Last update: 24/04/2019
Sainkho Namtchylak is considered as one of the most exceptional voices of our time, proficient in overtone singing; her traditional siberian singing of the minority of Tuva music encompasses avant-jazz, electronica, modern composition besides traditional performances, rendering her culture known to a very wide public. In Tuva, numerous cultural influences collide: the Turkish roots it shares with Mongolia, Xinjiang Uighur and the Central Asian states;various Siberian nomadic ethnic groups, principally those of the Tungus-Manchu group; Russian Old Believers; migrant and resettled populations from the Ukraine, Tatarstan and other minority groups west of the Urals. All of these, to extents, impact on Sainkho's voice, although the Siberian influences dominate. The daughter of a pair of schoolteachers, she grew up in an isolated village on the Tuvan/Mongolian border, exposed to the local overtone singing – something that was generally reserved for the males; in fact, females were actively discouraged from learning it (even now, the best-known practitioners remain male, artists like Huun-Huur-Tu and Yat-Kha). However, she learned much of her traditional repertoire from her nomadic grandmother, who would sing lullabies for hours. She grew up in a culture where people just sing when they feel like it—singing when they’re happy and singing when they’re sad. Denied professional credentials from a local college where her explorative nature led her toward forbidden male-dominated overtone singing styles, Namtchylak transferred to Moscow where she discovered Russian improvisation and where she also continue to study about vocal techniques of Siberian lamaistic and shamanistic traditions. Quietly she studied the overtone singing, as well as the shamanic traditions of the region, before leaving for study further in Moscow (Tuva was, at that time, part of the U.S.S.R.). Her degree completed, she returned to Tuva where she became a member of Sayani, the Tuvan state folk ensemble, before abandoning it to return to Moscow and joining the experimental Tri-O, where her vocal talents and sense of melodic and harmonic adventure could wander freely. That first brought her to the West in 1990, although her first recorded exposure came with the Crammed Discs compilation Out of Tuva. Once the Soviet Union had collapsed, she moved to Vienna, making it her base, although she traveled widely, working in any number of shifting groups and recording a number of discs that revolved around free improvisation as well as performing around the globe. It was definitely fringe music, although Namtchylak established herself very firmly as a fixture on that fringe. In 1997 she was the victim of an attack that left her in a coma for several weeks. Initially she thought it was some divine retribution for her creative hubris, and seemed to step back when she recorded 1998's Naked Spirit and from that moment she performs and records extensively worldwide.