RIP Ondar & Chiwoniso: 2 Great World Musicians

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Two wonderful world music artists have died: Chiwoniso Maraire and Kongar-ol Ondar.

Kongar-ol Ondar, one of the greatest and most experimental Tuvan throat singers, died in Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva on July 25th. He was just 51.

Tuvan throat singing is bitonal, where the singer produces two notes simultaneously, usually a lower growl and a whistling note on top. Try it some time. It isn’t easy!

Here is Ondar on the David Letterman show:

During all-Soviet talent contests in the 1950s, the first Tuvan throat singing contestants were inspected for hidden devices by the judges. After found innocent of any cheating, they were x-rayed during performance by ENT doctors. All were dumfounded by their strange talent. Ondar was part of the next generation of Tuvan singers in a style that became popular in Europe and the U.S. after the fall of the Soviet Union. You can read more about Tuvan throat singing in my July 3rd post.

Here is a more produced piece called, “Tuva Groove”. Note that the horse in Tuvan music and life is like what a fine car is to us in the west. A status symbol as well as a mode of transportation.

Who will also be missed is Zimbabwean singer Chiwoniso Maraire. She is better known by just her first name and she died one day earlier than Ondar, on July 24th. She was just 37 years old and died of pneumonia.

Chiwonsio and the mbria instrument (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

She was born of Zimbabwean parents in the U.S., but later returned to Zimbabwe. She excelled in playing the large thumb piano, or mbira, which in Zimbabwean music uses a large gourd resonator for more volume projection, often amplified in concert settings. It is a beautiful sound and really typifies the type of energy one finds in other Zimbabwean music of big names like Thomas Mapfumo. Chiwoniso was also an excellent singer and live performer.

Here is a clip of Chiwoniso performing:

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