Библиотека нематериального культурного наследия Республики Башкортостан
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Uzlyau, or Bashkir throat singing
This is one of the most ancient types of folk art, an interesting phenomenon of national vocal and instrumental music and, in general, the spiritual culture of our people. The music encyclopedia defines uzlyau as «throat singing», a two-voice singing of one singer, who performs a melody and simultaneously emits a droning bass. An unusual two-voice texture, emitted by one person, fascinates with the mystical breath of the past, carries away into the very depths of the primitive world.
The Russian writer, ethnographer and traveler Vladimir Dal' was one of the first to describe uzlyau in the middle of the XIX century (1843) in the essay «Bashkirskaya rusalka» («Bashkir mermaid»): «...they sing, as it is said here, with the throat. This is really a wonderful thing: pumping as much air as possible into the lungs, this singer draws air hard, without taking a breath, through the windpipe and its hole, or larynx, and you hear a clean, clear, sonorous whistle with trills and rollings, like from a glass bell, only much more drawling. This is nothing more than whistling with the windpipe – a physiologically remarkable phenomenon, especially because the chest voice echoes this whistle at the same time with a dull, but rather distinct monotonous bass. A strong strain is visible at this time on the face of the singer: it swells, turns red, the eyes are engorge with blood…».
Throat singing is characteristic of the culture of many peoples, including Turkic (Tuvans, Altaians, Bashkirs, Khakas, Yakuts, Kazakhs, Kirghiz), Mongolian (Mongols, Buryats, Kalmyks) and Tungus-Manchurian (Evenks). In ancient times, probably, this kind of art was represented among many peoples, but gradually disappeared. In the Bashkir folklore tradition the art of solo uzlyau also became increasingly rare. However, in recent years in the wake of the rise of interest in ethnic culture uzlyau is also experiencing a stage of revival.

Throat singing, like many types of folk art, originated in imitation of the sounds of nature: murmur of water, clatter of hooves, echo in the mountains, whistling of the wind, howling of a blizzard, voices of animals and birds. Ancient hunters used onomatopoeia to lure prey, cattle ranchers managed domestic cattle. Throat sounds were used in the performance of epic tales, kubairs (genre of Bashkir folk poetry) and the recitation of prayers – ministers of religious cults communicated with guttural sounds with beings of the higher world. Bashkirs have been using uzlyau since ancient times «for home music making and calming the soul of the performer», as the researcher of uzlyau Robert Zagretdinov notes. He also gives an example that in the village, during burial in the cemetery, 10–12 men usually drawlingly recited prayers, and in its text at the time of the ritual it was possible to distinguish elements of throat singing.
Styles and varieties of Bashkir uzlyau
In Bashkir art history from the XIX century to our time uzlyau has been given quite a lot of attention. Researchers divide Bashkir throat singing into two types:
solo two-voice throat singing;
playing the Bashkir folk instruments – kurai, kubyz, dumbyra – to the accompaniment of throat singing.
The expressions «tamak kurai» (literally – «throat-kurai») and «kukrekke khalyp uinau» (to play with a chest background) have become fixed. Ozon-kyuy tunes (lingering songs), marches and dance melodies, onomatopoeic motifs are performed in the uzlyau way.
Honored Worker of Culture of Russia and Bashkortostan, Laureate of the State Award named after Salavat Yulayev, virtuoso kubyz player of the world Robert Zagretdinov systematized his experience and knowledge about uzlyau. He developed his own methodology for teaching uzlyau and wrote a textbook «Shkola bashkirskogo gorlovogo peniya» («School of Bashkir throat singing»). R. Zagretdinov divides Bashkir uzlyau into several styles – nasal, palatal, labial. As a separate style the author singles out «kubyz singing» – a combination of uzlyau with lingering songs and playing a musical instrument (kubyz).

