Throat Singing, Tango, Radif, Candombe and Other Music and Dance Traditions celebrated by UNESCO

Candombe musician Ruben Rada (Uruguay)
Candombe musician Ruben Rada (Uruguay)
The Tango of Argentina and Uruguay, The Radif of Iran, the Mongolian art of Khoomei singing, and the traditional Ainu dance of Japan are among the 76 elements inscribed on 30 September on UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

These 76 inscriptions were decided by the 24 Member States of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage, that held its 4th session in Abu Dhabi under the chairmanship of Awadh Ali Saleh Al Musabi (United Arab Emirates).

The following musical traditions were inscribed:

  • Argentina; Uruguay – The Tango – The Argentinean and Uruguayan tradition of the Tango, now familiar around the world, was developed by the urban lower classes in Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the Rio de la Plata basin
  • Azerbaijan – The art of Azerbaijani Ashiqs – The art of Azerbaijani Ashiqs combines poetry, storytelling, dance and vocal and instrumental music into a traditional performance art that stands as a symbol of Azerbaijani culture.
  • China – Gesar epic tradition – The ethnic Tibetan, Mongolian and Tu communities in western and northern China share the story of the ancient hero King Gesar, sent to heaven to vanquish monsters, depose the powerful, and aid the weak while unifying disparate tribes. The singers and storytellers who preserve the Gesar epic tradition perform episodes of the vast oral narrative (known as ‘beads on a string’) in alternating passages of prose and verse with numerous regional differences.
  • China – Grand song of the Dong ethnic group – A popular saying among the Dong people in Guizhou Province in southern China has it that ‘rice nourishes the body and songs nourish the soul’. Their tradition of passing on culture and knowledge in music is exemplified in the Grand Song of the Dong ethnic group, multi-part singing performed without instrumental accompaniment or a leader.
  • China – Hua’er – In Gansu and Qinghai Provinces and throughout north-central China, people of nine different ethnic groups share a music tradition known as Hua’er. The music is drawn from an extensive traditional repertoire named after ethnicities, towns or flowers.
  • China – Manas – The Kirgiz ethnic minority in China, concentrated in the Xinjiang region in the west, pride themselves on their descent from the hero Manas, whose life and progeny are celebrated in one of the best-known elements of their oral tradition: the Manas epic. Traditionally sung by a Manaschi without musical accompaniment, epic performances takes place at social gatherings, community celebrations, ceremonies such as weddings and funerals and dedicated concerts.
  • China – Mongolian art of singing: Khoomei – The Mongolian art of singing: Khoomei, or Hooliin Chor (‘throat harmony’), is a style of singing in which a single performer produces a diversified harmony of multiple voice parts, including a continued bass element produced in the throat.
  • China – Nanyin – Nanyin is a musical performing art central to the culture of the people of Minnan in southern Fujian Province along China’s south-eastern coast, and to Minnan populations overseas.
  • China – Tibetan opera – Tibetan opera, the most popular traditional opera of minority ethnic groups in China, is a comprehensive art combining folk song, dance, storytelling, chant, acrobatics and religious performance.
  • China – Xi’an wind and percussion ensemble – Xi’an wind and percussion ensemble, which has been played for more than a millennium in China’s ancient capital of Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province, is a type of music integrating drums and wind instruments, sometimes with a male chorus. The content of the verses is mostly related to local life and religious belief and the music is mainly played on religious occasions such as temple, fairs or funerals.
  • China – Yueju opera – The Chinese tradition of Yueju opera combines Mandarin operatic traditions and Cantonese dialect. Rooted in the Cantonese-speaking provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi in south-eastern China, Yueju opera is characterized by a combination of string and percussion instruments, with elaborate costumes and face painting.
  • Croatia – Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale – On the Istrian peninsula in western Croatia, several varieties of two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale are preserved by Croatian, Istro-Romanian and Italian communities. The style is characterized by vigorous, partly nasal singing.
  • Estonia – Seto Leelo, Seto polyphonic singing tradition – For the Seto community living in southeastern Estonia and the Pechory district of the Russian Federation, the tradition of leelo, an ancient polyphonic singing tradition, is a cornerstone of contemporary identity. Performed to traditional melodies and in traditional costume, leelo features a lead singer who delivers a verse line followed by a choir that joins in for the final syllables and then repeats the whole line.
  • France – Maloya – Maloya is a form of music, song and dance native to Réunion Island. Of mixed racial origins since its outset, maloya was created by Malagasy and African slaves on the sugar plantations and was eventually appropriated by the whole of the island’s population.
