otyken siberian band khakas Chulym

Otyken – Giving Voice to East Siberian Indigenous Culture

Published: June 13, 2022

Otyken is an indigenous Siberian folk pop band that uses traditional instruments and sings in Khakas, Chulym, and Russian. The members of the group are Chulym Khakas, an indigenous population that lives in Eastern Siberia. The name “Otyken” originates from the Chulym language, and is the native name for their land, roughly translated into English as “a sacred site for warriors.” The group was formed and is funded by Andrey Medonos.

Andrey grew up in a small village in the Siberian taiga working in his family’s apiary. In 2013, he created a YouTube channel to share Chulym culture, focusing primarily on beekeeping. Otyken was formed in 2015, as a group dedicated to preserving indigenous folklore, old customs, and songs. The group is associated with Ethno-Honey, a store that sells Chulym honey. All profits from the store go towards the development and sharing of indigenous Siberian culture and music.

Besides Andrey, most of the band go by only their first names. This is likely a move to make them seem more friendly, a constant theme in their songs. The lead vocalist for the group is Azyan. She grew up in a small village singing with her father and takes inspiration from the vast Siberian taiga and the wonders nature has to offer. Other members of the group include Hakkaida playing the drums, Tsveta on the vargan (also known as the jaw harp), Ach performing the throat singing, Kunchari on the ikili (a two-stringed instrument played with a bow), Kykakacha playing the maracas, and Otamay playing the khomys (a two- or three-string instrument made of cedar that is plucked). The mix of indigenous instruments and singing with pop beats and melodies creates a unique sound that gives Otyken distinct and important place within the folk pop genre.

They released their first album Otyken in 2018, including 8 songs. Each of their songs draw from the taiga and Chulymtsev practices and beliefs. Songs contain both mainstream singing, and indigenous throat singing, creating a blend of old traditions and mainstream influence. They began to gain more traction after releasing their second album in 2019, titled Lord of Honey. This album includes two of their most popular songs, “My Wings” and “Lord of Honey”. Much like their first album, the second conveys the rich culture and spirit of the Chulyms. Their most recent album Kykakacha was released in 2021, and contains a mix of new songs and remakes of some of their older songs. This album incorporates more pop and EDM elements, further emphasizing the fusion of traditional Chulymtsev singing with modern arrangements and production. Their latest single “Storm” is about traveling East. The lyrics speak of reaching out and finding help and friends in Eastern Siberia. It sends the message that has been fundamental to the group since its founding – spreading Chulymtsev culture and music to share its beauty and significance with the rest of the world.

Otyken has been performing at various festivals throughout Russia and has shows in the US scheduled for 2023. As of now, they have one million followers on TikTok. They can also be found on YouTube and Spotify.

Below is their breakout hit on YouTube, Storm. It includes English subtitles.

Lyrics for “Storm” (translated from Khakas):

Are you going east?
Are you going east?
Are you going east?

The sun will blind you
The storm will cover you with snow
The earth will swallow you into its bowels
If you’re going east, be very careful!

The sun will blind you
The storm will cover you with snow
The earth will swallow you into its bowels

Be very careful!

The storm will cover you with snow

Are you going east?
If you’re going east, be very careful!

Life does not beat, life teaches.
Life lessons are useful, endure them.
Life does not beat, life teaches.
Life lessons are useful, endure them.

When friends are with you, friends will always help.
When you get home, don’t forget about your friends.
When friends are with you, friends will always help.
When you get home, don’t forget about your friends.

The storm will cover you in snow.

Friends from the east will save you from the snow,
Save you from the heat of the sun and fire.
When friends are with you, friends will always help.
You are already at home,
But your heart calls you to friends from the east.

 

Below is the much slower and traditional-sounding “Lords of Honey.”

 

Lyrics for “Lords of Honey” in Khakas (no translation available).

öcкен щерем тадар щерем
пазох хатап нажлантур
туған шағын шылспағанда
оғаа щöрем öpiн тур

ой атасы ой аладыр
хаи аладыр аи тидiр

сен сасхан ала ханат
ÿгрет менi ÿжаға
ырах iмöс позiк iмöс
оғлыжамны кöрöге

ах моршоны шулбазамда
кöк моршоны хайди да
шон алында сегербезем
тахпах кöглiм хайди да

About the author

Sadie Brink

Sadie Brink is attending Reed College in the US and participating in Batumi: Russian as a Second Language with SRAS partially funded by an SRAS Challenge Grant.

Program attended: Challenge Grants

View all posts by: Sadie Brink