Interview by Parisa Eshrati
In their debut album The Gereg, Mongolian band The Hu have created their own unique style of rock by combining ancient Tengri musical traditions with heavy metal riffs. By incorporating the musical styles of their ancestors with Mongolian throat singing and instruments like the tovshuur, The Hu call in the atmosphere of their homeland and connect it to an international audience. We caught up with the band on their headlining U.S. Black Thunder Tour to discuss the art of throat singing, the cultural significance of Mongolian instruments, and awakening our inner warrior through sound.
This interview was translated from Mongolian to English by a third-party translator. Responses are from the entire band except when otherwise noted.
You all have formal backgrounds in music, both as students and as teachers. How have your studies influenced your songwriting and collaboration techniques? A few of you have experience in jazz, classical, etc. - what made you ultimately want to create and pursue "Hunnu rock"?
Jaya [tumur hhuur, tsuur, throat singing]: As a teacher at Mongolian National Conservatory, I teach flute, throat singing, tsuur and jaw harp. The traditional instruments requires lot of abilities such as being able to convert your throat to different tone than your normality. Similarly, as an artist it takes a lot of patience and courage to develop your own unique way of throat singing and keep finding new ways for different sounds. Once you learn how to play instruments or techniques, it can only get better with time when you practice.
There are many instruments that are used in rock genre but using our own traditional instruments to create "Hunnu rock" was an idea that producer Dashka figured out. We all love rock music and understand the way of touching human’s heart so combining throat singing and usage of our traditional music seemed like fantastic idea and loved it even more when we tried the music out.
The title of your debut album, The Gereg, is a reference to the first diplomatic passport created by your ancestors. Tell us more about the experience of this album becoming a passport for you entering the world and share yourselves and your music.
Enkuush [morin khuur, throat singing]: That is fantastic question! Our second album is much anticipated and we as a team put in a lot of work into perfecting the music Dashka has created. Music has no barriers and we would like to think that our music gives the same feeling and presence to people and reaches their heart as our ancestors traveled through world.
In some of your HU Are We video series, you have discussed throat singing as a very intentional practice of focus and breath work. Talk to us more about breathing life into your music in both a very literal and metaphorical way.
Unu [percussion, tumur hhuur, backing vocals]: Throat singing has major two types which are kharkhiraa and shahaa hoomii. It imitates the sound you would find from nature. Kharkhiraa for example can be heard as a tune you would find from up in the mountains and shahaa hoomii imitates the sounds of water. In that way, using throat singing can bring soul into the song by bringing Mother Earth’s noise and fine tune to our music.
Traditional Mongolian instruments have deeply rooted significance in many aspects of life, like how the Morin Khuur is used by Gobi farmers to calm cattle when they are stressed or giving birth. Talk to us more about your instruments as both tools for music and tools to connect with the world around you.
Unu: Traditional instruments like tovshuur, tsuur horse fiddle and jaw harps can be traced back to the start of human civilization and ancient Mongolian history. There are many uses for our music and one of the instances is to use it in shaman practices that are believed to calm the nature and our surrounding.
In Tengrian musical traditions, sounds are used to convey the connection between the body, spirit and the ether in-between. Please tell us more about your personal relationship between musical energy and this Tengri consciousness.
Musical energy is something that can be shared to anyone and everybody can understand same message no matter where they are and what kind of language they speak. We try to share our message through our music and that is to have unity and understand ourselves and others in basic deeper level.
The track “Wolf Totem” is about awakening the inner warrior within yourself. What do you all believe it means to be a warrior in this day-and-age? And how do you carry this idea of warriorship into the ethos of your band?
For this day and age, the songs is to inspire people to fight with your inner demons and accept yourself as a human being at the same time to be able to overcome your fears and move forward in your life or even enjoy the present. We receive enormous amounts of comments from our fans about "Wolf Totem", especially how it inspired to become better versions of themselves.
The album shares many beautiful themes of motherhood (i.e. “The Legend of Mother Swan”), as mothers are highly regarded in Mongolian culture. I’d love to hear one lesson or anecdote from your mothers that you especially cherish and carry with you today.
Jaya: You are correct, mothers are highly regarded in our culture and in Mongolia, women tend to love their children for who they are and understand their own unique behaviors as well. My mother is no different, being loved for who you are is the greatest thing you can have as a human being. One of the saying I love to carry with me is to “be humble in everything you do and everywhere we go”. She knows me the best and the saying applies to me very well.
What can you tell us so far about the second album? What else can fans look forward to from The Hu after this tour?
Temka [tovshuur, backing vocals}: Our fans should expect great things and our second album will shed different lights into past and present.