Buryat Throat Singers Visit Carleton

6 February 2006

Carleton recently hosted internationally renowned Buryat musicians Erzhena and Sayan Zhambalov for a week of song, dance and revelry from the 6th to the 12th of February. The couple led a series of three classes in traditional Buryat music, movement and ritual. In addition, Ms. Zhambalov introduced the campus community to the region’s cultural heritage in a lecture accompanied by a video presentation. The visit culminated in a performance in Carleton’s Concert Hall on February 11th that featured throat-singing and traditional Buryat instruments, as well as original contemporary songs in Buryat and Russian. Carleton students also participated in the concert, demonstrating what they had learned in the Zhambalovs’ classes. The couple was delighted to have the opportunity to observe American teaching methods and work directly with American students.

The Zhambalovs, a husband-and-wife team from the autonomous republic of Buryatia in south-central Siberia, have performed throughout Russia and the West. This was not their first time in the U.S.—they have collaborated with the Yara Arts Group in New York since 1996—but they had never before been able to travel into the country’s heartland. In addition to their activities on Carleton’s campus, the couple took a trip to the Twin Cities that included a visit to Minneapolis American Indian Center.

The Zhambalovs’ work has brought them accolades from many different organizations. Both have been designated as Honored Artists of the Republic. Ms. Zhambalov took second place in the “Best 20th Century Composer of Buryatia” contest. Mr. Zhambalov, in addition to his musical activities, is also a poet, lyricist, actor and translator. He has co-authored the book “Shanar: Dedication Ritual of a Buryat Shaman in Siberia” and co-directed a new film, “Young Genghis Khan.”

Their visit was the high point of the term for Carleton junior Nazish Zafar, who described the experience as “the best week of my life.” Coming in the middle of hectic midterms, Carleton students enjoyed the chance to let go of their academic stresses and spend time throat-singing and coming together in a celebration of Buryat culture. Their appreciation of this event was marked by a packed hall on the final night of the Zhambalovs’ stay, during their Saturday concert. “Their love for each other and their homeland, and the common bond of their culture really showed through in the music. It was gorgeous and wonderful and special. I’m so glad I did the class!” said Grace Goh, a senior majoring in physics and Japanese who participated in the Saturday night performance. The Zhambalovs, too, expressed their happiness with the success of the event, inviting members of the audience to come to Buryatia any time they could make the trek.

The Zhambalovs’ visit was sponsored by the Carleton Russian Department, under the auspices of the Christopher U. Light Lectureship. Christopher U. Light, a 1958 Carleton graduate and freelance writer, composer, record producer and musician, established the Light Lectureships in Art, Literature and Music to promote the arts at Carleton.