Music is a bridge, in many ways, between countries and cultures. To the members of The HU, architects of one such bridge, music is also a way to explore what it means to feel, be, and create. The band plays what they call Hunnu music, which is a tribute to the ancient Hunnu culture in Mongolia and the songs they create help a rich tapestry of dark, heavy yet hopeful music.
Currently on their Black Thunder tour of North America, which has a stop at The Van Buren on Thursday, April 21\, The HU have a unique sound. To a listener who may be unfamiliar with the band’s Mongolian heritage, the band could easily be lumped into the progressive metal category. Their most popular song, for example, “Wolf Totem” off of their 2020 release, The Gereg, could almost be passed off as some sort of Max Cavalera (Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, Nailbomb, et. al.) side project. The instrumentation sounds familiar, almost as if it were from traditional rock sources, but there's something that is not quite “normal” to American ears happening here.
The HU use instruments native to their country, as well as a traditional Mongolian throat singing technique in their excellent songs. This lends itself to an almost aboriginal feel, as if there is a digeridoo in there somewhere, but there isn't. For aspiring musicologists out there, The HU must be seen, heard, and experienced — there is truly nothing like them anywhere. The band is led by Gala, who is the lead throat singer and plays the morin khuur, which is a two-stringed instrument that is played with a bow. Joining Gala are Enkush, who also does throat singing and plays lead morin khuur; Jaya (a multi-instrumentalist and throat singer); and Temka, who plays the tovshuur, which is a Mongolian lute.
In 2020, The HU were asked by Metallica to contribute a song to their "Sad But True" tribute to the Black Album project. The mix of traditional Mongolian instruments, electric guitars, drums, and the throat singing easily creates the most compelling cover on the album — definitely a must-listen for Metallica fans.
Phoenix New Times was able to join a zoom call with Gala, Jaya, and Temka (with an interpreter) to talk about their approach to their music, touring America, and some of their favorite Arizona bands. Here’s what the band had to say…
Phoenix New Times: Tell us about Mongolian throat singing.
Temka: (It) comes from our ancestors. So, we see it as almost a form of generational wealth. It comes with a very traditional style and is often passed on from father to son. This way, the singing can go on and be taught and passed down through the generations. Our usage of the throat singing can be very unique, and for the Hunnu rock genre, our producer Dashka saw that this can be a very good fit to the uniqueness of the genre, so he chose it to represent the traditional music of Mongolia.
It is a very unique sound. Are you at all familiar with throat singing from North America? Is it similar?
Jaya: Yes, we are aware of Native American throat singing and chanting. With Mongolian throat singing, there is a cultural element to it. We use it almost as an instrument. It can be heard in this way. The purpose of our throat singing is similar.
After touring North America a few times, how do you think the music scene in Mongolia compares to the United States?
Gala: The Hunnu rock genre has very traditional components in it. We very much tried to put traditional values that came from centuries ago from our ancestors and based on the instruments that they have gifted us. All those instruments are very unique. So, whenever we play, there are elements that our fans can listen to. Our Hunnu rock genre is very unique.
Temka: We play a lot of festivals on our tours. Right before we go on stage, we look out and it seems empty, but when we start, everyone comes to the front of the stage. We have seen that the people bring a great positive energy and attitude. When the music starts, everyone starts cheering and chanting and there is a lot of great emotion all around. The feedback from our North American tours has been one of the most positive things. We think a lot of our fans come to the show to support us.
What do you wish more American fans knew about your band or your music?
Jaya: Hunnu rock (music) has the element of bringing the past and the future together. Most of our loyal fans know this and do their research about the Hunnu empire and go to the trouble of learning about our history. The main thing we would like from people from North America is to explore more and understand our Hunnu rock genre and to explore that connection between the past and the future and, really, the present.
What other Mongolian music should New Times readers know about?
Gala: There are many traditional Mongolian pop singers and modern artists. Our producer, Dashka, is a popular singer in Mongolia.
Are there bands that want to copy your style and success in Mongolia?
Temka: When we first started in 2016, we had three years of practice before our first tour in 2019. There were some people interested in mixing the traditional instruments and traditional way of singing into the modern and different kinds of genres. We see that we created something that people want to do and get into mixing the traditional elements in different genres.
What was it like working with Metallica?
Gala: Well, we're very excited to work with Metallica, and we're so thrilled to be included in their tribute to the Black Album. We did a cover of “Sad But True” and we have created our version with their blessings. It has been a very great journey with working with Metallica.
Any favorite Arizona bands?
Jaya: Chester Bennington is by far our favorite artist from Arizona. We admired him and had hoped to have been able to perform together and were deeply saddened when we learned he passed away. Alice Cooper is legendary and also one of our biggest inspirations. We love listening to his music.