Alash’s music is firmly grounded in cultural and spiritual traditions of Tuva, a remote Russian Republic on the Siberian-Mongolian border, but incorporates newer sounds. “We like to play within the great range of expression that the tradition offers, finding areas where our knowledge of complex rhythms and western harmonies mesh well with the traditional sound and feel of Tuvan music,” said ensemble member Mai-ool Sedip.
The Alash Ensemble was founded in 1999 in the basement of the Kyzyl Arts College in Tuva’s capital city. The group, originally known as Changy-Xaya, became the resident traditional ensemble at the school.
The group learned more about traditional Tuvan music from the well-known master Xoomeizhi (throat singer) Kongar-ool Ondar, but they also began to learn about Western classical music and such concepts as harmony, theory and staff notation.
The members of Alash perform on traditional Tuvan instruments as well as hybrids of Tuvan instruments and violins and cellos. They find these Western instruments appealing, and have begun exploring the new sound worlds that have arisen from their unique, dual musical consciousness. The group incorporates many seldom-played traditional Tuvan instruments such as the murgu, shoor and limpi (wind instruments) as well as the more common igil and dosh-puluur.
The members of the ensemble acknowledge the influence of many diverse sources – Tuvan and otherwise – in their work. Ondar played a key role in the life of the ensemble since its early days as its artistic director, encouraging and guiding the group’s formation as an ensemble. The Alash ensemble is among the first of a new generation of Tuvan musicians who have matured in the musically fertile and adventurous post-communist period in Tuva, says Sedip.
“We are inspired by the music of our grandparents, and their grandparents, and all the great Tuvan and Central Asian musicians of the post-Soviet era – Tuva Ensemble, Huun-Huur-Tu, Chirgilchin, Sarymai, Andrei Mongush and Alexander Sarzhat-ool,” notes Sedip. “We are also influenced by Sun Ra and Jimi Hendrix. We compose new songs, and arrange songs that we remember from childhood, such as “Saryglar.“
The Alash Ensemble toured North America for the first time in Spring 2006 through the Open World Leadership Program of the Library of Congress, performing and teaching on the East Coast and in the Midwest. The group released its first U.S. CD, Alash Live at the Enchanted Garden, featuring its sold-out performance at the Enchanted Garden in Ridgefield, Connecticut on March 17, 2006.
During the summer of 2006, the group performed in a Mongolian festival in Taiwan honoring the 800th anniversary of Genghis Khan, traveled, performed and taught in Poland, and participated in Tuva’s well-known festival in Chadaan. In September 2006, Alash’s members performed with the Tuvan National Folk Orchestra, which won the grand prize in the All-Russia Competition of National Orchestras and Ensembles in Ulan-Ude, Republic of Buryatia.
The throat-singing ensemble returned to North America in 2007.
Original members of Alash were: Kongar-ool Ondar, artistic director; Bady-Dorzhu Ondar — Vocals, igil, doshpuluur;
Ayan-ool Sam: guitar, vocals, doshpuluur, chanzy, igil;
Mai-ool Sedip — vocals, byzaanchy, limpi; Ayan Shirizhik –vocals, murgu, shoor, kengirge, xapchyk, dunggur; and Sergei Sotpa –vocals, igil, shoor, limpi, xomus, instrument-master.
Kongar-ool Ondar died in 2013.