Siberia's first metallurgists sing to spirit world

Tue Jan 13, 2009 8:27pm EST
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By Robin Paxton and Olga Petrova

CHUVASHKA, Russia (Reuters) - When Olga Tannagasheva starts to sing, her gentle voice transforms into a bass-line growl designed to invoke other-worldly spirits.

Tannagasheva, one of Russia's 14,000 remaining Shors, also wants to communicate with modern Russians, as her ancient culture strives to reassert itself after decades of Soviet repression and enduring economic hardship.

Performing under the pseudonym Chyltys -- meaning 'star' in the Shor language -- in blue, red and gold silks and a three-pointed hat, Tannagasheva's style of throat-singing is popular with epic performers that draw on shamanist traditions. In Shor culture, such epic songs could last for several days.

"Whenever I travel, people ask me: 'Who are the Shors?'" she said. "They think we come from China!"

The Shor people are descended from various Turkic tribes that migrated to the mountains of southwest Siberia from Central Asia. They had no unified identity until the mid-19th century, when the tribes, skilled horsemen and hunters, amalgamated.

Nicknamed the Blacksmith Tatars for their talent in fashioning tools from local iron deposits, they were granted their own mountain region -- Gornaya Shoria -- in 1926. Thirteen years later, Soviet leader Josef Stalin scrubbed it from the map.

"It was the policy of our government, of Stalin. Nobody ever explained this decision or apologized to us," said Nadezhda Pechenina, director of the Shor information center.

The natural resources that once defined the Shors were also responsible for their downfall. Stalin flooded the region with other nationalities to exploit rich iron ore and coal seams for the steel mills that still dominate the city of Novokuznetsk.   Continued...

<p>A national Shors ensemble rehearse in Novokuznetsk, December 19, 2008. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov</p>