Today’s post will be exploring the unique melody and the vocal techniques used specifically in traditional Mongolian music and Japanese Enka. Having a Japanese nationality and all of my relatives being Japanese, there are a lot of times when I hear enka on television and even at Karaoke for example. As some of you might have an idea of what Enka sounds like, whenever I listen to Enka, I feel that the vocal techniques are what stands out the most and what makes Enka unique and different from other music genres. There might not be many people who listen to Enka often these days; however, Enka is still being treasured in Japan and is recognized by everybody in this country. Therefore, I will be exploring the melody and the vocal techniques used in Enka, and at the same time analyze traditional Mongolian music which I felt uses similar unique vocal techniques, then compare and contrast both of this music.
Culture 1 – Japanese Enka
Enka is a semi-traditional genre of Japanese music. The most common theme of an Enka song is about a heartbreaking relationship between men and women; therefore the melody and mood of the song are very sorrowful and sad. Enka was first originated in the Meiji period, however, it was not recognized as a genre of music until the 1970s. The history of being a famous and recognized music genre is very shallow however, it gained popularity as being a genre of music that is not similar at all compared to for example rock or jazz that was popular at that time(Wajima).
The song I will be analyzing is called “Jinsei Kakurenbo” by Hiroshi Itsuki released in 1981 and is one of the most famous Enka song(Yousof).
Culture 2 – Mongolian Music
Mongols use music in all aspects of their daily lives. They sing and play to lure animals during the hunt, to control them when herding and to encourage them to give milk or to accept their young. It spreads throughout domestic and public celebrations. In Mongol, music expresses and creates relationships with human partners and it is also used in folk-religious, shaman or Buddhist contexts to communicate with spirits(Pegg).
The song I will be analyzing is called “Ardiin Duunii Nairuulgal” performed by the Khukh Mongol Folk Art Ensemble.
Melody fits into a given rhythm by adding a series of pitches that we enjoy humming the most. Melody is often the aspect of a song which is remembered the most either when it is sung or instrumentally played. The definition of melody would be a series of notes that add up to a recognizable whole(Charlton).
We will be discussing how incomplete and complete cadence, as well as the mixture of legato and staccato is explored in Traditional Mongolian music and Japanese Enka.
I believe that melody is the most important aspect of any piece of music. Melodies sung and played in Mongolian music and Enka is very unique and those two melodies will be compared to look at their similarities and differences.
Enka: First of all, the song is in 4/4 and it is in F major.
As mentioned above, Melodies in Enka is usually slow as it is singing about heartbreaking relationships.
The first point is that there are so many long and held notes:
The note A is sung for a whole measure. The long notes will naturally slow down the song and add a sorrow atmosphere to the song, also Kobushi is used at the end, which I will explain further later in the vocal techniques section.
Strophic is also called a “verse repeating chorus form” and is when the same melody is sung over and over again but different lyrics for each stanza. This means the form will simply be A,A,A. However, there are modified strophic forms which I am going to concentrate on. Contrasting verse-chorus form. This is when TWO melodies are repeated throughout the song with different lyrics. Therefore the form would be AB, AB,AB. Jinsei Kakurenbo has a contrasting verse-chorus form.
Here we can see that there are three different lyrics written at the bottom of the one same melody. This is a clear example of a Contrasting verse-chorus form as this tells us the AB form will be repeated three times in order to sing the three different lyrics.
The coda is also an evidence for the existence of the form as it tells the singer to go back to the coda to repeat a certain section.
Mongol: Short song is a more recent form, is quick and lively, often humorous in character. Its themes are love, the home country, horses, and women. Technically less trying than the long song, it is still very much part of everyday Mongol life. (Pegg)
“Byambajargal” will specifically be recognized as a “Short Song” as the melodies are cut into short pieces which makes the song more up-tempo and lively.
This is an example of melisma:
You can see that all of the notes shown in the photo above are quarter notes and these notes are consecutively sung; there is no rest between each note. Also, even though it is not perfect, all three parts form a bell shape with the notes; the melody rises up and goes down again. This is another characteristic of a short song in Mongol as in short songs, the musicians play with each note by overly singing higher or lower than the original note. In the picture above, for example, the motif on the very top the first note is a C, and the notes consecutively rise until it reaches the highest note within this motif is G, and again, the notes consecutively descend and lands back on C.
A lot of Staccato could be heard in this song as well. From 0:19 to 0:25, the two female singers and the two male singers are having a call and response. The end of every note is cut; meaning the none of the notes are held. Therefore the melody is very sharp and it makes us the listeners imagine a horse riding scenery.
We can see repetitions from 0:20 to 0:24. These are the exact same melody while one is sung by the female soprano, and the other sung by male bass singers.
