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Huun-Huur-Tu: Music Refracting Sunlight
June 5, 2006 17:40

Huun-Huur-Tu Huun-Huur-Tu is one of the most world famous ensembles of ethnic music from Russia. Strange as it may seem, the ensemble of throat singing from Tuva (Tyva) Republic appears even more popular abroad than in Russia. In various times the band has played together with Frank Zappa, Nina Nastasia, Stevie Wonder, Ry Cooder, Kronos Quartet, musicians from Grateful Dead and Fun-Da-Mental, Trilok Gurtu, Bulgarian Voices Angelite, etc…

Huun-Huur-Tu stands out among numerous ethnic bands fashionable nowadays: the ensemble is not trying to be in line with the popular exoticism, but creates unique music growing from live ancient cultural roots instead. It is the music that has outlived the danger of remaining in the bygone past. It is the music that will live long.

By the official version the Tuvan music was discovered to the world by physicist and Nobel prize laureate Richard Feynman. All his life he was eager to visit Tuva but unfortunately he failed to make his dream true as he could not get the Soviet visa. However, he gave a record of Tuvan throat singing to ethno musician Ted Levin who in his turn was greatly impressed by it. Ted Levin decided to get acquainted with the amazing musicians: ‘I wanted to have a look at the people that produce those terrific sounds’.

Huun-Huur-TuIn 1987 Ted Levin organized an ethnographic expedition to the Soviet Republic of Tuva. He turned the first foreigner to ever visit Tuva. Getting to Kyzyl he met four musicians living from hand to mouth in miserable barracks in the town outskirts. These were the now renowned stars of Huun-Huur-Tu, called Kungurtuk at that time. The musicians showed Levin their unique gift and mastery of the throat singing, when one vocalist can carry two or even three melody lines, greatly differing in pitch (sometimes up to four octaves). Ted Levin was so marveled at their artistry that at once invited the musicians to the USA.

The meaning of the mysterious Tuvinian word “Huun-Huur-Tu” was later revealed to the world: it stands for the refraction of sunlight going through the clouds into lots of sunrays. This name reflects the wonderful capacity of the Tuvinian language to convey in detail the subtle nuances of nature states and peculiarities of the scenery.

So Huun-Huur-Tu started imparting the might and beauty of the unique music traditions of their land to the world. At the same time the throat singers did not shut off from other styles in their music. This musical blending shows that Huun-Huur-Tu is not exactly a ‘throat singing ensemble’ and even not quite a ‘folk group’. The combination of folk instruments with modern ones makes their music differ from what musicologists are used to label as the Tuvan tradition. The mixture, however, sounds very harmonious, especially if keeping in mind that igil is the Tuvan ‘grandfather’ of violoncello, doshpuluur is a relative of banjo, homus is a ‘mouth harp’ and the tambourine tungur from the shamanic arsenal is the prototype of modern percussions.

Nina Nastasia with two members of the Huun-Huur-Tu in John Peel Radio ShowThe story of Huun-Huur-Tu starts from 1992 when Tuvinians Kaygal-ool Hovalyg, Alexander Bapa, Sayan Bapa and Albert Kuvezin organized the Kungurtuk group. In 1993 the vocalist Albert Kuvezin left the group to create his own group Yat-kha later and his place was taken by Anatoli Kuular. Alexei Saryglar joined Huun-Huur-Tu in 1995 replacing Alexander Bapa.

1993 saw the release of their first record under the title “60 Horses in My Herd”. It launched the never-ending tour of Huun-Huur-Tu, which has performed in many countries of the world, including the most prestigious music stages of America, Asia and Europe.

The Tuvinians have gained universal love of the public all over the world, as well as admiration and praises of many legendary musicians, for example, those of Robert Fripp, the short-spoken leader of King Crimson.

Their tour goes on, the schedule you can see on the ensemble’s official site. Unfortunately, their concerts are not so often in Russia nowadays.

Based on the group’s Russian-language press-releases.

Vera Ivanova, 31 May, 2006

Useful links:

The ensemble’s official site: http://www.huunhuurtu.com

About Tyva Republic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuva
 

Vera Ivanova


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