9000 km: from Mongolia to Sardinia

Over 9000 kilometers separate Mongolia from Sardinia. Despite the enormous distance, the two lands have more in common than one might think.

Among the traditional uses and customs, singing is certainly the practice that most unites the two peoples. This is confirmed from the analogy between the mongolian harmonic and throat singing and the sardinian ‘Cantu a Tenore’ polyphonic singing from which a famous collaboration between the Mongolian diphonic singers Tsogtgerel Tserendavaa and Ganzorig Nergui and the Cuncordu e Tenore de Orosei was born in 2012.

The ‘Khoomei’, harmonic or diphonic singing from Mongolia, is a very particular vocal technique that allows you to simultaneously perform up to three harmonic notes different from each other, among which guttural timbres emerge (hoarse and hard sounds emitted near the larynx and throat). In itself already extremely instrumental, it is usually accompanied by stringed musical instruments such as the Morin Khuur (horse-headed violin), aerophonic instruments such as the Aman Khuur (mouth harp or ‘trunfa’ in Sardinian language) and the Tsuur flute.

Mongolian harmonic throat singing

The Sardinian tenor singing was included in the list of intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2005. It is generally composed of a quartet, sa boche, sa mesu-boche, sa contra, su bassu. The latter two produce guttural sounds; su bassu, in particular, reaches the lowest and ‘hardest’ tones.

Sardinian Tenor Singing
When are these singular forms of singing born? What is their origin?

It is assumed that they have very ancient origins. If on the one hand the two songs are united by the characteristic guttural sounds, on the other, their function of spiritual practice emerges.

The Mongolian one, which affects the north-west of Mongolia, is a direct descendant of the songs of the Republic of Tuva, in Siberia. Mongolian-Siberian shamanism uses the voice as a phonetic tool necessary to create contact with spiritual entities present in nature. The sounds of water, wind and animal sounds are imitated and reproduced.

On the contrary, the origin of the Sardinian tenor song seems to be much more vague. It is thought that it was already present at the time of the Nuragics, almost 4000 years ago. The three voices that accompany the cantor ‘sa boche’ probably also imitate the sounds of animals, in particular the ox, the sheep and the goat, but it should still be noted that this remains only a hypothesis, and there is nothing of it. ascertained.

Without a shadow of a doubt they are both way of singing closely related to the agro-pastoral world and to the events that characterize it, a further aspect that unites the two peoples. The pastures in fact, dominate and distinguish both the immense plains of the Mongolian steppe and the smaller and more diversified landscapes of Sardinia. Suffice it to say that the head of cattle are far greater than the number of inhabitants, especially in Mongolia where there are 60 head of cattle for each inhabitant.

But this is another discourse that rather concerns dynamics linked to global capitalist systems, which have nothing to do with the habits and customs of a pastoral world whose origins are much older.

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