The day when, The kindly God,
Created the world

The day when
They blessed the two-legged race,
And presented them with the land

The day when
They settled the Sakha people,
In the Middle world,

That day they created, Dear magic khomus, With a curved tongue
Jingling sound, And peerless song.

--Alexey Eliseyevich Kulakovsky (1877-1926)
--folklore researcher, poet

For most Americans, the mouth harp conjures up tobacco-spitting farmers on a porch, high-stepping on a hot summer afternoon. In the outreaches of Siberia, in temperatures that can reach 83 degrees below zero, there is a tribe of people who call themselves Sakha, for whom the mouth harp leads the way to God.

For more than 3,0000 years, the Yakut (the common name for the Sakha) have honored the Khomus (mouth harp) as a national symbol central to their existence. The Khomus is integral to shamanism, the traditional religion of the Yakut, which regards the instrument as the feminine counterpart to the sacred shamanic drum.

Found around the world, shamans are holy leaders with healing skills who guide their believers through the spiritual landscape. In the Soviet Union, Stalin tried to stamp the practice out by imprisoning and killing shamans, but today shamanism persists as a fundamental element of Sakha self-identity.

On "Soul of Yakutia," a Khomus master named Spiridon Shishigin shares the unique sound of the mouth harp from Yakut. Spiridon, director of the Central School of Pokrovsk in Siberia, learned to play the Khomus at age 10, and has gone on to publish more than 100 articles and three books on the functions of the mouth harp. "The Khomus has a special quality: It creates energy," says Spiridon, "You can't use it for black magic, you can't do anything bad to people with it, you can only improve their energy."

The Khomus is indispensable for shamans, especially female shamans, for communicating with spirits and telling fortunes. Aficionados claim that there is a certain kind of healing power that playing the Khomus contributes to, a power which they oddly describe as "animal magnetism," a term coined by Wilhelm Ludwig Schmidt in 1840 in the first academic work on the subject, "The Aura or Mouth." "The curious and unique sounds inspire in me deep feelings about the magnetic charm inherent in music," Schmidt wrote, adding that "our ego is made of tender fibres which are moved by the tones."

Ego-moving or not, this collection is not "easy-listening" world music. It requires attention to appreciate its potential benefits. Shamanic revelations and healing don't happen instantaneously, and it might take a few listens to absorb the power of the Khomus.
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