The Friends of Tuva Newsletter
Sixth issue: Spring, 1993
Published by Friends of Tuva
Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117 USA.
Fax: (213) 221-8882
Dear Friend of Tuva,
They came, they saw, and they captured the hearts of people everywhere they went: the
trio of Tuvan throat singers--Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatoly Kuular, and Kongar-ool
Ondar--toured the US for six weeks and made an indelible impression on thousands of
Their journey, which could have been called "California or
Bust!", was yet another result of a question posed more than fifteen years ago by
physicist and adventurer Richard Feynman:
"Whatever happened to Tannu Tuva?"
Now, as a result of their appearance in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade and
their concerts in fifteen cities and towns, people across America have learned that there
is a little country called Tuva with one of the most fascinating cultures on earth.
We have still a long way to go in putting Tuva back on the map and into the people's
consciousness, but some significant steps were taken during the past few weeks:
1) The word "Tuva" was uttered by thousands of spectators along the Rose
Parade route in Pasadena, and on television in Los Angeles. (Unfortunately, due in large
part to the Tuvans position near the end of the parade, they failed to make it onto
national network television--the networks aired more commercials at the end than at the
beginning. To all of those FoTs across the country and around the world who had tuned in
the parade hoping to see the Tuvans, our apologies! Maybe we'll try again next year.)
2) The mayor of San Francisco signed a proclamation declaring February 6 to be
"Republic of Tuva Day" in San Francisco.
3) California State Senator Quentin Kopp signed a similar proclamation on behalf of the
State of California.
4) Dick Blum, Himalayan enthusiast and husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein,
attended a reception in San Francisco honoring the Tuvans. He purchased a copy of Journey
to Tuva (see the Tuva Trader), and said that now at least one member of the U.S.
Senate will soon know that Tuva exists.
Lost Land Returns!
The Lost Land of Tannu Tuva, an excellent documentary that features yurts, yaks,
throat singers, and more, will be seen on the Discovery Channel on Monday evening, March
15, at 10pm on the east and west coasts (see your local listings to confirm). The
documentary, narrated by "deep throat" himself, Hal Holbrook (see All the
President's Men), will be part of the series "Portrait of a People," which
is presently airing on Monday nights. If you don't subscribe to the Discovery Channel
(it's a cable TV service), you can obtain a copy of the Lost Land of Tannu Tuva in
VHS format (with no commercials!) for $20 from the Tuva Trader.
Know Your Tuvans: A Thumbnail Sketch
by Kerry Yackoboski
Just like at a ball game, you can't tell the players apart without a score card. . . so
here's a thumbnail sketch of the 5 Tuvans spear-heading the Tuvan invasion of America.
Anatoly Kuular sings and plays khomus, and byzaanchy. While he wears his
bright yellow formal tunic only during performances, he almost always wears his
traditional hat that defies mere words. Picture a cloth crown combined with an elaborate
"winter beanie", with two large ornamental flaps turned up on the sides and
smaller flaps turned up in front and back. The flaps are of fuzzy dark blue material,
while the crown is green and silver cloth with red and gold brocade. The peak of the hat
is decorated with a red ball made of carefully knotted cloth. A pair of long red ribbons
runs from the pinnacle of the cap, down the back, and usually tucked inside the back of
the hat. Kuular is quite outgoing and tends to pick up English phrases quickly, a talent
that served him well in Canada and New York last summer. Your contributor has heard more
than one grown woman claim that "Kuular is the cutest", somewhat reminiscent of
Beatlemania 30 years ago.
