Demetrio Stratos: when exactly did he go to Cuba and listen to Mongolian chants?


Area in concert, Stadio di Castelmassa (Rovigo), Italy, August 1978, right after their trip to Cuba, Photo by Raffaello Regoli (it.wikipedia, Demetrio_stratos.JPG)


These days I’m doing a little investigation work to help Andrew Colwell, a PhD candidate at Wesleyan University working on the global circulation of Mongol xöömeí/throat-singing, including the engagements or perceptions of non-Mongolian actors (such as Demetrios Stratos).

His interest was piqued by one of my articles I wrote in 2011 in collaboration with a former student of mine Elena Ceolin and with Graziano Tisato: “Demetrio Stratos rethinks voice techniques: a historical investigation at ISTC in Padova”. The article was based on Elena’s wonderful BA dissertation (I was her co-supervisor), investigating Demetrio Stratos’ visit and research at the ISTC in Padova (Institute of Cognitive Science and Technologies) in the late Seventies. Co-author Graziano Tisato, researcher at the ISTC, is an expert on vocal analysis since the Seventies; he was personally involved in the analysis of Stratos vocal effects; he engineered the first model synthesis for the overtone singing in 1989. 

In 2011 we find out through Area member Paolo Tofani, that Stratos likely first heard xöömeí in 1976/7, when a friend journalist first gave him a cassette of Mongolian music. Only after that, he went to Cuba in 1978 to the XI Youth Festival, with his band Area partners. [Paolo Tofani, in interview with Elena Ceolin, Graziano Tisato and the Italian composer Giovanni Floreani; March 21 2011, Tofani’s home in the countryside near Piacenza]. Question (by Tisato]: Come avvenne che Stratos si interessasse al canto praticato in Tuva e Mongolia? [How did it happen that Stratos took an interest  in Tuva and Mongolia singing?]. Answer: La storia vera è questa. Nel 1976/1977 un giornalista di “Ciao 2001” era stato in Mongolia e ci aveva portato una cassetta con i loro canti tradizionali. [The real story is: In 1976/1977 a journalist of “Hello 2001” had been in Mongolia and had brought us a cassette with their traditional songs].

Now – as Andrew Colwell points us out and wants to prove/verify – this is in contradiction with Mark van Tongeren book “Overtone Singing” (Fusica, Amsterdam 2002). Van Tongeren states that Stratos’ trip to Cuba took place in 1974 where he witnessed a cultural delegation from Mongolia.

To clarify this point, I got in touch with Ares Tavolazzi, former Area member, so now we again can confirm what we found out from the beginning: The trip to Cuba was in 1978, and Stratos learned xöömeí chants before, from a cassette in 1976/7. 

Here is what Tavolazzi recalls: “L’undicesimo Festival della Gioventù si tenne a Cuba dal 28 luglio al 5 agosto del 1978. I canti della Mongolia li abbiamo conosciuti precedentemente, nel 1975-76 circa, attraverso un amico di Milano di cui non ricordo il nome, che ci riforniva di audiocassette spesso molto interessanti”. [Translation: “The XI Youth Festival in Cuba took plase from 29 July to 5 Aug. 1978. We knew Mongolian chants from before, 1975-76, thanks to a friend of ours from Milan whose name unfortunately I can no longer recall. He gave us many cassettes which were often very interesting”].

Tavolazzi places the fact even a full year early [1975/6], but Tisato is inclined to think that the actual period is more likely 1976/7: This is reflected in the fact that the first Stratos’ recordings made in 1975 were not as experimental as the ones made in 1976/77, which suggests that Stratos became gradually influenced by the new singing thecniques after 1976. 

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