Most Americans don't have the ability to locate Kyrgyzstan on a map. It's landlocked, mountainous and small, nestled in between China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Most Americans would also have trouble fitting the sounds of Kyrgyzstan into the landscape of American music. Nothing is familiar here--exotic instruments emit sounds outside of Western musical vocabulary and when there are lyrics, they are sung in Kyrgyz.
The music varies wildly from song to song. Some tracks, like the mystical nine-minute epic "Ak Satkyn Menen Kulmyrza," evoke images of exotic mountain landscapes and nomadic peoples still resisting the grip of globalization. Other tunes are distinctly ancient while still others faintly hint at a contemporary flair. "Episode From The Manas: Kokotoidun Ashy" is musical theater, with subtle notes behind a gruff and emphatic storyteller. The "manas" that these lyrics are drawn from is an epic Kyrgyz poem, one of the country's most celebrated cultural relics. The poem is twenty times longer than Homer's Odyssey and is still recited by manaschis, individuals who are revered in Kyrgyzstan society.
The Tengir-Too collection comes complete with a 48-page color booklet and an interactive DVD that I didn't even delve into; the music itself held my attention. While these songs might serve as an ideal background for intimate dinner parties at the homes of casual fans of world music, I would encourage a more intensive approach. We can resist the cultural isolation that is threatening global understanding by opening our ears to the Kyrgyz mountains.