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The HU’s who of rock

ANURAG TAGAT | Updated on February 07, 2020 Published on February 07, 2020

Back to the roots: The Hu employ ancient and popular Mongolian musical instruments such as the morin khuur, lute-like Tovshuur, jaw harp, flutes and guitars   -  WME AGENCY

Global heavy metal and rock music have a new conqueror from Mongolia

When Mongolian rock band The HU announced its debut Europe tour last summer, there were wisecracks from American and European music lovers who were still to be introduced to its specific imprint. “The Mongols back in Europe after 800 years,” said one netizen.

Now the band — with millions of fans — has the audience chanting “Hu! Hu! Hu!” and pumping their fists at its concerts. Following appearances in Europe’s biggest rock and metal festivals Rock im Park and Rock am Ring, they performed at the Sama’Rock Festival in France. Concerts are being held in other parts of Europe, and the group is going to tour the US this summer.

“We treat them (audiences) all the same because every single fan and supporter of our music is so important to us. We love them, and we want them to know our gratitude. We feel as if they are our family,” the band says in response to a question about preparing for some of the biggest music festivals, in an e-mail interview.

The HU, from the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, started out in 2016 and shot to fame by 2018 with its music videos Wolf Totem (25 million YouTube hits) and Yuve Yuve Yu (35 million YouTube views). In September 2019, it released its debut album, The Gereg.

Its music is called Hunnu Rock, ‘hu’ being the Mongolian root word for ‘human being’. The music oscillates between stomping rhythms and more wide open atmospheric or meditative music. It ties in influences of laidback blues and country, plus a pacier foundation of rock drumming and guitar work, along with some hints of intense metal and Mongolian folk music. The lyrics are adorned with Mongolian cultural references (such as horses, flowers, fields and Genghis Khan). The pastoral ‘throat singing’ it employs consists of layered, low-pitched vocals and chants that almost sound like growls.

Its album name, The Gereg, refers to the 13th-century tablet that Mongolian envoys carried, which granted them special privileges. Today the band’s music is its diplomatic passport, one which has opened doors for them, bringing global fame.

The band consists of Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar and Enkhasaikhan Batjargal (both throat singers who also play the morin khuur, a bowed stringed instrument), Nyamjantsan Galsanjamts (jaw harp, flutes, throat singing) and Temuulen Naranbaatar (on the lute-like tovshuur). The mastermind sound–producer is Dashdondog Bayarmagnai.

Packing a punch: The band consists of Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar and Enkhasaikhan Batjargal (both throat singers who also play the morin khuur, a bowed stringed instrument), Nyamjantsan Galsanjamts (jaw harp, flutes, throat singing) and Temuulen Naranbaatar (on the lute-like tovshuur)   -  WME AGENCY

 

Clearly, The HU is now a global name. Its famous fans include singer-composer Elton John, and the band exults in the fact that it chatted with him in a video phone call. “We cannot believe that he loves our music. He’s a legend we grew up listening to. Most important, he’s an amazing human being,” the band says. American heavy metal group Lamb of God’s vocalist Randy Blythe surprised the band by visiting it during a tour stop in Richmond, Virginia. “Enkush (Batjargal) almost cried because he is a die-hard Lamb of God fan.”

Late last year, they released Black Thunder for the Star Wars franchise’s videogame Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. The growl-like throat singing of The HU in Black Thunder wasn’t Mongolian, but an alien language it had conjured just for the game. “This song was written only for Star Wars. We received an offer from EA games and Lucas Film to write an original song for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It’s an absolute honour for us being included in the Star Wars universe,” the band says.

The HU isn’t just music you pump your fists to. Employing instruments ancient but still popular in Mongolian music, it has soothing folk turns on The Legend of Mother Swan and Shireg Shireg (which advocate caring for one’s parents and the elderly). In another song, the band highlights the importance of women and their “fighter spirit”. American rock band Halestorm’s singer-guitarist Lzzy Hale will be part of a new rendition of The HU’s Song of Women, part of their ongoing repackaging of old songs, which will feature singers such as American rock vocalist Jacoby Shaddix.

They’re now working on their second album and keeping the flag flying high. In the process, they hope to start a movement back home. “We are the only band playing Hunnu Rock in the world at the moment. We hope that we will not be the last one to do so.”

Perhaps as more releases come forth from The HU camp, its music will find a niche. There is a blurring of musical lines across the world. The biggest markets for rock music — North America and Europe — also seem to be embracing heavy music’s crossover with Asian elements. The HU joins the likes of Japanese ‘kawaii metal’ band Babymetal and India’s own dhol-infused Bloodywood in heavy metal groups gaining a huge global following.

The HU is on the same lineup as Bloodywood at the Sonic Temple festival to be held in May in Ohio. “We are very honoured to perform at the Sonic Temple with so many great bands including Bloodywood. We are happy for India and its growing metal scene. As Mongolians, we have a special place in our hearts for India. We would love to perform in India when the time comes,” the band says.

Anurag Tagat is a freelance music journalist

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Published on February 07, 2020
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