The word “hu” is the Mongolian root word for “human being,” and sounds a bit like the word “who” when pronounced in English. So, you can probably imagine my confusion when the soldout crowd in Washington, D.C., was emphatically chanting “HU!, HU!, HU!” with no Pete Townshend or Roger Daltrey in sight. Instead, what appeared onstage, through the smoke and the deep red stage lighting, could almost be described as Genghis Khan warriors, heavy metal style, with colorfully ornate traditional/tribal instruments. It was quite a sight to behold!
“We play ‘hunna rock,’” explains TS. “Gala” Galbadrakh, a singer and one of the morin khuur, horsehead fiddle players in the band. “It’s not exactly all metal or all hard rock or punk rock. It’s a combination of many things combined with Mongolian music.” And although the music does have a “metal edge,” the poetic lyrics blended with traditional Mongolian music, instruments, and throat singing do have a bit of a hypnotic feel and rhythm.
Taking our Great Mongol ancestors names in vain How strange, how strange Yet, would not honor our oath and destiny How strange, how strange Why the valuable ethics of ancestors become worthless? How strange, how strange
– ” Yuve Yuve Yu ” from The Gereg (English Translated)
Mongolian throat singing – a deep guttural sound, a bit reminiscent of a “heavy-metal growl,” is performed by adding one or more pitches simultaneously and is actually one of the world’s oldest forms of music. It’s a very specialized vocalization technique and to be able to witness this performed live is really quite fascinating. All four core members of the band are deeply rooted in these traditional sounds and are also classically trained musicians. They all studied music together at the Mongolian State Conservatory.
The core members — Gala, B. “Enkush” Enkhsaikhan (morin khuur, throat singing), G. “Jaya” Nyamjantsan (jaw harp, throat singing, flute, the Mongolian flute/tsuur), N. “Temka” Temuulen (2-stringed lute/tovshuur), and Gala mentioned above — have played together for years, some as early as age 10. But, it wasn’t until 2016 when they started collaborating with another childhood friend, B. “Dashka” Dashdondog, that they discovered their unique sound of melding past and present. According to Gala, his ancestors brought a lot of beautiful things into this world, and Genghis Khan (or Chinggis Khaan) is considered their founding father, “just like George Washington is in America.” (National Geographic published a fascinating story this past June about the Mongols and their empire. Many know of Genghis Khan as a warlord, but he was also a visionary. He granted religious freedom to his subjects, abolished torture, encouraged trade and created the first international postal system in history. Incidentally, the title of The HU’s first album, The Gereg, represents the first diplomatic passport introduced in the world.
The message of Hu’s music is respect for their ancestors, the earth, and others, so it’s no surprise to me that their videos have been garnering millions of views. It’s also no surprise that their own country has anointed them as literal cultural diplomats. In April 2019, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs gave them the collective title of “Official Mongolian Ambassador to the World.” They even met with the country’s president, Khaltmaagiin Battulga.
This explains the sold-out show in DC with members of the Mongolian embassy in attendance, along with many other native Mongolians and metal/music lovers alike. Their 2019 US tour is still going strong and come next year, they return to Europe for more shows. Definitely check them out live if you can. In the meantime, check out the pics from the DC show and one or two of their videos. The sweeping Mongolian landscapes are just gorgeous.