Kara uzlyau or tuben uzlyau
«dark» or low throat singing, karlygyp –with wheezing.
Yugary uzlyau, khyzgyryp uzlyau
high throat singing.
Medium throat singing, closer to the khozdau.
How is a two-voice texture formed?
Uzlyau is distinguished by an unusual singing technique with articulation in the pharynx or larynx. The performer extracts two sounds simultaneously: ultra-low (bass) and ultra-high (whistle). The bass (drone) is a support, and its pitch is usually constant; the melody is formed by an overtone whistle. According to the researchers, the low tone ranges from 60 to 220 Hz, and the high – from 2000 to 4000 Hz, depending on the style of throat singing. The vocal cords are involved in the sound formation of the supporting voice, and whistle occurs at closing of the false vocal folds near the entrance to the larynx.
«If such a comparison is permissible, then the formation of overtones in two-voice guttural singing resembles the process of decomposition of white into composite colors using a prism (spectral decomposition). In the phenomenon of uzlyau the role of a prism splitting the main tone into composite sounds is played by a whistle mechanism», – writes Bashkir musicologist Khamzafar Ikhtisamov.
«Mastering the art of uzlyau requires long-term training of breathing, vocal cords, larynx, nasal, palatine, forehead and chest resonators. The uzlyau method is used to perform both specific melodic turns, reproducing archaic modes, and popular songs of a later time», – Muzykal'naya entsiklopediya (Music encyclopedia) notes, and a notated fragment of uzlyau performed by Saifetdin Yulmukhametov is given.
For the first time the uzlyau technique was described in 1897 by Sergei Rybakov in the book «Muzyka i pesni ural'skikh musul'man s ocherkom ikh byta» («Music and songs of the Ural Muslims with an essay of their life»):

«There is also a special art: the so-called throat singing, consisting of the following. The Bashkir artist takes a well-known sound with the throat and sustains it continuously; against the background of this sound he sings his original melodies with a small tongue (according to the assurances of the Bashkirs themselves); in that way the same person manages to reproduce two sounds simultaneously. The impression of this kind of art turns out to be very peculiar and somewhat strange. Background, i.e., an unchanging note, has a slightly nasal character, the sounds reproduced by a small tongue resemble the sounds of a music box or a child's barrel organ, they are faint and audible among only complete silence. Artists who sing with the help of the throat are quite rare, as this art is difficult».
The recording of Bashkir uzlyau on a phonograph was made for the first time in 1929 by Ivan Saltykov. Musical notations for the book «Bashkirskie narodnye pesni i naigryshy» («Bashkir folk songs and tunes») were made by musicologist, folklorist Lev Lebedinsky. The above sample of uzlyau was also recorded by him. In the 30s of the XX century Lebedinsky went on a folklore expedition and with great difficulty found an uzlyau singer in a distant village of the Burzyansky district. Musical notation of uzlyau performed by 74-year-old Saifetdin Yulmukhametov was subsequently included in the collection «Bashkir folk songs and tunes». It should be noted that the musical notation of works for uzlyau is written on two lines of the stave, where the upper one contains the melody recording, and the lower one contains the main obstinate bass.

To learn how to perform uzlyau you need a lot of preparation, preferably under the guidance of an experienced performer. For this purpose in the last few decades master classes on the uzlyau technique have been systematically held in Bashkortostan on the initiative of the Republican Center of Folk Art.
School of Bashkir throat singing
During the Soviet years the tradition of uzlyau in Bashkortostan was significantly lost. The musicians mostly performed the usual song and instrumental melodies using the uzlyau technique. In the 80s of the last century Khamzafar Ikhtisamov wrote: «As a special genre variety uzlyau has lost its primary function in our time and, along with ordinary singing and playing an instrument, has become one of the forms of performance».

