Tajikistan, 1925-1935

Patryk Reid giving his Noontime Scholars Lecture

Patryk Reid giving his Noontime Scholars Lecture

Patryk Reid’s engaging April 22, 2014, Noontime Scholars Lecture explored the development of transportation infrastructure in Soviet Tajikistan during the 1920s and 1930s. Combining archival sources from both Moscow and Dushanbe as part of his larger dissertation project entitled “Managing Nature, Constructing the State: The Material Foundation of Soviet Empire in Tajikistan, 1917-1937,” Reid showed how the material realities of the Tajik landscape constantly challenged the Soviet transportation projects in Tajikistan.

Part of the reason for this occurrence, as Reid illustrated, was that Soviet planners met unique challenges in Tajikistan that they did not face elsewhere. First, Tajikistan did not have a legacy of tsarist railroad development that could be engaged and built on for quick gains in transportation. Indeed, the first railroad to reach Tajikistan only arrived in 1929 with the completion of the Termez – Dushanbe railroad project. Constructing new rail networks in Tajikistan likewise proved to be difficult due to supply shortages and Tajikistan’s mountainous geography, which made laying new rail beds enormously expensive. Reid argued that this inability to build on imperial networks combined with the difficulty of creating new rail networks forced Soviet planners to focus on the construction of roads, and limited the state’s ability to develop Tajikistan both economically and politically. Yet, as Soviet planners sought to connect the fertile valleys of southern Tajikistan to the capital via the Stalinabad – Qurghonteppa road project, they faced still further material difficulties posed by mountains, water flows, and soils.

As Reid aptly showed, several mountain ridges separated these fertile valleys, creating engineering challenges not faced even in other, equally mountainous regions of the USSR. The existing roads were often little more than paths used for animal transport and could not accommodate the heavier mechanized forms of transportation that the state demanded. A combination of other natural factors like water run-off and flooding, which ultimately disrupted road construction and often damaged newly constructed roads, complicated these problems. Meanwhile, the unpredictable loessial soils left many roads simply impassable for part of the year.

As Reid observed, these very material challenges in the way of mountains, water flows, and soils meant that road construction was slow, and transportation remained unpredictable and expensive. Soviet planners consistently struggled with inadequate knowledge of the material landscape, which left them hesitant and uncertain on how to complete key road projects.

Reid’s research serves as an important challenge to the existing historiography of Soviet state building in Central Asia. As he noted in his presentation, there is a strong historiographical focus on cultural change and nationalities policies that has led scholars to place an emphasis on state strength in Central Asia. Instead, Reid contended that a focus on material reality illustrates a much different view, and that there was considerable contingency and weakness to Soviet state building efforts. The inability to successfully complete road projects meant that mobility remained problematic, and that the Soviet state had difficulty in allocating both resources and labor in important construction projects. Yet, this weakness was not simply a result of ineptness on the part of the Soviet government, but rather due to real physical challenges the state and its planners faced. Reid’s presentation and larger dissertation seeks to reorient scholars to the ways that material geography is not only important in itself, but also helps to inform conceptual geography.

Ben Bamberger is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Summer 2013 FLAS fellow. His research interests include Georgian mountaineering, Soviet nation-building, and Soviet tourism to the Caucasus. Ben received his B.A. in history and economics at American University (Washington, D.C.).  After graduation, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia. As Ben furthers his studies, he hopes to conduct research in both Moscow and Tbilisi, ultimately incorporating Russian and Georgian sources into a dissertation about Soviet nation-building projects in Georgia, and the ways the local Georgians negotiated and understood these policies.

SRS Manager Joseph Lenkart Featured in ASEEES Member Spotlight

This is a re-posting of an article on the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) website. To view the original article, please see http://www.aseees.org/membership/joseph-lenkart.

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Joseph Lenkart

Joseph Lenkart

Joseph Lenkart

Manager, Slavic Reference Service, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Education: He has a MLS and a MA in REEES from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a BA from Hope College.

Joseph Lenkart is the Manager of the Slavic Reference Service at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the Reference Specialist on Central Asia.

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When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?

My interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies started during my undergraduate years.  I was studying chemistry at Parkland College [community college in Illinois] and later at Hope College [Holland, Michigan].  During my junior year I took a course on the Crusades. During the course of that semester I became completely fascinated with Turkic and Mongolic peoples and cultures.  I started taking more courses on Eurasian history (and not organic chemistry).  Fortunately for me, Prof. Larry Penrose at Hope College encouraged me to pursue this route.  After graduating from college, I joined the U.S Peace Corps.  Instead of Mongolia (my first choice), I was sent to Smolenskaia oblast, Russian Federation.  I lived in Przheval’skoe (named after Nikolaǐ Mikhaǐlovich Przheval’skiǐ), a small village in Demidovskii raion.  My Peace Corps experience really got me interested in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.

How have your interests changed since then? Belov_bibliography_image

After studying and working in the field of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies for the last thirteen years, my interests now include library and information science. Specifically, providing year-round reference research services for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies scholars.  As the Interim Manager for the Slavic Reference Service, I am extremely proud to support the research needs of students, faculty, and independent researchers from around the world.

What is your current research project?  

I am currently working on collection usage and lending project for less commonly taught languages in North America.  A significant section of this project focuses on Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

What do you value about your ASEEES membership? 

As the premier national organization for our field, ASEEES brings together librarians, students, and seasoned researchers alike.  I strongly value this community and its support for reference research services.

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

I enjoy playing music with my band and growing my own food.  I also enjoy cooking food from Russia and Central Asia.

Uzbek offered at Illinois This Summer!

Lydia Catedral

Lydia Catedral

Uzbek is a language spoken in Central Asia and Afghanistan, and is only taught at a handful of universities in the U.S. However, this past academic year, Uzbek classes have been held three times a week in classrooms in the Foreign Languages Building here at the University of Illinois.

The students in our class at Illinois came to learn Uzbek for a variety of reasons including research, travel plans, curiosity, and personal connections. In class, we have learned how to barter for cheaper prices on carrots, write in Cyrillic and Latin script, break down words into their morphological components, compare our classmates to Superman and/or Alisher Nava’i, and recognize words and phrases in fast speech and slightly outdated pop songs.

This summer, Uzbek will be offered as an eight-week class through the Summer Institute for Languages of the Muslim World (http://silmw.linguistics.illinois.edu/schedule.html) here at the University of Illinois. Students enrolled in this intensive language class will receive 10 credit hours and will participate in the equivalent of an academic year’s worth of language learning. The structure of the program will also allow for culture and language practice activities. The class is “LING 404: Elementary Uzbek” and will be open for registration after spring break.

I am very excited about teaching this summer course as I can honestly say that teaching class everyday so far has been a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. It has been enjoyable because I have a class full of intelligent and entertaining students. And it has been worthwhile because in teaching and learning Uzbek, we are contributing to a knowledge base of the under-researched region of Central Asia and the diasporic community of Uzbeks around the globe.

We are looking for students to sign up for summer the Elementary Uzbek class this summer. If you are interested in more information about Uzbek or the summer classes, contact me at medill2@illinois.edu.

Lydia Catedral is a MA/PhD student in the Department of Linguistics. She researches issues of identity and language in Central Asia, and in situations of conflict mediation. She lived in Uzbekistan from the age of 9 to the age of 15 and currently teaches Uzbek at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.