Artist profiles: Huun-Huur-Tu

Huun-Huur-Tu

If you were to journey to the geographical center of Asia you would reach Tuva, an autonomous republic on the Russian-Mongolian border. This is the home of Huun-Huur-Tu a group of fascinating overtone- and throat-singers whose language can be traced from Turkish and whose culture reflects many similarities to that of Mongolia. Tuvan throat-singers produce up to three notes simultaneously by selectively amplifying harmonics naturally present in their voices. Traditionally attired the quartet alternates between solo and ensemble works.

Sasha Bapa his brother Sayan and two other musicians Kaigal-ool Khovalyg and Albert Kuvezin formed Huun-Huur-Tu in 1992 to focus on the performance of as Sasha put it “old and forgotten songs”. Sasha Sayan and Kaigal-ool were refugees from one of the large state-managed song and dance ensembles that became a fixture of official cultural life during the Soviet era. For decades these ensembles with their glitzy performances of folk music or pseudo folk music offered close to the only outlet for young musicians who wanted to earn a living playing indigenous music. But as the music business has become increasingly privatized throughout the former Soviet Union many musicians have abandoned the state ensembles and formed their own groups. The musical results have been decidedly mixed.

At the same time that the members of Huun-Huur-Tu have devoted themselves to learning old songs and tunes their performances reflect the values of innovation as much as tradition. For example the very notion of an ensemble like Huun-Huur-Tu is new to Tuva: Most Tuvan music has traditionally been performed by a solo singer or instrumentalist and musicians have tended to specialize in a particular genre or musical style. These genres and styles in turn have deep roots in particular kinds of social occasions. By contrast Huun-Huur-Tu’s eclectic concert presentations of old songs and tunes fall between the cracks of Tuvan musical life.

In Tuva there’s still no real context for what we do,” says Sasha Bapa. “We perform there only rarely because it’s so difficult for an independent group like ours: where can we find a good hall and sound equipment and transportation to get there? How can we deal with all the government and commercial structures that still control a lot of the booking? And who can offer fees that will support us even modestly as professional musicians? Kaigal-ool Khovalyg the musical leader of our group might be better known in America than in Tuva. We’re trying to preserve our musical heritage but at the same time we’re trying to look forward. If a musical tradition stops evolving it is destined to die.”

Kaigal-ool Khovalyg – voice, igil, doshpuluur, Chanzy

Anatoly Kuular – voice, byzaanchi ,khomuz, amarga

Sayan Bapa – voice, doshpuluur, marinhuur, guitar

Alexey Saryglar – voice, tungur (drum), dazhaaning, khavy (rattle)

Discography:

6 Horses In My Herd (USA: Shanachie 645 1993 – Europe: JARO 4196-2, 1996)

Fly Fly My Sadness with The Bulgarian Voices – Angelite (JARO 4197-2, 1996)

Orphan’s Lament (USA: Shanachie 6458 1997 – Europe: JARO 424-2, 1997)

If I’d Been Born An Eagle (USA: Shanachie 648 1997 – Europe: JARO 4216-2, 1998)

Mountain Tale with The Bulgarian Voices – ANGELITE (JARO 4212-2, 1998)

Where Young Grass Grows (Shanachie 6618, 1999)

Best Live (JARO 4236-2, 2001)

More Live (JARO 4246-2, 2002)

Spirits from Tuva (JARO 4243-2, 2002)

More Live (2003)

Altai Sayan Tandy-Uula (2004)

Live at Fantasy Studios (2008)

Mother-Earth! Father-Sky! (2008)

Eternal (2009)

Ancestors Call (World Village, 2010)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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