Pushing the boundaries of singing

The human voice is an incredibly versatile instrument. Through choir practice, you’ll have heard first-hand some of the incredible things the voice can do but the possibilities are truly endless. From rapping and screaming to beatboxing and complex overtone techniques, no one singer can claim to be a master of every vocal technique, and researchers continue to find new and exciting forms of singing amongst tribal cultures, even today.

One such obscure technique is Rekuhkara. Once practised by the Ainu tribe of Northern Japan, the last singer passed away in 1976, leaving only recordings and academic reference as legacy. The sounds produced are thought to mimic local animals, the yips of foxes are perhaps most obvious in the clip below.

Rather than being used for performance, Rekuhkara was intended more as a game with two “players” with winners being determined by who could set the fastest pace or who could sing the longest. Tournaments would take place during festivals, with the winner being the player who could beat the most other competitors.

One singer would form a tube with their hands and chant into the open mouth of their partner, while the other would use their vocal chords to modulate the sound, as if singing in reverse, using someone else’s voice. Think of it as a form of “vocal tennis”

Because of the unusual nature of the singing, efforts to revive the practice have emerged in recent years, using old recordings as reference.

Similar techniques also exist amongst Inuit cultures, Katajiaq, with the two cultures sharing Siberian heritage, possibly also linking them to Tuvan throat singing, made famous recently by Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.

Throughout the world, there are many more examples of singing that push our understanding of what singing is, even though we might like to think everything is set in stone. It just goes to show you, everyone is learning all the time.