The Hu, a New Breakthrough Band from Mongolia, Plays Heavy Metal with Traditional Folk Instruments and Throat Singing

Maybe you’re jaded, maybe you think it’s time for heavy metal to finally hang up its spikes, maybe you think there’s nowhere else for the world’s most theatrically angry music to go but maybe bluegrass…. Or maybe Mongolia, where folk metal band The Hu have been inventing what they call “Hunnu Rock,” a style combining Western headbanging with instruments like the horsehead fiddle (morin khuur) and Mongolian guitar (tovshuur). “It also involves singing in a guttural way,” Katya Cengel points out at NPR—no, not like this, but in the manner of traditional Mongolian throat singers.

Now YouTube sensations with millions of views of its two videos for “Yuve Yuve Yu” and “Wolf Totem,” the band plans to release its first album this spring, after seven years of hard work. The Hu are not flash-in-the-pan internet fame seekers but serious musicians who didn’t quite expect this degree of attention, or so they say. “When we do this,” said guitarist Temka, “we try to spiritually express this beautiful thing about Mongolian music. We think we will talk to everyone’s soul through our music. But we didn’t expect this fast, people just popping up everywhere.”

University of Wisconsin's Kip Hutchins, a doctoral student in cultural anthropology, has taken an interest in the band and thinks their appeal, writes Cengel, has to do with how “the story of Mongolia has been written in the West. Nomadism and horse culture has been romanticized, and the emphasis on freedom and heroes tends to appeal to the stereotypical male heavy metal fan.” The band’s themes focus on past national triumphs, the legendary rule of Genghis Khan, and the glorification of the nomadic warrior’s life.

Or so it would seem to Westerners parsing their lyrics in English. It may also be hard to read “Hey you traitor! Kneel down!” in a song about “taking our Great Mongol ancestors names in vain” and not think about metal’s role in a few violent ultra-nationalist scenes. Some suggest the songs are ironic or translate differently to Mongolian listeners. Or that the band might be a sophisticated satire, like Laibach, using nationalist themes, costumes, and dramatic settings on the steppes to critique nationalist narratives.

One observer who knows the culture suggests it's more complicated. The Hu are not mocking traditional Mongolian culture and history, far from it. “The graphic visuals used in the video certainly evoke pride in our nomadic culture,” writes Batshandas Altansukh, “but the lyric is quite the contrary. It’s very political and highly critical of today’s Mongolian society” and what the band sees as their country’s propensity for “emptily boasting about the past” rather than actually learning about and respecting it (with motorcycle gangs riding across the plains).

The lyrics we read in translation are apparently "too westernized or simplified” to really get their point across and slogans like “taking our great Mongol ancestors names in vain,” Cengel points out, “are almost exactly what was sung in the late 1980s during the transition to democracy”—a means of fiercely asserting an independent cultural identity against the hegemonic Soviet Union. Mongolian folk rock and jazz bands picked up the sentiment and Mongolian hip hop acts promote respect for the country’s traditions with new dance moves.

But whether or not The Hu’s politics get wrongly interpreted, or ignored, by their millions of new fans, it’s clear that people get it at the universal level of metal’s communal frequencies: long hair, leather, guitars, growling, and epic medieval badassery.

via NPR

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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  • Kathi says:

    Freakin’ genius! While the lyrics don’t exactly translate, there is a common thread of frustration for the current governing bodies. The anger expressed is common to both cultures

  • Bitte Holm says:

    What about the swasticas? I know they are, among a lot of other things, sun symbols, but could need an explanation in your text.

  • Denise E says:

    I discovered The Hu band across Google news feed and I am in awe. Beautiful music. I have shared their music with friends and family. I can’t wait for their album. I have even been listening to traditional throat singing. Wonderful.

  • Bruce Dackler says:

    You cannot talk about “nationalist themes” without talking about a very important factor in Mongolian society: That it’s being pillaged left and right for resources by foreign corporate interests at the expense of the people that actually live there. The nomads are gradually being displaced from their ancestral lands by mining companies.

  • Bruce Dackler says:

    Mongolia is primarily Buddhist. There’s your swastika explanation.

  • michael hall says:

    So strange to look at the past with respect, envy while at the same time seeing the stain of today? We’ve lost much in our superficial consumerism modernism that is spreading like a disease globally. These guys reflect what many feel in their own cultures all over the world so this resonates with everyone who respects the past, understands the corruption of today and the trepidation of the future..

  • Ali says:

    This is exactly the sort of nonsensical nationalist claptrap that scans TERRIBLY in the mouths of angry white men. The longing for fabled bygone glory days of an empire founded on bloody conquest, and the nobility of our race needs has no place in polite society. Ignoring the dangerous nature of these sentiments simply because the speakers are not white is its own form of racism. Anyone who has lived in Asia, and experienced the racism toward others that is so prevalent there is unlikely to blithely scan these lyrics as anger at modern consumerism.

  • Ian McHugh says:

    The Hu are excellent.

    If you like this kind of thing, check out Hanggai too. They are a band from Chinese Inner Mongolia. They’ve been doing this stuff for years – Mongolian folk and punk rock with the occasional bit of throat singing thrown in!