Kaigal-ool Khovalyg (the -ool suffix is rhymes more with "role" than
"rule") has a full head of hair, parted on one side, and sports a thick black
mustache. He looks a little stern but is friendly and is highly acclaimed as a singer, as
well as for playing igil. He has serenaded the Dalai Lama. Khovalyg per-forms in a
blue tunic woven with intricate gold circular medallion patterns. This is topped off with
a light reddish fur cap large enough to make Davey Crockett envious. Khovalyg worked for
several years as a herdsman, and he was the most willing to demonstrate the fine art of
building a yurt. Three Friends of Tuva had volunteered to design and build a yurt as a
stage prop for the concert tour, and the rookies were light-heartedly scolded by the
experts when it was discovered that the methods used to build the prop diverged from
The round face of Kongar-ool Ondar is emphasized by his traditional Tuvan hair-style--a
long pony tail in the back but shaved cleanly in the front to a point almost directly
above his ears. As he sings a great beatific look crosses his face, reminding me of a
cherubic "Have a Happy Day" face. If serious Khovalyg is the John of the group,
and cute Kuular the Paul, prankster Ondar must be the Ringo, for he has a wicked sense of
humour. We had taken the Tuvans to Venice Beach, and while walking on the sand Ondar
spotted a beach-comber with a metal detector scanning the ground for lost treasure. Ondar
ran up behind him and threw a coin in front of the man, who was in no mood for games. The
beachcomber walked right over the coin, so Ondar picked it up and threw it in his path
again, only to watch the poor victim miss it again. Ondar looked in our direction and
shrugged (we were shrieking with laughter at this point), and then discovered he couldn't
find his coin, so he motioned to call the treasure hunter over to help him look . . . an
inspired punch line. You had to be there to fully appreciate the slapstick--describing it
is like talking about a Harpo Marx scene. Hopefully, this scene will make it to the video
encapsulating the concert tour.
Rada Chakar has been in LA for several months, as she works to pioneer trade between
Tuva and the USA. She has been acting as a translator for the three singers, since she was
formerly a teacher of English in Tuva and speaks impeccable English. She rode in the Rose
Parade with the singers, although she does not normally ride a horse. When asked her
opinion of sitting on a horse for upwards of three hours without the benefit of prior
experience, she admitted only that the fol-lowing day she felt much better than she had
Rada's younger brother, Sayan, arrived with the three singers to join his sister in her
business efforts. He is husky, as Tuvans go, and his French is on a par with that of your
humble reporter, which is to say "not all that great". Sayan is enamoured of the
American way of life and is eager to learn English--he brought over a Russian/English
translation dictionary to speed the process.
The four Tuvan men were sitting in our rented van with female FoT Deanne as they leafed
through the dictionary, shouting out phrases that caught their attention, such as the
now-irrelevant "Are you a member of the Communist Party?". Suddenly all five
were shrieking with laughter, for reasons that were not explained until later. The men had
found an interesting word, and yelled it out--"gynecologist"--making Deanne howl
with laughter, too. The next day, Ondar was making a big show of being the "American
Boy", the English chorus from a current Russian pop song. Sayan corrected him, making
the distinction between "boy" and "man", but the other three men
rejected his argument based on the fact that they had acquired a Playboy magazine
and decided that if it had "boy" in the title, "boy" was good enough
Frank Zappa invited the Tuvans back to his house--
and this time I got to go too.
by Jeff Dickson
On Monday afternoon I pulled up at the house of Frank Zappa. I gave up waiting out-side
after half an hour, and forged in on my own without the Tuvan Throat singers, who were to
be his guests.
About 20 minutes after the Tuvans arrived, a very pale Frank Zappa came into the room
we were all milling around in. Present were Gail and Moon Zappa; Phil Abrams, the Amazing
Bubble Man; Chris Sykes, who did the NOVA documentaries on Feynman (and a new two-part
documentary on Feynman that just aired in Britain); Ralph's family; all Tuvans except for
Rada, the translator (who showed up later); Darryl and Brenda Henriques, who were
preparing the food; and Natasha, an expatriate Russian musician, who served as translator;
and a couple of people I didn't get introduced to.
Zappa presented the Tuvans with a tape of the performances they did for him during
Zappa-Tuva I, and a little "extra something." The performances were very good,
and the tape (to my ignorant ears) sounded well engineered. The "extra
something" turned out to be a solo track by Anatoly Kuular, to which Zappa's engineer
had overdubbed some funky bass and rhythm ("using calculus!" Zappa
repeated many times). It was hard to judge the Tuvan's reaction, but they were at least
gracious. Ralph thought it was great. The tape (including "extra something") was
released to the Tuvans free of restrictions in exchange for sampling their voices for a
future Zappa work. It will be added to the growing pile of collaborations, which includes
recordings with Mickey Hart as well as The Kronos Quartet. [It will be released in the
spring of 1994 as part of a larger work by Frank Zappa.]
