11 October 2010

Monday's mp3: Huun Huur Tu's Throaty Roar

There's no separating the cultural mystique of Tuva from the famous throat-singing styles the small Central Asian semi-nation is known for. The sound of vocal overtones -- often sung in imitation of natural sounds and animal calls -- is eerie, fascinating, and exotic to the western ear. These sounds entranced American physicist Richard Feynman, bluesman Paul Pena (documented in the film Genghis Blues), and many others. And one of the main ambassadors of the sound over the years has been the group Huun Huur Tu.

According to a great biography on khomus.com, Huun Huur Tu started in 1992 as a quartet called Kungurtuk with Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Alexander Bapa, his brother Sayan Bapa, and Albert Kuvezin (later of Yat-Kha). On a visit to the USA in 1993, Huun Huur Tu came to know and begin collaborations with musicians including Ry Cooder, The Chieftains, the Kronos Quartet, and Frank Zappa.

All of which brings us to the two CDs at hand today, both of which pay tribute to traditional Tuvan music, which highlighting influences that the band found in their global travels.

Legend (Jaro Medien, 2010), is a sublime album of music recorded live in Belgrade in 2004 with The Bulgarian Voices Angelite and Moscow Arts Trio. The two CDs reprise material recorded on the two studio collaborations, Fly, Fly, My Sadness (1996) and Mountain Tale (1998). It's a beautiful, slow, soulful recording of skilled artists exploring the similarities and differences of their neighboring cultures.

More recent is the Huun Huur Tu album Ancestors Call (World Village, 2010). I love the ambiguity of the title: Is "call" a noun or verb? That ambiguity seems appropriate for a group that steeps its music in tradition, yet has no problem mixing in the syrup of modernity, particularly in their choices of collaborators (check out Bahamut with Hazmat Modine or Eternal with Carmen Rizzo, for example).
Says Sayan Bapa, one of HHT's founders:
We do not have plans or strategies for creating the music. We let it come through us, and follow where it leads.
Where's it leading? Compare this track from the new album to the music in the video below -- the same song from their 1994 album The Orphan's Lament -- and you'll get some idea of the band's changes over the past 15 years. This is living, breathing, modern folk music. You may be over the "wow" factor that accompanies one's initial exposure to Tuvan singing, but this album will affirm your excitement for a fascinating musical tradition brilliantly updated.

[mp3] Huun Huur Tu: Eki Attar
from the album Ancestors Call

More Huun Huur Tu:
Listen / Buy Ancestors Call
Listen / Buy Legend
read a great article on Huun Huur Tu and Yat Kha by Jon Lusk
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