The researcher notes that the elements of throat music making can be observed in the works of such famous kurai players as Mukhamet Kadyrgulov, Karim Diyarov, Rakhmatulla Bulyakanov, Ishmulla and Saifulla Dilmukhametovs, Gata Suleimanov, Davletbai Rakhmatullin, as well as in the works of kurai players – adherents of the traditional style of «playing with a chest voice». He also mentions masters, who perform in the manner of throat singing. Among them he includes Zainagabdin Karakayev from Abzelilovsky district, Mansur Uzyanbayev from Khaibullinsky district, Mukhamet Uzyanbayev from Beloretsky district.
The uzlyau tradition was usually passed down from generation to generation – from father to son, and sometimes to daughters. The famous singer Bibizada Suleimanova (1926–1998), who came from the Bashkir hinterland, adopted this genre of art from her stepfather Kharun Shaizadin. Having started singing at the age of 5–6, she was engaged in throat singing throughout her life, was the keeper of an ancient type of female uzlyau, which has no analogues in the world. Her art was distinguished by uniqueness, technicality and rich ornamentation, often characterized by a three-voice texture. The repertoire included Bashkir folk songs «Gaisa-akhun» («Gaisa-akhund»), «Gulnazira», «Zarifa», «Ete kyz» («Seven girls»), «Karabai», «Kuk Irendyk buyinda» («By the sky blue Irendyk») and others, songs by Bashkir composers. B. Suleimanova also played the wooden kubyz, mandolin. She has traveled to many countries, performed in the USA, England, France, Austria.
Bashkir folk melody «Gaisa». Performed by Bibizada Suleimanova
One of our modern uzlyau singers is Rais Nizametdinov, dancer, choreographer, producer, kurai player, Honored Worker of Culture of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Laureate of the State Award named after Shaikhzada Babich and the Municipal Award named after Musa Murtazin, winner of the I Republican throat singing competition (2007), diploma winner of international throat singing competitions in Abakan (Republic of Khakassia) and Kyzyl (Tyva Republic). The musician said that the basics of throat singing were taught to him by the famous Bashkir kurai player and teacher, People's Artist of Russia Azat Aitkulov, as well as Anis Aptikaev from the Khaibullinsky district – the great-grandson of the legendary kurai player Yumabai Isyanbayev.
«The Bashkirs have always had the art of uzlyau, – says Rais Nizametdinov. – Any self-respecting kurai player should have mastered the art of throat singing. If the kurai player forgot his kurai at home or accidentally broke it (the instrument is very fragile!), he created melodies using uzlyau. At the competitions, which were held in several stages, the kurai player had to play several melodies, including using uzlyau, and tell its story. The traditions of uzlyau under Soviet power, when many types of national art were persecuted, were partially lost, but by the end of the XX century they were still preserved. We know that Ishmulla Dilmukhametov, Ishgali Dilmukhametov, Saifulla Dilmukhametov, Abdulla Khalfitdinov, Talip Latypov very skillfully used uzlyau, kurai players mastered throat singing. The recordings of our legendary singer Bibizada Suleimanova from Beloretsky district have been preserved. These people helped to preserve a unique layer of art. A new wave of revival began when interest in ethnic music increased in general. At the invitation of Ranis Altynbayev, who at that time worked at the center of folk art, a talented throat singer – kaichi (performer of epic works of the Turks of Siberia) Evgeny Ulugbashev came to us for master classes from Khakassia. During three days at the seminar, which brought together 25 people, mostly kurai players, he gave several lessons. He was amazed that in two days everyone present had mastered two types of throat singing. From this we can conclude that throat singing is in our blood, somewhere at the genetic level. I myself conducted a lot of master classes and noticed that Bashkirs can be taught one type of throat singing in a couple of hours, i.e., we have a clear predisposition to this».
Festivals and competitions contribute a lot to the identification of uzlyau performers. Among them are the Republican contest of kurai players, kubyz players, dumbyra players and uzlyau performers for the prize named after Yumabai Isyanbayev, the Interregional competition of kubyz players and performers in the genre of throat singing (uzlyau) in the Mechetlinsky district. Masters of throat singing have repeatedly become guests of the International festival of arts «Serdtse Evrazii» («The Heart of Eurasia»), came to Ufa for the International forum of ethnic music «Musafir». Bashkortostan uzlyau singers take part in festivals of other countries and regions of Russia, conduct master classes not only in their native republic, but also abroad.
Rais Nizametdinov and Ilgam Baibuldin
Another famous modern Bashkir uzlyau singer is Ilgam Baibuldin, Honored Worker of Culture of the Republic of Bashkortostan, winner of the Grand Prix of the Interregional competition of kubyz players and performers in the genre of throat singing (uzlyau) in 2009.
«As uzlyau competitions are constantly held now, young people have a great interest in this kind of art. With the support of the Republican Center of Folk Art we regularly conduct master classes. Thanks to this uzlyau has spread widely in the republic, – Ilgam Baibuldin notes. – I myself studied with our famous kurai players, listened to their recordings. In my performances I use both traditional Bashkir uzlyau techniques and those that I learned from the peoples of Altai and Tyva. I participated in many competitions and festivals – in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Karelia, Khakassia, Kalmykia».
Rais Nizametdinov and Ilgam Baibuldin jointly released the CD «Uzlyau», which included samples of Bashkir throat singing. The traditions of uzlyau are reflected in the creativity of modern ethno-groups. The leader of the ethno-group «Argymak» Rinat Ramazanov tells:
«My first teacher is Nuriyev Talgat Mugallyamovich. He taught me how to play the kurai and taught me the basics of uzlyau. He himself is a master of throat singing, he let me listen to Ishmulla Dilmukhametov's recordings. When I studied at the Salavat Music College and the Ufa Institute of Arts, I began to perform often – kurai and uzlyau alternately came into the forefront. I met the actor Zulfar Akhmetov, he gave me recordings of the Tuvans and Mongols. I started listening to recordings of uzlyau masters from both Bashkir and other peoples. Then we also began to introduce uzlyau techniques into the songs of "Argymak". Since then we have been using these techniques in the songs "Alpamysha", "Kara yurga" ("Black ambler"), "Akhak-kola" ("Lame dun horse"), "Bayik", "Pesnya Zaki Validi" ("Song of Zaki Validi"), "Shaimuratov general" ("General Shaimuratov") and others. This is the heritage of our Bashkir art, which not every nation has preserved. In other countries it is interpreted as exotic, and this is our highlight. Kubairs with uzlyau immediately distinguish you from others».
Music therapy
Uzlyau is not only a style in music, but also a meditation tool. Performing or just listening to throat singing, a person touches the world of nature, adjusts to the right vibrations, plunges into a harmonious trance. It is not for nothing that it is said that throat singing needs to be felt, passed through oneself, listened to not only with the ears, but with the whole body. The benefit concerns not only psychological health – it is the removal of fatigue, getting rid of depression. The researchers note that uzlyau makes the throat more relaxed, the voice becomes deeper and more powerful. Uzlyau also helps in the treatment of various diseases of the throat, such as tonsillitis, scratchy throat. This rare kind of art can not leave anyone indifferent, even once heard the performance of uzlyau singer is remembered and leaves impressions for a lifetime.
This is how Tatyana Lvovna Sukhotina-Tolstaya, the daughter of the famous writer Leo Tolstoy, writes in her book «Vospominaniya» («Memoirs»): «Some Bashkirs sang with the help of their throats. This is a very strange and rare way to make musical sounds, and the masters of this music are highly valued among Bashkirs, as they are very rare. One such musician came to the horse racing. When he sang, everyone fell silent, listening to him. The Bashkir is sitting cross-legged on the carpet, his face is tense, a vein has appeared on his forehead from the effort, and sweat drops from his forehead to his nose. His whole face is completely motionless, his lips do not move, and only deep in his throat as if a child's barrel organ is playing. The sounds are clear, transparent and very melodic. At last he finished. At the last sound either a sigh or a groan escapes from his chest. Everyone is silent under the impression of the music they have heard. "Come on, – my dad says, – take out and show us the barrel organ that you have hidden in your throat". The Bashkir smiles wearily and shakes his head. He is served a wooden bowl full of foamy kumis. He drinks greedily, then crosses his hands on his knees and rests».
The traditions of uzlyau, preserved in Bashkortostan from ancient times to the present day, are a unique musical heritage that we must preserve for future generations.

