5 unusual ethnic vocal styles

I’ve blogged already about the power of the voice as an instrument on its own – although the focus in that post was primarily on percussive styles. This post is about the incredible diversity to be found in expressive vocalisation from different cultures around the world – it’s powerful stuff, man!

I was introduced to a good deal of awesome world music through Peter Gabriel’s Real World label and some of those artists are featured here. (The 2000 compilation: Voices of the Real World is a great place to start if you’re looking for more of the same.)

This press review from New Age Voice (USA) sums it up perfectly:

“‘With so many sounds that at first seem so different, what becomes so obviously common is the impact of the human voice. The communication of ideas and emotions are transmitted despite language barriers and presentation…Quite simply, the most innovative and moving instrument may be the one that we’re equipped with at birth.'”


Tenores di Bitti

This wonderful sound – four male voices in polyphonic bliss – hails from Bitti, Sardinia. A traditional folk band and successors to 3000 years of musical heritage, Tenores di Bitti recorded their album S’amore ‘e mama in their home town, retaining the sounds of the ambient locations – the churches, pubs and fields of Bitti.

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious blowhard I have to say that it’s almost a shame to see them in a concert hall with microphones in their faces. How awesome would it be to come across them in the narrow alleys of their home town, voices booming from the walls? Or in the fields of their countryside, warm harmonies washing over the landscape? Uber-licious awesome, say I.


Loituma – Levan Polkka

Loituma are a Finnish folk band whose song “Levan Polkka” was made famous by the Loituma Girl internet meme (if you know what I’m talking about you’ll be sick to death of this clip).

One of the interesting things about their music is that they often improvise, breaking into a collection of rhythmic melodic gibberish; apparently they do so in the fifth and eighth stanza of this song (I can’t hear the difference from the rest of it to be honest xD).


Tuvan Throat Singing

I couldn’t pass over this famous style of vocalisation from Central Asia. In throat singing, or overtone singing as it’s also known, the vocalist “manipulates the harmonic resonances (or formants) created as air travels from the lungs, past the vocal folds, and out the lips to produce a melody.”

In the common parlance: they sing more than one note at the same time, yo.


Konnakol – Indian vocal percussion

Lori Colter’s not from the race, culture or gender that immediately springs to mind when you hear the phrase, South Indian Vocal Percussion, but she certainly has the skill to lay it down. Her performances of this indian vocal art are accomplished and impressive; she manages to disappear inside the sound completely – her culture, gender and skin colour forgotten.


The Art of Yodel

When it comes to the beauty of ethnic music and the seeming global commonality of its spiritual connection to nature, we here in the west – with our loud, brash rock music and electronic noise – are often the poor cousins. But we have artists like the DeZurik Sisters.

Yodeling may not be the exclusive domain of the west but the southern US popularised their own peculiar brand in a big way, through the country and bluegrass styles of music. Besides the beautiful harmonies throughout this song, the DeZurik Sisters yodel in an amazing way – not unlike the birds they tried to emulate at home on the farm in Minnesota.

Give the song a chance before you shut it down in horror : ) – it really is impressive: the sisters twitter, chirp and warble in an astounding effort to copy and ultimately connect with nature in their own personal way – just like their cultural counterparts around the world .


Honorable Mention

The power of the voice: sometimes it makes us cry with emotion; sometimes it makes us laugh for joy. And sometimes it makes us laugh til we cry.

~ by Damien Caine on August 20, 2008.

One Response to “5 unusual ethnic vocal styles”

  1. […] highly unlikely. often nerdy (and always very interesting!) categories or posting rarities or curiosities within the music sphere. The genre is mainly rock’n’roll, but the blogger seems always […]

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