    “Drinking Song” is a thing of beauty:

  • CoMiGa says:

    This is not metal. If you want Mongolian metal check out Tengger Cavalry or Nine Treasures.

  • Emily Hay says:

    Love this! Very powerful!

  • World citizen says:

    Fascism and exoticism. Shame.

  • Jon Vello says:

    Nationalist and fascist themes are important … It speaks to the side of life whereby some few men succeed spectacularly and by their success the principle of nature rewards them by their multiplication. (The origin of nations is shared blood stock of a patriarch of spectacular success.) In this cynical and ironical era, it’s important to remember that we men ought to strive to be this type of ‘few men’ – This is no endorsement of methods, (most men today will go extinct without a fight) but to remember that among our ancestors, whoever our ancestors were, stood these few men … and the results of their achievements are very real as here we are, flesh and blood, today!

  • Tommy says:

    Tengger Cavalry is not Mongolian. Nine Treasures is INNER Mongolia. Those bands are not from real Mongolia

  • Mandarin says:

    Very interesting concept. I like finding bands with unique sound. This will be on my playlist together with Basic Desire from Australia :)

  • crystja says:

    While I’m enjoying these guys they aren’t heavy metal (to me). They’re more akin to hard rock or southern (American) rock in their musical style. Tenggar Cavalry and Nine Treasures are much more “heavy metal”. Still, looking forward to hearing more from them.

  • Ganaa says:

    This is Mongolian khu rock. Not chine not inner mongolia.

  • Jim says:

    Ayup. All this mysticism and honor the old ways and get rid of foreign influence shit would sound pretty scary coming from a bunch of tattooed skinheads. People are glossing over it because the singers are Mongolian, and if I am to be 100% honest, the music is pretty banging.

  • Chris Bourassa says:

    The swastika is a millenia old symbol of prosperity and good luck. Just do a google search, all around southeast asia

  • Dennis Thorn says:

    I’m 80 years old and have listened and rejected so much garbage that they call ‘music !’ I am listening to the “Hu Band” for the very first time and all I’ve got to say is: they are totally AWESOME ! Mongolian rock combined with ‘folk’ music is what it is to me. I haven’t modern sounds because most of it is not music. The rhythm of this band’s sound keeps going round and round in my head. It is very pleasing music to me. Hope to obtain their new album when it comes out.

  • Dennis Thorn says:

    I’m 80 years old and have listened and rejected so much garbage that they call ‘music !’ I am listening to the “Hu Band” for the very first time and all I’ve got to say is: they are totally AWESOME ! Mongolian rock combined with ‘folk’ music is what it is to me. I haven’t modern sounds because most of it is not music. The rhythm of this band’s sound keeps going round and round in my head. It is very pleasing music to me. Hope to obtain their new album when it comes out. I totally agree with Kathi and Denise E. WONDERFUL !

  • Laz A. Mataz says:

    Tour America and I will go see you live.

  • Dude from Mongolia says:

    I’m a Mongolian and Yeah I agree with you, the translation is too simplified and there are a lot of deep meanings(also messages) behind what they are trying to tell through the song. And also one ridiculous thing I observed is that people tend to talk shit after only just saw swasticaish symbol, but the truth is it is nothing to do with the fck’n fashism or ultra nationalism. It was part of our asian culture way more than before mbe hundreds of years before… people should educate themselves…

  • Not Buddhist says:

    Right next to that biker’s swastika ring in the video is the German iron cross. That is 100% a Nazi symbol. There also exists a neo-Nazi movement, Tsaagan Khas (“White Swastika”), in Mongolia, so the onnection is not as far-fetched as one might think. I wonder how that relates to the band itself. It seems to be the bikers who are very openly flaunting Nazi symbols, but they did choose to highlight it in the video.

  • John Rankin says:

    Iron Cross isn’t a German symbol, it originated in Prussia and just like the Swastika, the Germans stole it.. The Nazi Iron Cross had a Swastika in the center of it.. Other than that the cross was established by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia on 17 March 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars. Learn some history..

  • Melanie says:

    For a person who loathes government in America we all know every damn politician lies, cheats, and steals, alobg with other high end government. That out of the way…I am highly eclectic in my music, and love The Hu..reading up on them through great knowledgable and reputable Metal webpages, and now my thirst for actually going out today and taking a bus plus walking about searching through the little nook and cranny book shops and thrift shops to look up Mongolian history..and learn how The Hu are literally hungry for the throat singing of their words..about what REALLY happened and still happens in Mongolia get people to LEARN and KNOW the TRUE passion and messaged they are making so intruiging..This is TRUE METAL CULTURE at its finest. Right up with Rammstein. Who are ashamed of their own Countries history..and the Kamikaze of Till Lindmen..I really LOVE the spiritual side as well..bringing genres together as well..its a Message, A Spiritual meaning, A WAR CRY to let people research and learn..thank you The Hu..the Wolfe is actually my spirit Totem in Native American culture and Chinese Zodiac is The Snake and Here in The USA The Scorpio on the Cusp of Sagittarius..Go figure huh? 🔮☄️☯️💚💚🤘🏻🤘🏻🌍🌬️🔥🌊🐺🦂🐍♏💯 #LymeFighterForever #YoureTypeOfMusicKeepsMeHopeful #TheHU 💚💚🐺🔥🤘🏻

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