As the tape of the Tuvan-Kronos collaboration played over the speakers, we ate a nice
meal which featured the chef's latest creation--Tuvan Pizza (chunks of lamb with onions as
toppings). Zappa explained that in addition to sampling the Tuvans singing, he wanted to
have them improvise something to a rather heavy piece of heavy metal that he had created.
Natasha and I teamed up to provide Frank with a good laugh. Later, as I talked to the BBC
producer about his Feynman research, Ralph came up and added some of his personal
thoughts. This was on the fifth anniversary of Feynman's death.
Matt Groening (of Simpsons fame) turned up a little later. It was his 39th
birthday, so we converted a half eaten chocolate log cake to a birthday cake and sang
"Happy Birthday" to him, complete with throat-singing. The Tuvans followed Zappa
to the studio to begin the musical experiments that Zappa wanted to try. The rest of us
just mingled while The Amazing Bubble Man entertained Ian (aka Rocky the flying squirrel)
with some well done bubble blowing. The cook, who is also a comedian, presented Groening
with his book 100 Ways You Can Help Pave the Planet.
Later in the evening Ralph and I joined the Tuvans in Zappa's recording studio. Once
known as the "Utility Muffin Research Kitchen," the name was changed to the
"Baby Milk Factory" after the Gulf War. It was a very impressive set-up. The
recording seemed to go well, although the improvisation experiment with Heavy Metal that
Zappa was trying wasn't working to his satisfaction, so he called it off. Zappa looked
very tired as he posed with the Tuvans, as I took a picture for Ondar (on his new camera).
On the way back to the main group (in the kitchen area) I returned with Ralph via
Zappa's study, where Ralph and the Tuvans had been received before. Cool place--full of
character. It was packed with recordings, and a whole collection of ZAPPA license plates
from sates all over the USA hung on the walls.
When they were finished, the Tuvans relaxed with a post-recording beer, and Frank came
up later to have a little snack. It was about 8pm, but he was totally drained of energy
and went off to bed. With that we bid our hosts a good night. With the TUVA mobile in
front, the TANNU mobile second, and my car in third, we snaked our way down from Zappa's
house to the freeway.
The next day the Tuvans boarded a plane to Amsterdam to begin their four day journey
Esoterica, part I:
Whatever Happened to [the part of] Tannu Tuva that wasn't incorporated [into the USSR in
You stamp collectors and geography buffs--and owners of the T-shirt available from the
Tuva Trader--may have noticed that Tannu Tuva is a bit larger than the Tuva ASSR: the
eastern-most part, known as Darkhat (where the Yenisei begins) mysteriously became
Mongolian territory some time in the 1940s or '50s.
I dimly remember reading somewhere that Darkhat was split off from Soviet Tuva and
given to Mongolia in the early 1950s by none other than Molotov (of Molotov-Rippentrop
fame), Stalin's foreign minister. (If this is true, it would have implications for the
Kurile Island dispute with Japan, for the Russian argument for not giving up the islands
is that not one bit of Soviet territory has ever been ceded to another country--otherwise,
there would be at least half a dozen countries expecting territory to be returned to them.
I might be confusing this with a border readjustment in the south, near Erzin, but the
implication would remain the same.)
My brother, Alan, thinks that Darkhat was split off from Tuva and given to Mongolia as
the price of Mongolia's acceptance of Tuva joining the USSR--and thus was done in 1944.
This sounds more plausible.
As I am swamped with answering the mail and attending to other details for Friends of
Tuva, I do not have time to research the definitive answer. But perhaps an FoT with some
detective skills (i.e. persistence and access to a good library and perhaps a computer
data base as well) can get the story right. In the meantime, those who want to know more
about this little part of Tannu Tuva that didn't become part of the USSR, there is a book
recently published in Berlin by Nishen (address: Am Tempelhofer berg 6, 1000 Berlin 61) by
Ulrike Ottinger called Taiga. The price tag is very high (around $80), so be
prepared. (Perhaps you can convince a library to buy it.) In any case, this tiny part of
Tannu Tuva has the extraordinary diversity of landscapes and livestock as the rest of the
country: reindeer in the north, camels in the south, and yak in the mountains!
