As they began touring in the West seventeen years ago, Huun Huur Tu almost single-handedly introduced the outside world to the boundless wealth of Tuvan traditions, thanks in great part to their superior musicianship. Audiences at Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom will be introduced to what The Tucson Weekly calls “a strange, beautiful tapestry of sound and rhythm that taps into something more real, more authentic, than anything you’ll likely find on the American musical landscape.”
The descendents of isolated Siberian herdsmen make serious, strangely universal music out of some of the planets quirkiest acoustics and their amazing technique of “throat singing,” in which one voice sings two and even three notes simultaneously. According to the Los Angeles Times, “When a Tuvan sings praises of mother and country, which is what a Tuvan usually sings, he often does it in three-part harmony. By himself.”
Hailing from the high pastures of the Altai Mountains in south central Siberia, the musicians have spent decades honing the overtone singing, instrumental approaches, and vibrant songs of their home. The Tuvan acoustic quartet Huun Huur Tu proves that Tuvan music can take plenty of intelligent innovation. Using traditional instruments and drawing subtly on 20th-century composers, funky rhythms, and the palette of electronica, Huun Huur Tu, with quartet members Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Sayan Bapa, Alexei Saryglar and Radik Tyulyush, transform ancient songs into complex acoustic compositions.
The group had the musical savvy and the chops to take their traditions far from the slopes and valleys of Central Asia. They made groundbreaking traditional recordings that put their home on the map. They toured the world, gaining fans and inspiring overtone singers. They’ve wowed audiences in both Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa, eliciting surprised remarks after one festival show in Kenya that they played with the same ”soul” as local musicians. They sparked a boom in Tuvan and other throat-singing, lute-strumming ensembles from Central Asia that have been the mainstays of global music festivals.
Huun Huur Tu has worked together with prominent Russian composer Vladimir Martynov, who drew on the works by the visionary early 20th-century avant-garde poet Velimir Khlebnikov to create Children of the Otter a 70-minute piece for chamber orchestra, choir and Tuvan ensemble.
Another, similarly harmonious collaboration with a very different kind of musician came when the group worked with producer Carmen Rizzo (Niyaz, Seal, Paul Oakenfold, Ryuichi Sakamoto). By working closely with Rizzo on Eternal the members of Huun Huur Tu got a taste of how to create electronic soundscapes around traditional material. This experience, along with their role as the heart of a new kind of chamber orchestra, has guided much of their music following that project.
“Gradually, over the years, the sound has shifted,” reflects manager and co-producer of their 2010 release, “Ancestors Call,” Vladimir Oboronko. “It’s become more sophisticated, more-dimensional, and much more relevant to current music sensibilities. Huun Huur Tu is innovating indigenous Tuvan music under the subtle influence of the music of 20th and 21st centuries, and the result is both contemporary music that belongs to the whole world and a fresh take on the traditional music of their beloved Tuva.”
Huun Huur Tu -The Tuvan Throat Singers will perform at 7 and 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 17. Tickets are priced at $25 to $39. Purchase them online at harriscenter.net or from Harris Center ticket office at (916) 608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and two hours before show time. Parking is included in the price of the ticket. Harris Center is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom, facing East Bidwell Street.