There are a lot of vocal techniques that exists that helps the singers add unique tastes to the song. The way these vocal techniques are used, how often it is used, will obviously differentiate between specific music cultures and will make each musical culture unique and makes these cultures dependent on other musical cultures. The reason why I chose to compare traditional Mongolian music and Japanese Enka, is that from various songs I have listened to, I believe that the interesting vocal techniques are used in all of their songs most often and is what stands out the most when listening to songs from these two different countries. Although the vocal techniques used in both of these cultures might sound similar at first, the specific techniques and the way or when they use it during the song is quite different, which is what made me more interested in finding out the similarities and differences.
Enka: The most common vocal techniques used in Enka is called こぶし“Kobushi”.
The Kobushi is very similar to Melisma. However, a Melisma is when several notes are sung to one syllable of text within a phrase. Kobushi is a little different as Kobushi is a type of intonation, and the point is to connect the vowels. For example, When singing “La ~~”, instead try singing “La~~aa~~”. The pitch of the two “a” should be slightly different. An ideal Kobushi will sing the original note, a note half step higher, and back to the original note, and the Kobushi part should be sung with less volume so when going back to singing the actual lyrics, the volume will increase again which will make the listeners identify the singing and the Kobushi as two different parts of the song.
At 0:39, where the lyric is “Kaze ga shimiru-yo”,
The first note which is E is held for two beats, then when he sings “ze ga” the notes fluctuates from E, F, and back to E within just one beat. As explained above, Kobushi can be defined as singing the first note → the toe half step above → and back to the first note again. It is also said that the next note after the Kobushi should usually be the same note or half step above or below the last note of the Kobushi so it has a smooth flow. This is evident in this section as the Next note after the E, F, E, is D; which is a note half step below E.
The next example could be seen at 1:04. The lyric here is “Chidori ashi” This lyric is sung within one measure; however, two Kobushi can be seen. The first one is from the first note shown in the photo below, and the note starts with D, then to E, and back to D. Straight after this first Kobushi, The second Kobushi starts on the fifth note of the first bar and the notes are A, B flat and back to A.
This fluctuation is one of the examples of Kobushi used in this song. The characteristics about enka are that Kobushi is used so many times within one song. It is not just used once, but instead, it is used a lot especially at the climax or the end of a specific phrase to add a little essence to the song, which makes the Enka unique. The more you concentrate listening to these small Kobushi having a long-held note, and suddenly having three short notes going up and down draws the listeners attention.
Mongol: “Throat-singing(Khöömei) is a guttural style of singing or chanting, is one of the world’s oldest forms of music. In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat’s resonance characteristics. By precise movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, vellum, and larynx, throat-singers produce unique harmonies using only their bodies.”(“ Traditional Music & Songs”)
Tuva is a predominantly rural region of Russia located northwest of Mongolia. Singers use a form of circular breathing which allows them to sustain multiple notes for long periods of time. They use the folds of the throat as reverberation chambers.
With their throat-singing, Tuvans imitate sounds of the natural surroundings—animals, mountains, streams, and the harsh winds of the steppe.
Here, there are two soprano parts which are the female singers, and you can see that each singer is singing two notes at once.
Another vocal technique used frequently is called Melisma. Melisma is when a group of notes are sung to one syllable of texts.
For example at measure 16:
You can see that there are no rests at all within the two measures and the notes are all consecutive. The whole phrase start with a C consecutively ascends up to G and descends back to C. The notes and all in 16th and it draws a bell shape. You can see that the shape is similar to the first example shown. However, obviously, the notes do not have to form a bell curve all the time in order to be a melisma.
Personally, I feel that in Mongolian music, vocal techniques such as the throat singing are consistently used throughout the song while in Enka, it is used to add a little essence to the song.
As explained above, throughout almost the whole songs, I was able to find examples of throat singing and melisma in Mongolian music. Compared to Enka, Mongolian short songs are more up-tempo and delightful; therefore to sustain the positive atmosphere, Melisma is used and several notes a sung continuously and fast within a short phrase. Enka, on the other hand, the Kobushi is heard often, but not as much as the Mongolian song. The song is normally sung until it hits the end of the climax of each phrase and the Kobushi is used to add some style and uniqueness to the song.
Also, both melody and the vocal techniques used in Mongolian music has a clear purpose. For example, the staccato is used very often to make us imagine a horse riding scenery which relates to their traditional instrument, the horsehead fiddle.
The horsehead fiddle is said to be the symbol of the Mongol instrument, which tells us how important and symbolic a horse is to the Mongolian people. The staccato and the up-tempo feeling of the short song is in a way a imagery that makes everybody imaging a horse riding scenery.
In today’s post, I explored the similarity and differences between Traditional Mongolian music and Japanese Enka, specifically looking at the melody and the vocal techniques.
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