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Huun-Huur-Tu: If I’d Been Born An Eagle

Huun-Huur-Tu is the Beatles of Tuvan music, a quartet whose collective power holds sway over a growing following of listeners around the world. The following has expanded since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as they’ve toured the world and released albums on Shanachie. Their hypnotic folkloric work is notable for both their skilled playing on indigenous instruments and especially in the range of vocal techniques, including the legendary throat-singing style known as khoomei, in which they split and blend timbres. When last we heard from the group, they were engaged in a musical border-crossing experiment, collaborating with the Bulgarian vocal group Angelite on Fly, Fly My Sadness.

As intriguing as that album was, it’s more enthralling hearing them back on their home turf of traditional Tuvan music, with the release of their third official album on Shanachie, If I’d Been Born an Eagle (Shanachie 64080; 51:59). On this recording, the group is appended by guest Russian musicians-Sergei Starostin on the flute called the kalinka and German Popov on the shoor flute. Horses, specifically, and nature, generally, play an important role in the rural, plains-based landscape of Tuva, a remote geographical pocket bordering Outer Mongolia, and they often imitate animal and nature sounds in the course of music. Songs such as “Don’t Frighten the Crane” and “Herder’s Conversation” hint at nature’s direct influence on the music.

By some accounts (this columnist’s included) they continue to produce some of the most compelling music in the world, partly because of the universality of the music. Similarities to folk musics around the world, including such outposts as Appalachia, mix with sonorities so exotic to western ears that it’s as if you’ve stumbled on a parallel universe, and one more appealing than your own.

Originally Published