Saydyy-Kuo and Oscar started talking about music in 2011, soon after the WOMAD festival, where Oscar saw Saydyy-Kuo perform with the group Ayarkhaan. They soon created the UDAGAN music project together, performing for the first time in 2015, in Istanbul. They married in 2016 and moved to Sheffield in 2019.
Udagan means She-Shaman in the Sakha language, originating from the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), north-east of Siberia. In Sakha culture, she-shamans are more powerful than their male counterparts. They heal, perform rituals and ceremonies, and represent the “universal human” who is talented in all aspects of life. When it comes to Saydyy-Kuo and Oscar’s UDAGAN, the concept represents universally creative humans.
At the heart and soul of UDAGAN’s sound is the khomus – the mouth harp native to the Sakha people. Saydyy-Kuo was gifted the instrument when she was one year old and started playing it when she was 14. She’s since won international competitions for khomusists, learned from world-renowned players and published her own book of techniques. The instrument became Saydyy-Kuo’s lifelong friend and talisman, and strongly influenced Oscar’s destiny in music and life.
UDAGAN combine contemporary technology, such as live coding, with indigenous folklore and shamanic culture from the Arctic North, resulting in otherworldly soundscapes and powerful performances capable of eliciting revelations.
Ahead of their performance at Sensoria Festival on 6 October 2021, we explored the UDAGAN universe with Saydyy-Kuo and Oscar.
How would you describe your work?
S: In Sakha, nine out of 10 people have a shaman in their family bloodline, and mine is no exception. I inherited it, and received an initiation before moving away from Russia. I worked towards helping and healing people, but now I practise shamanism through my art and music. Through music I deliver my thoughts, culture and shamanic/paganic ritual. The song Yhyakh, for instance, is a ritual song of a solstice celebration in Sakha. Another song, Ocean, was born after our move from Dublin to the UK. As I grew up mainly inland, travelling on the ocean was a hugely memorable experience and it was relatable as a metaphor. I also illustrate our cover art and recently started experimenting with animation and video. My work is a combination of art and music, taking roots from my indigenous background in the Republic of Sakha and from my life experience in other places such Ankara, Dublin and the UK. I’ve brought all my experiences with me into what I create today.
O: I started my music career as a session bass player (I have a master’s degree in bass playing so I always enjoy declaring myself a ‘bass master’) and I’ve played celtic/folk fingerpicked acoustic guitar for many years. The music I write comes from the ‘bottom up’ with a strong rhythmic drive. Throughout the lockdowns I taught myself to write for orchestra, so that’s the ‘instrument’ I’m primarily writing for now. I use the TidalCycles musical pattern framework (created by the Sheffield local Alex McLean) to allow myself to write and perform with an orchestra at the speed of my own thoughts! There’s a huge amount of experimentalism, music technology, audio synthesis and folk/cultural influence as well as a lifelong passion for music theory present too.