Mongolian Metal Band The Hu Forges Tradition With Searing Power

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Mongolian throat singing and tovshuur have more in common with heavy metal than you might think.

For proof, look no further than The Hu, the Mongolian band that mixes their country’s traditional folk instruments with hard rock. Since forming in 2016, The Hu have exploded internationally, becoming viral video sensations for the song “Wolf Totem”, releasing a hit LP and being selected by the mighty Metallica to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ” Black Album” of the group. along the way.

As the band members explained in a translator-assisted conversation ahead of their May 14 performance at Empire Live, combining the sounds of Mongolia with metal was relatively straightforward.

“Mongolian music uses the fourth and fifth tones for harmony, which is a similar tone to rock,” said singer and morin khuur (Mongolian horsehead fiddle) player Gala Tsendbaatar. “The transition (for The Hu) was natural. Using Mongolian drums, guitar, we created new sounds. It wasn’t difficult at all.”

“Music has a language,” he continued. “The horse-headed violin, the tone is so warm, it’s like a heart to heart. There is a language in terms of music.

At the heart of The Hu’s sound are native instruments. Tsendbaatar and Enkush Batjargal play the horse’s head fiddle, while Tema Naranbaatar plays the tovshuur, a lute-like instrument. Rounding out the sound, Jaya Galsanjamts on the tumur hhuur, a form of jew’s harp. For live shows, the band’s sound is complemented by four Mongolian musicians playing standard rock guitar, bass and drums.

Where The Hu’s music really stands out sonically is the use of throat singing, a form of vocalization popularized by Mongolian pastoral communities. With throat singing, the singer focuses on a particular pitch and holds it, creating a buzz-like effect. It is a technique that requires significant practice to learn and regular repetition in order to project the voice at the volume needed for a performance.

“It depends on a lot of practice to take your voice to the next level,” Tsendbaatar noted. “If you stopped for a year or two, your voice returns to normal. It is not easy.”

Le Hu attributes his success in merging these various stylistic flourishes to “Dashka”, producer B. Dashdondong. While all band members have been playing since elementary school, it was Dashdondong’s idea to weave their shared history and culture into more westernized sounds and structures.

“We all come from a musical background and played in traditional bands at school and at Gala and I’ve been friends since school,” Naranbaatar said. “We’ve all been playing together for 10, 20 years as a band.”

“It all started with our producer, Dashka,” Tsendbaatar added. “He researched everything upstream, the lyrics, every word comes from him. It is inspired by ancient history, culture and Mother Nature.

In November 2018, Dashdondong released The Hu’s track “Wolf Totem”. In April 2019, it reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock Digital Songs Sales chart, a first for a Mongolian band, and eventually reached No. 22 on the Hot Rocks Songs chart.

The success of “Wolf Totem” served as a springboard for The Hu to win over an American audience. Last year, genre stalwarts Halestorm recruited the Hu for their fall arena tour. When Metallica recruited an eclectic team of star artists including Jason Isbell, Miley Cyrus, Yo-Yo Ma and Weezer to cover the “Black Album”, the Hu was asked to take on “Through the Never”.

While the international attention has been well received, The Hu is particularly proud of his welcome back home. Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga awarded the group the country’s highest state honor, the Order of Genghis Khan, for its work promoting culture and heritage in November 2019.

As The Hu’s tour continues, the band appreciates the opportunity to share their story with audiences at home and abroad.

“The Hu is a traditional band at its core and people knew similar genres (to The Hu), so the audience (in Mongolia) was ready for it,” Tsendbaatar said. “To receive the highest honor anyone can get from the president, we were so honoured, so humbled.

“The tours have been great so far and we’ve been to many cities,” he continued. “The audience is so awesome and making this music and connecting our hearts, souls and minds has been great.”


The Hu with haunting

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, May 14

Where: Empire Live, 93 N Pearl St., Albany

Tickets: $30 in advance, $33 day of show

For more information: www.empirelivealbany.com


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