- Khöömei and Heritage:An Afterword
I am grateful to the authors of the lively case studies featured in this issue of Asian Music for inviting me to contribute a brief afterword. The authors' idea was to bookend their case studies—all of them the product of recent and ongoing fieldwork—with contributions by several of their academic forebears whose investigations of throat-singing not only preceded their own but, in a sense, paved the way for them. Spanning more than three decades, our collective research illuminates the way throat-singing has been territorialized and reterritorialized, culturally contextualized and recontextualized, appropriated and reappropriated to support diverse and sometimes competing cultural, social, political, and economic ends and agendas, for better and sometimes, evidently, for worse.
In academe, as in life, generational change is bracingly swift. The authors who solicited essays from Carole Pegg, Valentina Süzükei, and me were children when I first visited Tyva in 1987—coincidentally, the same year Carole Pegg first visited Inner Mongolia, as she recounts in this issue. About that trip, Pegg wrote, "My Inner Mongolian research in 1987 was tightly controlled by the state's communist system. Foreigners needed internal travel permits and movements were constantly monitored. … In the Ordos region of southwest Inner Mongolia, my attempts to encounter music as part of ordinary life provoked interrogation by security police." Delivering myself to Tyva in 1987 was no easier. Tyva was part of a vast swath of the former Soviet Union "diplomatically closed" to citizens of capitalist countries, as the West was known in the lexicon of Soviet-era international affairs. The reason was ostensibly that the closed areas hosted militarily sensitive installations or abutted international borders. In the case of Tyva, the impediment, I was told, was a radar installation in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, which I was obliged to pass through to reach Kyzyl, Tyva's capital, by the only commercial air route that would get me there. The United States reciprocated in kind: among the many locations off-limits to citizens of the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War was the New York City borough of Brooklyn, ostensibly because of the Brooklyn Navy Yard (decommissioned in 1966). My circuitous route to gaining the special permission I needed to visit Tyva involved ingratiating myself to Soviet authorities by coproducing rock musician Billy Joel's 1987 concert tour in [End Page 203] the USSR. One of the functionaries I met through that experience pulled the necessary strings. I never asked how he did it, and he never told me. I was the first American to be allowed into Tyva to research and record music. According to local lore, a botanist and a geologist from the United States had been there before I had, but it's not clear that either of them knew or cared that they were in the ancestral home of throat-singing.
My visits to Tyva in 1987 and 1988 unfolded in the era of perestroika initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev. Under Gorbachev, the Iron Curtain that Winston Churchill declared in 1946 had descended across the European continent was being steadily retracted as scholars, scientists, and so-called citizen-diplomats in both the United States and the Soviet Union sought ways to meet and collaborate across a wide range of disciplines and endeavors. Beyond Moscow and Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was then known, the USSR remained largely terra incognita to Americans, and any kind of access to this virgin land was regarded as noteworthy. In those years, I'd dropped out of academe and was earning a living as a dealmaker and culture-broker curating nascent joint ventures between Soviets and Americans. Rather than apply for a research grant to fund my trip to Tyva, I phoned a contact at National Geographic. A few days later, I was in their office in Washington, discussing travel logistics and which photographer the magazine might send along with me and my Moscow-based collaborator, the Siberian music expert Eduard Alekseyev. Alekseyev knew a young Tyvan music ethnographer named Zoya Kyrgys who was also studying throat-singing, and so it was that our four-person Soviet-American Musical...