My son introduced Mongolian throat singing to me along with Bagpipe Metal. I had never heard of either until we were discussing video games and music that would go with those video games.
The HU stood out to me, I think, because of how powerful the meanings within their songs are. Their videos draw me in – paying homage to their culture and their metal style.
They are a Mongolian band and they have blended throat singing ( the ancient art of khoomei) with the instruments that are traditional in their homeland with the more traditional western heavy metal of guitars and pounding drums. The mixture is genius. Along the way, they have collaborated with other heavy metal artists and have a huge following. My favorite song by The HU is “Wolf Totem”. This video has subtitles in English, by the way. The song was already a success when their label had another musician, Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, collaborate with them on a new version. Both bands are represented by Better Noise Music and therefore the collaboration made good sense and it also opened the door to more fans. Want a taste?
I get it. They have over a million subscribers on YouTube, so why am I including them on Untapped Sound? Well, have you heard them on mainstream radio? Have you even enjoyed Mongolian throat singing before? I feel like a lot of folk-music-genre work is lost out there.
I wanted Untapped Sound to teach people about music, the music industry, and artists that perform in genres we are familiar with that may not get a lot of attention from mainstream media. But I also wanted it to introduce people to sounds they may not be familiar with.
The HU has not only successfully embraced their cultural music and promoted it, but they have molded it into a folk metal that metal fans (and music fans) all over the world are now enjoying. I want the readers and listeners on Untapped Sound to have that pleasure as well. PERSONAL/ PROFESSIONAL HISTORY
The four main musicians that formed The HU received formal training at the Mongolian State Music and Dance Conservatory in their country’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. There, they were introduced to more than just their traditional Mongolian music. Things like western classical music, jazz, rock, and metal.
They really got into metal, mentioning Metallica, System of a Down, and Rammstein in several interviews. Why the fascination with western metal? Because this kind of music had been banned for so long during the communist era in their country.
After years of working with local pop and rock groups who simply imitated western sounds, Dashka wanted to try something new. The producer hand-picked the members of the HU from the Conservatory. All four members have earned Bachelor’s or higher degrees in music and have several years of touring experience throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim.
The HU was founded in 2016 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia by their producer Dashka, along with the members Gala (lead throat singer and morin khuur ), Jaya (jaw harp, tsuur, flute, and throat singer), Temka (tovshuur), and Enkush (lead morin khuur and throat singer). The members of the band have been playing their instruments and practicing complex throat singing for most of their lives.
Two videos on YouTube released in late 2018, “Yuve Yuve Yu” and “Wolf Totem”, have together garnered over 130 million views as of this article. And they’ve climbed the Billboard charts. Once this happened, they also got the attention of Eleven Seven Label Group – which managed music groups like Papa Roach, Motley Crue, and Bleeker (later to be renamed Better Noise Music). In an interview, Steve Kline, the COO states, “It wasn’t the amount of views of their videos that attracted us. It was the fact that their sound is completely unique. We couldn’t even put a label on what they do.”
In April 2019, “Wolf Totem” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock Digital Song Sales, making The HU the first Mongolian musical act to top a Billboard chart. In addition, “Yuve Yuve Yu” reached No. 7 on the same chart, and “Wolf Totem” debuted at No. 22 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart.
Because these videos went viral, the media soon picked up on the band. The explosive reaction to The HU resulted in a number of features about the band in international media such as NPR, ET India Times, Playboy Mexico, Jack Canal+Fr, Hong Kong 01, DW News Germany, and others.
Since the formation of the band, they’ve been working on their first album, The Gereg. The word Gereg was used as the first Diplomatic “Passport” by the Mongol Empire during the time of Genghis Khan. The album contains nine songs including viral hits “Yuve Yuve Yu” and “Wolf Totem”, and was released on September 13, 2019, via Better Noise Music (also Eleven Seven).
They now also include touring members – Jamba (guitars, backing vocals), Davaa (bass, backing vocals), Ono (percussion, tumur khuur, backing vocals), and Odko (drums). They are all working on the upcoming touring season and cannot wait to share their music with the people of the world.
STYLE AND INFLUENCE
The HU is considered a folk metal band in that it fuses heavy metal and traditional folk music. This fusion officially began in Europe in the 1990s, but The HU has capitalized on this wave, showing how diverse this trend can be by forging their own path from this genre. The band’s name The HU, is the Mongolian root word for human being. They call their style “Hunnu Rock”…inspired by the Hunnu, an ancient Mongolian empire, known as The Huns in western culture.
Some of the band’s lyrics include old Mongolian war cries and poetry. They even named their debut album The Gereg which is the name of the first diplomatic passport dating back to the 1200s – introduced to the world by the Mongol Empire. Jaya points out –
“People think of the Mongol Empire as just warlords and warriors, but there are so many positive things the empire brought to the world, like the first postal system, the first international trading on the Silk Road, and the diplomatic pass.”
And now, this beautiful music from The HU! The band says they didn’t choose their name as a play on the English rock band’s name (The Who), but because “hu” is the root word for “human being” in Mongolian. “We took the name because of the inclusive nature,” Temka tells The Guardian. “It’s not about being Mongolian. It’s about being human.” However, you cannot watch a video or listen to the music of the group without acknowledging their connection to their culture and their ancestors.
The HU combines Rock Music with traditional Mongolian instrumentation like the Morin Khuur (horsehead fiddle), Tovshuur (Mongolian guitar), Tumur Khuur (jaw harp), Khoomei (guttural throat singing) along with bass and drums. As Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar, AKA Gala, the band’s lead singer, explained through a translator in an interview with The Guardian, “Our music is a blend of east and west, old and new. We’re building on a history and a sound that has been around for thousands of years.”
Metallica has also been a huge influence on the HU. As a matter of fact, they released a cover video of the song “Sad But True” made in gratitude to the other metal giants. They recorded it in their own language and as they say at the end of the video “in the style of the HU.” I have read so many comments and I have listened to both versions of this song. I love a LOT of Metallica’s music, don’t think this is being disrespectful. They are amazing in their field. They are pioneers. However, I have to agree with many fans and comments that The HU’s version of this song is the best rendition. Perhaps that actually is because they are paying respect to Metallica and made sure they did the older metal band proudly.
Found within all of the band’s videos is a symbolic connection to nature as well. This is an influence from their culture, a rich history of nomadic farming has given them respect for nature. The idea was always to not destroy the land. Instead, respect it. Even in every aspect of throat singing, there is the intent to imitate the sounds found in nature. This connection is found best in the video for “Yuve Yuve Yu” wherein the band begins in an urban landscape and then transitions to Mongolia’s natural expanse.
COLLABORATIONS & CONNECTIONS
Dashka is a veteran music producer who has 30 years of experience and has produced more than 300 albums as a composer. He’s the one who pulled The HU together. Therefore, he brought his connections and his expertise to the team. Thanks to him, they have had help with musical direction, video ideas, and even lyrical help. He also helped them book 22 dates across Europe, including eight festival appearances by mid-2019.
The Mongolian foreign ministry in Ulaanbaatar appointed them official ambassadors to the outside world on behalf of the country. Gala points out in an interview with GQ, “If, because of the music, people are inspired to visit Mongolia, it would be wonderful.”Since coming into their own, The HU has collaborated with several other artists, including Jacoby Shaddix featured on “Wolf Totem” and Lzzy Hale who was featured on “Song of Women”. The band is relatively new and so, there should be much more to come!