As Alan has now finished translating Journey to Tuva, perhaps he will embark on
another project of translating a book about Tuva from German to English--but in the
meantime, the photographs (over 80 in color, and over 60 in black-and-white) are
Esoterica, part II: Go in Tuva?
FoT member Peter Shotwell seeks information or contacts with interested people on the
game of go (played widely in Japan) in Tibet, Mongolia, and Tuva. Please contact
him c/o Olson, 10751 Wilshire Bl. # 608, Los Angeles CA 90024.
Robert High Remembered
Robert High, president of the American Go Association, and founder of Friends of
Tuva in New York City, died in January while white-water rafting in Chile. His wit, humor,
and imagination will be missed by all who knew him. An obituary listing his many
accomplishments appeared on January 15 in the New York Times.
Kaigal-ool Khovalyg sang a moving song, Lament for a Lost Friend, in Robert's memory in
the New York concerts. The song has been recorded and will be released, it is hoped, by
Travel to Tuva
Logistical problems continue to be the main obstacle facing travellers to Tuva. Unless
you are willing to pay a high premium (in which case contact InnerAsia Expeditions at 800
777-8183), be prepared for an unpredictable trip. If unpredictability is no problem for
you, then please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Tuva Travel, Box 70021,
Pasadena CA 91117.
Tuva to Travel to Canada and Ann Arbor
A summer tour across Canada (with a quick stop in the US) by five Tuvans will take
place again this year. After the Celebration of Voices Festival in Ann Arbor (July 6-7),
the Tuvans will perform in Winnipeg (9-11), Vancouver (16-18), Calgary (24), Vancouver
(World Symposium on Choral Music, August 4-6), and Edmonton (7-8). The Tulip Festival in
Ottawa, and/or the Montréal and Quebec City festivals (July 12-15) are still being
Special thanks are in order for several people who made the recent tour by the Tuvans a
success: Bill LeGallee, of the US Embassy in Moscow, whose advice and vigilance was
essential to receiving visas; Canadian FoTs, headed by Jeff Dickson and Kerry Yackoboski,
who showed the Tuvans a good time in Los Angeles; Jeff Cook and Bill Loewy, who documented
the Tuvans' appearance in the Rose Parade; artist Jan Steward and friends, who painted
some beautiful Tuvan foot lockers for use as stage props; Carol Conrad, NYCFoT, who placed
the hotel she manages (Comfort Inn, Exit 48 on the Long Island Expressway) at the disposal
of the Tuvans and their hosts, and showed them all a good time in New York; Shep Kopp, who
lent his apartment, showed the Tuvans a very good time in San Francisco, and
engineered the political declarations (see page 1); Margaret Leighton, Sue Minolli, Noor
Kiser, the Bacons, the Ballens, the Walkers, and the Balls, for providing accommodations
and a good time for Rada Chakar; and, most importantly, thanks are in order to my wife,
Phoebe Kwan, for tolerating such a hectic and chaotic flurry of madness for two months.
Here it Is! The New Flag of Tuva!
In September, 1992, a new flag was officially adopted by the Republic of Tuva. Note the
colors: the yellow (y) represents the country's Buddhist heritage; the sky-blue (sb) and
white (w) stripes represent the confluence of the main branches of the Yenisei River at
Kyzyl; the sky-blue field is--well, I haven't received official word yet. (Could it be the
beautiful blue sky, seen for so much of the year in Tuva, perhaps?) The official
dimensions also have yet to arrive; in the meantime, the flag seems to be in a ratio of 1
: 2, and the triangle--bisected horizontally--appears to be in the ratio of 3 : 4 : 5.
Tuvans in California
Fitting right in with the California landscape are, from left to right: Sayan Chakar,
Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatoly Kuular, Rada Chakar, and Kongar-ool Ondar.