  • India – Ramman: religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas, India – Every year in late April, the twin villages of Saloor-Dungra in the state of Uttarakhand (northern India) are marked by Ramman, a religious festival in honour of the tutelary god, Bhumiyal Devta, a local divinity whose temple houses most of the festivities. This event is made up of highly complex rituals: the recitation of a version of the epic of Rama and various legends, and the performance of songs and masked dances.
  • Iran (Islamic Republic of) – The Radif of Iranian music – The Radif of Iranian music is the traditional repertoire of the classical music of Iran that forms the essence of Persian musical culture. More than 250 melodic units, called gushe, are arranged into cycles, with an underlying modal layer providing the backdrop against which a variety of melodic motifs are set.
  • Japan – Dainichido Bugaku – According to legend, travelling performers of bugaku, the ritual dance and music of the imperial palace, visited Hachimantai Town in northern Japan in the early eighth century, during the reconstruction of Dainichido, the shrine pavilion. The ritual performance of Dainichido Bugaku takes its name from this story, but the art evolved considerably since, reflecting local features as elders transmitted it to the young within each of the four local communities of Osato, Azukisawa, Nagamine and Taniuchi. On the second day of each year, the 2 January, the people of these communities proceed from dedicated sites to the shrine, where they perform nine sacred dances from dawn to noon as a prayer for happiness in the New Year.
  • Japan – Gagaku – Gagaku, characterized by long, slow songs and dance-like movements, is the oldest of the Japanese traditional performing arts. It is performed at banquets and ceremonies in the Imperial Palace and in theatres throughout the country.
  • Japan – Traditional Ainu dance – The Ainu are an indigenous people who today live mostly in Hokkaidō in northern Japan. Traditional Ainu dance is performed at ceremonies and banquets, as part of newly organized cultural festivals and privately in daily life; in its various forms, it is closely connected to the lifestyle and religion of the Ainu.
  • Republic of Korea – Cheoyongmu – Cheoyongmu is a court dance today performed on stage but formerly used to dispel evil spirits and pray for tranquility at royal banquets or during exorcism rites on New Year’s Eve to promote good fortune.
  • Republic of Korea – Ganggangsullae – Ganggangsullae is a seasonal harvest and fertility ritual popular in the south-western part of the Republic of Korea, performed primarily on Korea’s Thanksgiving in the eighth lunar month. Under a bright full moon, dozens of young, unmarried village women gather in a circle, join hands and sing and dance all night under the direction of a lead singer.
  • Romania – Doina – Known by various names throughout Romania, the doina is a lyrical, solemn chant that is improvised and spontaneous. As the essence of Romanian folklore, until 1900 it was the only musical genre in many regions of the country.
  • Spain – Whistled language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands), the Silbo Gomero – The whistled language of La Gomera Island in the Canaries, the Silbo Gomero, replicates the islanders’ habitual language (Castilian Spanish) with whistling. Handed down over centuries from master to pupil, it is the only whistled language in the world that is fully developed and practiced by a large community (more than 22,000 inhabitants).
  • Turkey – Âşıklık (minstrelsy) tradition – The Âşıklık (minstrelsy) tradition of Turkey is performed by wandering poet-singers known as âşıks. Dressed in traditional clothes and plucking a stringed saz, the âşık is a common performer at weddings, in coffeehouses and during public festivals of all sorts.
  • Uruguay – The Candombe and its socio-cultural space: a community practice – Every Sunday and on many holidays, the llamadas de tambores de candombe or candombe drum calls enliven the Sur, Palermo and Cordón districts in southern Montevideo, Uruguay, home to a population of African descent. The practice of the candombe begins around communal fires as people gather to tune their drums and socialize before beginning their march.
  • Uzbekistan – Katta Ashula – Katta Ashula (literally ‘big song’) is a type of traditional song that forms part of the identity of various peoples of the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan, which is also home to Tajiks, Uyghurs and Turks, and of some regions of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. An original genre, Katta Ashula combines performing arts, singing, instrumental music, Eastern poetry and sacred rites.
  • Viet Nam – Quan Họ Bắc Ninh folk songs – In the provinces of Bắc Ninh and Bắc Giang in northern Viet Nam, many of the villages are twinned, reinforcing their relationship through social customs such as Quan họ Bắc Ninh folk songs. The songs are performed as alternating verses between two women from one village who sing in harmony, and two men from another village who respond with similar melodies, but with different lyrics.

More information at unesco.org

Author: World Music Central News Department

World music news from the editors at World Music Central

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