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Have You Heard Huun-Huur-Tu? (VIDEO)

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I will assume that some of you out there have never heard of Huun-Huur-Tu. For people who follow world music they are of course considered to be a "veteran" band, having recorded a breakout CD as far back as 1993. Knowledge of the singing technique they employ was further disseminated by the lovely film Ghengis Blues about the blind blues man Paul Peña who learns to throat sing and visits Tuva.

So when Huun-Huur-Tu performed while the APAP convention was in town, there were only a few in the audience who had not already heard Tuvan throat singing, and I considered myself to be one of the jaded crowd. Still, when they all started singing, I felt a real thrill, partly because I was with a friend who actually was one of those people who have only heard about throat singing, but never actually been in the same room with it, and partly because the sound is still incredibly powerful and authentic.

Have You Heard Huun-Huur-Tu? from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

The music reflects the lives of Tuvans, who are a horse-centric culture. Days are spent riding on the steppe, and it is said that the technique of overtone singing (for that is what they mean by throat singing, and no, the Tuvans do NOT have an extra vocal chords!!) developed from these long, uneventful rides as a way to pass the time. Many of the rhythms are also based on the gait of a horse, from trotting to cantering.

Huun-Huur-Tu are a busy band, and have collaborated with a wide variety of artists, and even incorporated non-Tuvan instruments into their discography. But the night they performed at the Hiro Ballroom they kept to a straight folk repertoire. Most Tuvan songs are melodically accessible and have just enough familiarity to make it a short jump from exotic to entertaining. If you are interested in the overtone singing technique, there is a plethora of information online.

Note: Overtone singing is not the same thing as Inuit "throat singing." For a fine example of that, sung by two gorgeous women who also provide context, I refer you to this.