Lucid Culture


Huun Huur Tu Summon Their Ancestors

Arguably the best-known group singing the otherworldly, overtone-laden shamanistic folk songs of their native Tuva (in the far east of what used to be the Soviet Union), Huun Huur Tu return to their roots with their new album Ancestors Call. Many of the tracks here are original acoustic versions of songs that appeared in their swirling, lushly produced 2008 Eternal album with Carmen Rizzo. As with the rest of their work prior to that album, these austere soundscapes vividly evoke the desolate rigor of nomadic life on the steppes, with simple chord changes, Asian-tinged melodies and hypnotic vamps that often go on and on for minutes on end. Vocals are what they’re best known for, and that’s most of what they offer here: instrumentation is limited to spare fiddle, lutes and occasional flute. Lyrics are in their native dialect, a mix of traditional folk numbers and variations of what are obviously centuries-old themes. They open with a simple, tongue-in-cheek shepherd’s song, followed by a gently galloping battle anthem, and a fast, scurrying, tongue-twisting boast: the guy’s got a fast horse and a pretty girl and he wants the whole world to know, a universal song if there ever was one.

The best track on the Eternal album is also the most stunning one here, the long, atmospheric, hauntingly astringent tone poem Orphan’s Lament. Longing for home and family is a recurrent theme, whether on a simple, swaying, tongue-in-cheek-sounding number that sets jews harp up against woozily oscillating vocal overtones, or a nostalgic immigrant’s tale. A tribute to the beautiful women of one particular Tuvan clan is surprisingly gentle and ambient (an even lusher version can be found on Eternal).

A traveler’s tale gallops along hypnotically, while a prayer for prosperity summons the spirits from the lowest registers – to alien ears, it sounds practically demonic. The album concludes with the windswept title track and its insistent, clip-clop, syncopated rhythm. Huun Huur Tu’s longevity and consistency should come as no surprise, considering that previous generations who played this music did it for life. They’ll be on US tour in early 2011, watch this space; the new album’s just out on World Village Music (who just won a major Womex award: good for them).

November 2, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

A million producers have tried to technify world music; most have failed spectacularly.  This is a welcome change, an extraordinarily successful hybrid of old and new, acoustic and electronic. Like the cd cover, the music on famed “throat singers” Huun Huur Tu‘s new album Eternal effectively evokes the windswept steppes of their native Tuva in the west of what was the Soviet Union. Like a warped Asian version of Radiohead, this cd sets folk songs impressively bulked up and energized with big-room studio production alongside austere soundscapes that conjure up hauntingly barren badlands vistas. Producer Carmen Rizzo’s most notable achievement here is that he keeps the compositions intact. He’s not trying to make third-rate hip-hop or techno out of it with a cheesy subsonic bass pulse, instead using the songs as a foundation and then layering subtle shades of orchestration around them, always keeping the melodies front and center.

The cd’s opening cut is a ballad in the Asian scale set to a hypnotically repeating, minimalist keyboard sample. Throughout the cd, Rizzo uses the group’s trademark swirling vocal harmonies (the singers hold a low note and let the resulting overtones circle around) as just another instrument in the orchestra rather than making them the sonic center. The second track is another Asian-flavored vocal number with tabla-like percussion, building to a swirl of oscillating vocals and then segueing into the next cut with a trip-hop beat. After a brief, suspensefully static tone poem, there’s the best track on the album, the murky, atmospheric Dogee Mountain (Interlude), blending layer upon layer of sound over a haunting, minimalist two-chord progression.

The stark intensity remains with In Search of a Lost Past, an austere, Radiohead/Alan Parsons soundtrack piece where the singers’ overtones become so distorted as the high frequencies build that it’s almost as if they’re having some devious fun with a vocoder. The album concludes with a hypnotic march set to reverberating electric piano and yet more dense, echoey layers of vocalese, and then a brief chant which for once sets those otherworldly harmonies centerstage. This works on just about every level it could: as psychedelic rock, as straight-up world music composition and chillout album. One of the year’s best so far. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo will be at le Poisson Rouge on Sept 23 with a sellout expected, advance tickets highly recommended.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment