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Siberia 10: Altai, The Song Of The Golden Mountains

Music of the world

The Altaian people (67239 at the 2002 census) live in the Altai krai —whose capital city is Barnaul— and mainly in the Altai Republic —whose capital is Gorno-Altaisk. Some of them practice Tantric Buddhism, introduced by the Tibetans, yet there are no Buddhist edifices in the region. There is also an autochthonous religion called Burkhanism. Shamanism has also remained very present, and when one crosses a mountain pass with an Altaian driver, the latter always stops before the trees where spirit ribbons are suspended. People may simply make a halt, or they attach new ribbons and even make an offering of coins Altaians practice several forms of throat song with various techniques: kai, karkiraa, komoi, sikit, sybsysky, sygyt; the five last ones are overtone singing, i.e. the singer emits a fundamental note and harmonics at the same time. There are numerous occasions to listen to them, in village celebrations and cultural centres as well as in the theatres of Gorno-Altaisk. The most commonly found instrument is the two-string lute topsuur, notably used to accompany epics. Altaians also play a two-string fiddle, the ikili, as well as three kinds of flutes — sibiski soor and komurgaï — the homus jaw harp and the dünmür frame drum, once used for shamanic rituals.