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East meets West in Frank Zappa jam session with Kongar-ol Ondar

August 11, 2013|By Elaine Woo

How did a master of the Siberian art of throat singing wind up jamming with Frank Zappa and his friends?

Kongar-ol Ondar, 51, who died July 25 of complications from a brain hemorrhage in the Russian republic of Tuva, had been invited to ride in the Rose Parade in 1993. At a concert in Pasadena that evening, cartoonist Matt Groening heard him sing and told his friend Zappa about Ondar's astonishing ability to sing two or more notes simultaneously. Zappa, the eclectic musician-composer of the '60s band Mothers of Invention, was ill with cancer but asked if Ondar could sing for him at his home in Los Angeles.

A few weeks later, Ondar and a couple fellow practitioners of Tuvan throat singing (sometimes called overtone singing) joined a musical salon at Zappa's home, where they answered questions about the traditional Tuvan vocal art before jamming with an unusual assortment of musicians, including members of the Irish band the Chieftains and blues musician Johnny "Guitar" Watson.

One participant pronounced the results of this harmonic convergence "planetary."

This video of the session was filmed for a BBC documentary. In this snippet Ondar is the one with the round face and partially shaved head. Zappa can be seen with guitar in hand grooving with the Tuvans. Zappa died several months later.


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