1. Dal' V. I. (1989). Bashkirskaya rusalka [Bashkir mermaid]. In: M. G. Rakhimkulov, S. G. Safuanov, M. A. Chvanov (eds.). Bashkiriya v russkoi literature [Bashkiria in Russian literature]. Ufa: Kitap, vol. 1, pp. 172–188 (in Russian).

2. Ikhtisamov Kh. S. (1988). K probleme sravnitel'nogo izucheniya dvukhgolosnogo gortannogo peniya i instrumental'noi muzyki u tyurkskikh i mongol'skikh narodov [On the problem of comparative study of two-voice guttural singing and instrumental music among the Turkic and Mongolian peoples]. In: E. V. Gippius (ed.). Narodnye muzykal'nye instrumenty i instrumental'naya muzyka: sbornik statei i materialov [Folk musical instruments and instrumental music: collection of articles and materials]. Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, pt. 2, pp. 197–216 (in Russian).

3. Lebedinsky L. N. (1948). Iskusstvo «uzlyau» u bashkir [The art of «uzlyau» among Bashkirs]. Sovetskaya muzyka, no. 4, pp. 48–51 (in Russian).

4. Musical fund of the Folklore cabinet of the Ufa State Institute of Arts named after Z. Ismagilov.

5. Rybakov S. G. (1897). Muzyka i pesni ural'skikh musul'man s ocherkom ikh byta [Music and songs of the Ural Muslims with an essay of their life]. Saint Petersburg: Tipografiya Imperatorskoi Akademii nauk, 330 p. (in Russian).

6. Sukhotina-Tolstaya T. L. (1980). Vospominaniya [Memoirs]. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaya literatura, 526 p. (in Russian).

7. Uzlyau (1981). In: Yu. V. Keldysh, V. A. Belyj, et al. (eds.). Muzykal'naya entsiklopediya [Music encyclopedia]. Moscow: Sovetskaya entsiklopediya, vol. 5, pp. 695–696 (in Russian).

8. Zagretdinov R. A. (2011). Shkola bashkirskogo gorlovogo peniya [School of Bashkir throat singing]. Ufa: Kitap, 304 p. (in Bashkir, Russian and English).
Photos: Oleg Yarovikov; archive of Rais Nizametdinov and Ilgam Baibuldin.

Video: personal archive of Rais Nizametdinov.

Audio: musical fund of the Folklore cabinet of the Ufa State Institute of Arts named after Z. Ismagilov.

Layout: Renata Vakhitova

Author (compiler): L. Aralbayeva, 2021